Ken Early: Liverpool and Spurs a showcase of cutting edge football
Klopp and Pochettino disagreed on penalties, but game was example of where top level football is going
Liverpool’s Georginio Wijnaldum and Virgil van Dijk in action with Tottenham’s Fernando Llorente at Anfield on Sunday. Photograph: Andrew Yates/ Reuters
Jürgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino had very different interpretations of Liverpool’s 2-2 draw with Spurs on Sunday. Klopp accused the referee Jon Moss and his assistant of wanting to be famous, while Pochettino congratulated the refereeing team on getting all the big decisions correct. Both of them, however, said that it was a fantastic game to watch.
This was true of the insane last 15 minutes, but before that the game could more accurately be described as interesting rather than fantastic. These were two of the Premier League’s most sophisticated sides and the frenetic, over-caffeinated action of the first hour offered a preview of where football at the top level is going.
For that first hour the game was played at such speed that all of the chances were coming from mistakes. Mohamed Salah’s opener after three minutes came when Eric Dier was caught out by the speed of the action around him and inadvertently played Salah through.
With the early lead established, Liverpool had Tottenham where they wanted them; they could let their pressing do the creative work for them. Yet for all the effort both teams were expending, there were few clear chances on goal, as though all the players were in such a rush that they could not get the final ball right. This was a game where if you were thinking about what to do with the ball as you received it, you were already too late.
Only in the second half of the second half, as Liverpool’s energy ebbed, were Spurs’ midfielders able to get a second or two on the ball to try to make things happen. Gaps were beginning to appear where before there had only been guarded space. Even still, if Emre Can had not been so tired he probably would have been able to raise his leg to divert the ball before it reached Victor Wanyama to score the Spurs equaliser.
Assisted by assistant
It’s worth remembering that Can only just turned 24, which means he is 23 years younger than the referee Jon Moss, who was being heavily criticised last night for allowing himself to be assisted by his assistant Eddie Smart in making two big decisions late on.
If we are prepared to accept that fatigue makes footballers play worse as the game goes on, then maybe we should extend the same consideration to referees, who are being asked to keep up with matches that get faster and more demanding every year. Moss started refereeing in 1999, when “simulation” was something to do with computer games rather than something to look out for in the penalty area, so the sport at the top level is basically unrecognisable from what it was when he began his career. If Eric Dier and James Milner are struggling to keep up with the pace of the game then a 47-year-old referee has no chance.
Moss took a long time to reach his two big penalty decisions but, regardless of Klopp’s sarcastic applause and the rage of Liverpool fans who thought Salah’s second had won them the game late on, he can feel as though he did as well as could be expected. The second penalty award was correct: Érik Lamela got in between the ball and Virgil van Dijk and was booted to the ground. A video referee would have given the penalty just as Moss and Smart did; it only seemed controversial because it was happening in front of a seething Kop in the 95th minute.
The first one was a more difficult decision. Harry Kane ran onto a miskick from Dejan Lovren, brushed his toe against Loris Karius and went down. Did the fact that Lovren effectively passed the ball to Kane mean that Kane was onside, or does the fact that Lovren was clearly panicked into miskicking a clearance by the lurking presence of the then-offside Kane mean that Kane was interfering with play from an offside position? And, once Kane was through, was he really fouled? A VAR might have changed the decision and seen no reduction in the overall level of rage and indignation, except it would have been Spurs rather than Liverpool fans raging. You imagine both Moss and Smart were relieved to see Karius save the penalty.
It’s worth pointing out that between the two penalty incidents there was another match-changing error, this time by the Spurs centre-half Jan Vertonghen. Vertonghen’s instinct to show Salah onto his right foot made sense as a general principle but, six yards out from goal, such considerations are less important, and in any case Vertonghen left Salah so much space that he could go past him and still finish with his left foot.
Nobody would hammer Vertonghen for this mistake simply because he nearly cost Spurs the match. The injustice of that would be obvious because everyone can see that otherwise he played a perfect game. The referee is not so lucky because most of his best moments by definition go unnoticed.
In the end it was the sort of game that is always called a great advert for Premier League football, with everybody’s blood boiling at the crazy stuff happening at both ends of the pitch. Unfortunately for the league, the result makes it more likely that one of these two sides will miss out on next season’s Champions League. Whichever club ends up missing out, you hope that their supporters resist the traditional temptation to turn on the manager, because both Klopp and Pochettino are bringing us football from the cutting edge.