Liverpool leave it late against Spurs as pendulum swings again
Toby Alderweireld’s 90th minute own goal at Anfield sees hosts leapfrog Manchester City
Tottenham’s Hugo Lloris and Toby Alderweireld look on as Liverpool take a 2-1 lead at Anfield. Photograph: Martin Rickett/PA
The clock was ticking towards the 90-minute mark when the final, decisive blow sparked those euphoric scenes. Liverpool were just a few minutes away from a result that – who knows? - was threatening to be a grievous setback in the Premier League’s title race. But then the ball was aimed high towards Mohamed Salah at the far post and what happened next, put bluntly, changed everything.
Suddenly it did not seem quite so important that Salah had seemed like he was weighed down by the expectations. Hugo Lloris, the Tottenham goalkeeper, had not been able to hold on to his header. The loose ball bounced against Toby Alderweireld, the nearest defender, and start trickling towards the goal-line. Alderweireld still had the opportunity to spare himself but, almost in slow motion, kicked the ground with his attempt at a recovery. How important might this own-goal be in the next six weeks? And what an incredible moment of fortune to put Jurgen Klopp’s team back to the top of the table.
Every team that wins the league needs a bit of luck along the way and Liverpool certainly had it here if the mind went back a few minutes to the sight of Moussa Sissoko and Son Heung-Min springing a two-on-one breakaway. Fortunately for Liverpool, the one they held back was Virgil van Dijk, who concluded it would be better to let Sissoko take aim and blocked out the pass. It was a brilliant decision. Sissoko’s shot was wild when, at that stage, Liverpool were facing a defeat that could have had heavy consequences.
No wonder Anfield celebrated as it did a few minutes later. For Liverpool, it was almost imperative they won this second-versus-third encounter. More than that, Klopp’s players needed to demonstrate they were in the right frame of mind for whatever comes next. They did just that, eventually – but, boy, they played with the emotions of their supporters before everything fell into place. The second half for Liverpool was threatening to be an ordeal.
As for Salah, the irony is that he, more than anyone, seemed to be the player afflicted by the occasion. Salah has not scored for eight games, by far his longest drought in Liverpool’s colours, and there can be no doubt he is currently going through the most difficult phase of his time at Anfield. If anything, he seemed too keen to put that right, meaning there was a hint of desperation about his play, especially in those moments after Lucas Moura had scored with a 70th-minute equaliser. As it turned out, everything worked out for him in the end. Yet the point remains: if Liverpool are to win their first title since 1990, they desperately need Salah to get whatever is troubling him out of his system.
Not that it particularly mattered for Liverpool in the first half when they played with such determination and flair, when the full-backs are so attack-minded and the mentality, always, is that when they are winning they should go for more goals rather than settling for what they have.
Those forward surges from Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson meant Liverpool were often operating with auxiliary wingers. It was such a problem for Spurs that Lucas, who was primarily operating as Harry Kane’s strike partner, spent long spells doubling up as a left-sided midfielder to restrict the space for Alexander-Arnold. Still, though, the full-back took it upon himself to have a prominent role in Liverpool’s attack while, on the other side, it was Robertson’s inclination to do likewise, 16 minutes in, that led to Firmino’s goal.
Robertson’s delivery was so inviting for Firmino it would have been almost impertinent for the Brazilian to pass up the chance. Hugo Lloris’s kick had put gone far enough, intercepted by Georginio Wijnaldum inside the Tottenham half, and Kieran Trippier committed the full-back’s sin of standing off Robertson, allowing the left-back to line up the trajectory of his cross without anybody closing him down. Firmino had found a gap between two of the opposition centre-halves. Robertson’s cross picked him out superbly and Firmino did the rest with a downward header to put the ball past Lloris.
As bad as Tottenham’s record is on this own ground, the reality is that Mauricio Pochettino’s side needed only a draw to register their best points total from the Premier League era. They could also be encouraged by some erratic moments from Alisson. Yet it must have been concerning for Pochettino that his players could not do more in the first half to examine the Liverpool goalkeeper. Dele Alli was not influencing the game in the way that would usually be expected of him. The same applied to Christian Eriksen and it was rare to see Harry Kane being so ineffective. Something had to change and Pochettino acted at half-time by instructing Danny Rose to take up a more advanced position, with Jan Vertonghen taking up the left-back role. Pochettino, serving his touchline ban, was in contact with his coaching staff via a mobile telephone and, if nothing else, he saw a significant improvement from his team.
The equaliser came after a quickly taken free-kick from Kane to Trippier and a key touch from Eriksen that allowed Lucas to fire in from a central position. After that, Liverpool had to go for a winner and perhaps that is why they were so open at the back, Sissoko let them off the hook, leaving the stage set for the hosts’ moment of good fortune. - Guardian