Spurs and Liverpool provide a festive thriller to lift the mood

Evidence mounting that Antonio Conte is building something in north London

Tottenham Hotspur 2 Liverpool 2

Amid the mass postponements, the fear and uncertainty over the inexorable spread of the latest Covid variant, a football match broke out and it was one to remind us all why this game of ours has us in thrall.

There was drama from start to finish, contentious incidents – a case for Harry Kane to be sent off for Tottenham in the 20th minute (he was not) and Andy Robertson to go for Liverpool on 76 minutes (he did). There were goals, including a long overdue one for Kane – only his second of the Premier League season – and misses, with Kane the biggest culprit.

There were outstanding performers – chief among them Son Heung-min for Spurs; Trent Alexander-Arnold for Liverpool – and there were glaring errors, most notably the one by Alisson that let in Son to equalise for 2-2, Liverpool having got themselves in front thanks to headers from Diogo Jota and Robertson.

And, at the end of it all, there was simply applause. The point felt better for Spurs, even if they were up against 10 men in the closing stages – the evidence mounting that Antonio Conte is building something in north London. The manager remains unbeaten after five league matches, winning 11 points and, goodness knows, after the Covid-scarred fortnight he and the club have experienced, this was hugely impressive.

Liverpool had watched the leaders, Manchester City, win at Newcastle earlier in the day and they now trail them by three points. Their regrets centred on why Kane was not dismissed for a high challenge on Robertson – the game might have turned out differently had he seen red rather than yellow – but, at the same time, perhaps they will simply reflect on having played their part in such entertainment.

The game had crackled to life at the outset. It felt good to have something on, the stadium teemed with emotion and the majority inside it thrilled when Kane drew first blood. Conte had turned on his heel in frustration when Dele Alli narrowly missed a through ball but his team was quickly back in business when Harry Winks jumped into a tackle to recover possession high up.

Alli and Davison Sánchez worked the ball to Tanguy Ndombele and he spotted Kane peeling off the shoulder of Ibrahima Konaté. The pass was curved and weighted to perfection and, once Kane had the space and the far corner in his sights, there was no doubt as to the outcome.

Moments earlier, following an Emerson Royal cross, Kane had taken a touch and spun, lining up the shot, only for Konaté to jump in and smuggle the ball to safety. Now Spurs scented blood and they had the chances to taste it.

Kane got the better of the 19-year-old Premier League debutant, Tyler Morton, to power away up the right on the break and he had Son in the middle. The cross, though, was fractionally ahead of him and Son skewed wide of the far post. Moments later, Son streaked clear only to fail to round Alisson in the one-on-one. He had looked to be offside.

Liverpool had started the brighter, with Robertson fluffing a gilt-edged header from an Alexander-Arnold cross and the latter extending Hugo Lloris with a left-footed first-timer from outside the box.

It was the most breathless of first halves. Liverpool shimmered with menace while Spurs repeatedly threatened to play or run through the visitors’ backline, which was riskily high and not always well protected. At times, as Son made hay, it was easy to wonder what on earth was going on.

How about controversy? There was plenty of that and Kane was lucky to stay on after jumping into a tackle on Roberton, missing the ball – which was skilfully lifted over him by the Liverpool left back – and then crashing his studs into him. With Jürgen Klopp raging, Kane got away with a booking.

Klopp did a lot of raging and it was understandable. Emerson barged Jota over inside the area on 37 minutes but there was no penalty and the Liverpool manager boiled over shortly afterwards after a more innocuous decision. The referee, Paul Tierney, showed him a yellow card, which was the prompt for Klopp to bow rather theatrically.

By then, Liverpool were level. Robertson watched Ben Davies take a heavy touch before nicking the ball from him and sprinting to the byline to cross. Jota's headed finish was clinical. But moments before that, Spurs had blown another chance for 2-0, Son teeing up Alli when Liverpool's defenders had all followed the run of Kane. Alli unloaded first time; Alisson made a spectacular finger-tip save.

Liverpool could also point to a Lloris save from Naby Keïta in the 26th minute and an ever better one from the Spurs goalkeeper to keep out a rasping Alexander-Arnold half-volley on the stroke of half-time.

Klopp had been without his first-choice midfield, Thiago having returned a positive test on Sunday morning to join Fabinho and Curtis Jones in enforced isolation while Jordan Henderson was ill. Virgil van Dijk was another Covid positive absentee while Conte had his selection issues, too. Some players were not fit enough to start after recovering from Covid while there was no sign of Pierre-Emile Højbjerg.

The first half was always going to be a tough act to follow and yet there would be plenty more incident after the interval, first with Kane twice blowing the chance to put Spurs back in front. After Jota had looped a header wide, Eric Dier picked out Alli beyond a static Liverpool backline. His touch inside for Kane was slightly undercooked, which allowed Alisson to get out to close the space. Kane's attempted dink was blocked by the goalkeeper.

Spurs pushed on. Kane could not react in time to head home after a corner broke for him and then Liverpool went in front, seconds after Alli had shouted for a penalty having felt a push in his back from Alexander-Arnold. It would have been soft.

The Liverpool goal came when Lloris scooped away from Mohamed Salah and Robertson stooped to head home after Alexander-Arnold had thrashed across goal. Spurs roared back. Alisson was the favourite to deal with Winks's pass up the inside left channel but, inexplicably, having gone to ground to make the sliding clearance, he missed the ball. Son rolled into the empty net.

Robertson’s hack at Emerson was a clear red card – the only mystery was why Tierney needed VAR to point it out to him, after he had initially reached for yellow – and the game screamed towards its conclusion. There would be no winning goal but the spectacle was no less rich without it.

Read More

Recommended