Liverpool’s 2-1 win over Spurs moves them top of the Premier League
LIVERPOOL 2 (Salah 26, Firmino 89)
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 1 (Son 33)
PANTOMIME SEASON is almost upon us, so it was fitting that Anfield played host to a rendition of the old classic Beauty and the Beast.
With Liverpool starting to hit the sumptuous stride that took them to the title last season, and Tottenham making an unlikely challenge for the Premier League by playing the sort of gritty football that has won Jose Mourinho trophies throughout Europe, there were no prizes for guessing which was which.
Liverpool’s style under Jurgen Klopp has become a thing of beauty, while Tottenham have learned how to win ugly under Mourinho, who loves playing the pantomime villain – indeed the role could have been invented for him.
When the Portuguese coach took over at Tottenham a year ago, he had no qualms about instilling his particular brand of football in a team that has spent most of the previous five years playing thrillingly under Mauricio Pochettino – without winning anything.
Indeed it was a 4-1 thrashing by Pochettino’s Spurs three years ago that prompted Klopp to solidify his defence with the signing soon afterwards of Virgil Van Dijk and then six months later Allison Becker. The rest, as they say, is history, as the Reds went on to win the Champions League by beating Tottenham in the 2019 final, and then adding their first Premier League title last term.
That final in Madrid 18 months ago was the closest Spurs got to winning a trophy under Pochettino, but now Tottenham are being touted as title contenders, and it is all because of the way Mourinho has them playing – tight and tenacious in defence, happy to let opponents have the lion’s share of possession, and then wait for a mistake and punish them on the break.
So the pattern of last night’s game was not surprising to anyone who has been watching either side. Liverpool had most of the ball and the majority of attempts on goal, but Tottenham were happy to let them do so for most of the game. The Reds played plenty of pretty passing triangles, and some of their one-touch stuff was a delight to watch. But Hugo Lloris was a match for most of what the Reds threw at him, and it was a fluke that allowed Liverpool to take the lead in the 26th minute, as Mohammed Salah’s shot flew off the legs of Eric Dier and Toby Alderweireld and looped up over Lloris and into the net.
But Tottenham have not reached the top of the table simply by parking the bus, and they are clinical on the counter, as they proved seven minutes later with an equaliser no less breathtaking in its beauty than anything Liverpool have produced. One second Spurs were defending in the edge of their own area, and in the blink of an eye Allison was picking the ball out of his net. Giovani Lo Celso led a quick break, flicked the ball forward with the outside of his boot, and Heung Min Son timed his run to perfection to dart through and drill a low shot past the keeper with the incisiveness of a Sicilian assassin sliding a stiletto through the ribs of his victim.
It was a rare moment of beauty by the beasts from London, embodied by the snarling and tenacious tackling of Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg.
Emboldened, Mourinho tweaked his tactics at half-time and Spurs should have scored, at least once twice or thrice. Steven Bergwijn went clear twice but shot wide and then hit the post. From the resulting corner Harry Kane headed over the bar from point-blank range, perhaps the biggest single surprise of the evening.
Having almost been Harry the hero, Kane turned villain in the dying minutes when a Liverpool corner was swung in from the left, the England captain took his eye off the ball and there was Roberto Firmino flying in to power home a header. If only Kane’s team-mates had told him where the Brazilian was – in panto parlance – “he’s behind you!”