Liverpool extended their lead at the top of the Premier League to six points once again, as a Jordan Henderson strike and a Mo Salah penalty overturned Harry Kane’s early equaliser to secure three points at Anfield on Sunday evening.
This fixture is prone to a fast start, but this one was off like a rocket even by its own standards. Before the match clock had even struck one, the visitors had well and truly stunned a raucous Anfield crowd, with Harry Kane stooping to nod his side into a surprise early lead.
Liverpool burst into life around the 20th minute, testing Paulo Gazzaniga time and again, but lightning very nearly struck twice at the start of the second half when Son failed to finish after engineering a way around Alisson in the box.
Spurs’ luck was wearing thin though, and they didn’t hold out much longer. Jordan Henderson found an equaliser ten minutes into the second half, before Anfield erupted when Mané was tripped by Serge Aurier in the box – allowing Salah to coolly stroke his side into the lead with 17 minutes remaining.
And so it would stay despite a late Spurs flurry, with Liverpool cementing their lead at the top of the division for yet another week.
Key Talking Point
With Manchester City having beaten Aston Villa on Saturday, the ball was back in Liverpool’s court. And with a title-defining clash with City looming in two weeks’ time, this fixture took on an extra air of importance.
It was never likely to be an easy afternoon for the Reds, and it was made all the more testing when they were caught sleeping inside the opening minute, allowing the predatory Kane to strike. As they are wont to do, they responded well – they are the ‘mentality giants’, after all – but a combination of poor fortune and impressive goalkeeping meant that the first half was ultimately fruitless.
The 19-goal triumvirate of Salah, Firmino and Mané were back together for Premier League action after a 90-minute long hiatus last weekend, but it was captain Jordan Henderson – of all people – who popped up with a first home goal in almost four years to get them level.
While their shape doesn’t often change from that iconic 4-3-3, a tactical tweak saw Salah and Mané stretch the play to allow the marauding full-backs space in the channels, and the result was a performance – first 20 minutes aside – that did their reputation justice.
It was another big test for the Reds, and another big hurdle cleared in their bid to win a first title in 30 years. They have a long way to go, but it is becoming abundantly clear that they have the mental strength to go the distance.
Starting XI: Alisson (7); Alexander-Arnold (8), Lovren (6), Van Dijk (6), Robertson (7); Henderson (7), Fabinho (9*), Wijnaldum (6); Salah (7), Firmino (7), Mané (8)
Subs: Milner (6), Gomez (6), Origi (N/A)
Star Man – Fabinho
This time a year ago Fabinho was only just making his mark on the Liverpool first team, having already been labelled a flop by some sections of the media. Now, he is immovable from the starting XI, and once again showed why in another tough game.
The number 3 ran the show as Liverpool dominated possession and his passes, sprayed out from the base of midfield, were an integral part of their attacking threat. He may as well trademark the backwards-leaning dink over the defensive line, and pulled his signature move out of the bag to assist the equaliser.
Their midfield is in flux, constantly changing personnel with a revolving door policy in operation. But Fabinho’s position is now set in concrete – and for good reason.
Key Talking Point
It has been a long five months for Tottenham since taking on the Reds in the Champions League final, and the first meeting between the two sides since highlighted the differing fortunes of the two sides since.
Prior to smashing Red Star during the week, Spurs had won just two of ten in all competitions, but they knew that if they could build on that resounding victory with a positive result at Anfield, then they would take a big step towards putting things back on the right track.
They couldn’t have asked for a better start either. Even they could barely believe it when Kane opened the scoring, and the wider early picture suggested that tactically, they had got this one spot on.
Lining up with a flat 4-5-1, they overloaded the wide areas defensively. Heung-min Son and the returning Christian Eriksen doubled up with their respective full-backs to nullify Trent Alexander and Andy Robertson, while Dele Alli and Moussa Sissoko occupied the channels usually owned by Salah and Mané, and the result was frustration from Liverpool – for the first half, at least.
They didn’t quite crumble in the second, but their performance levels notably dropped. They weren’t as tight or efficient off the ball, although it was ultimately one mistake from Aurier that cost them.
It’s far from a disaster, and not even close to their worst display of the season. But it’s a defeat, ultimately, and one that does little to lift then sense of malaise around the club at present.
Starting XI: Gazzaniga (8*); Aurier (5), Alderweireld (6), Sánchez (6), Rose (6); Sissoko (7), Winks (6), Alli (5); Eriksen (6) Kane (6), Son (7);
Subs: Ndombele (6), Moura (4), Lo Celso (4)
Star Man – Paulo Gazzaniga
If there were any doubts over Gazzaniga’s ability as a Hugo Lloris stand-in prior to kickoff, we can now safely kiss them goodbye. The Argentine was nothing short of a shot-stopping phenomenon, getting something in the way of a catalogue of efforts he had little right to.
He did the basics well, his positioning was exemplary, he was quick and decisive off his line, and showed no signs of the kind of nerves you might expect from a back-up keeper playing at Anfield. At 27, he is only just hitting his prime, and another few performances like this may well ask the question of Lloris when he returns from his lengthy absence.
Liverpool host Arsenal in the Carabao Cup on Wednesdsay before heading to Aston Villa next weekend, while Spurs have a week-long break before heading back to Merseyside to face Everton.