Being slightly fearful of numbers, I’m not sure how the old recipe for success of ‘win at home and draw away’ stands up in modern times, now we have this new-fangled three points for a win, but right now it will do for me. As against Man City, against the Pool we stood up to the considerable pressure exerted by our rivals near the top of the league, emerging with great credit and in this case a point too.
We’re in the middle of a sequence of six that will shape our season. If we do poorly, there’s plenty to play for but the top will be out of reach. Instead we’ll feel the lustful breath of our pursuers on our neck. Do well, and the very least that’s on offer is the Champions League. Beat L’ar*e and United, no, it’s no use, I can’t begin to describe the possibilities.
City is part of this even though we lost at the death. In defeat we proved that we belong near the top of this league. We came back from two down and dominated the final 30 minutes versus the champions elect. Last night we carried on where we left off with a strong performance despite being forced onto the back foot for long periods in the second half.
From late afternoon the familiar knotted stomach and fading concentration as tension began to exert its grip. To be honest, I welcome the suffering because if it disappeared before a big game, it would be a sign that this club had lost its grip on me, but it does matter, how it matters. The team news turned my stomach. If any of the subs took the field, it would be me shouting, “Whoooo?”.
Never fear. The foundation of this fine gritty performance was the central midfield duo of Livermore and Parker. Each took a half. Livermore in the first was the game’s best player, endless workrate across the pitch, breaking up attacks and looking to move it on quickly. As I’ve said before, he has several worthy qualities including strength, stamina, quick feet and an eye for a pass, but it’s his application to his duties that brings it all together and makes him stand out. He fearlessly searches either for the ball or for the space to make himself available for his team-mates. Our best passing spells came when he was at his roving peak, not doing anything spectacular but being there and moving it on.
Parker meanwhile had less of an impact, uncharacteristically missing two tackles when he had no need to dive in. Yet as we’ve seen before, he winds himself up doing a match so as time goes on and others flag, he’s getting better and better. By the time we reached the final ten minutes, when we couldn’t keep the ball and the Liverpool crosses rained in, he was playing them virtually single handed. A little ball slid into channels, he appears from nowhere to cut it out. The full-back isolated and beaten, here he is tucking in behind to offer the second line of defence. A pile of bodies deep inside the box in last-ditch defiance, he emerges, battered and bruised but the ball is gone, our goal safe. All that after being kicked in the stomach by a forward with eyes only for the man, not the ball. A heroic display from a man who seeks little attention. I was reminded over the weekend of a comment made by the incomparable Pat Jennings, a similarly phlegmatic character. When asked the secret of his success he replied, slowly: ‘I get up. I get in my car. I drive to the ground and do the job I’m paid to do.’ That’s Scott Parker. The next England captain.
We bored the pants off the viewing public in the first half and I enjoyed every moment. Lovely and dull. Liverpool easily contained for the lost part though I was suspicious of the gaps between our back four and towards the end of the half Gerrard was allowed to do too much in the areas where he is so dangerous, between 20 and 30 yards out. However, we did not allow him to develop a head of steam and galvanise his team, who looked a little uncomfortable in their own formation. Bellamy threatened to make something of Walker’s inconsistent positioning but the full back’s pace gets him out of trouble. Bellamy, the man in red to watch, was withdrawn, beaten.
Kranjcar and Bale switched wings frequently. I thought Bale should have made more of Enrique’s absence on the Liverpool left. Instead, he produced a disciplined effort, cautious going forward so we made few chances but kept our shape and the ball. I’ve criticised Niko in the past for his low workrate and lack of fitness. Against Wigan I remarked that he had lost a few pounds. Last night he too was more disciplined and looked all the better for cutting out the flicks and mad dashing around at the start of the game to make an impression, which usually results in him running out of puff long before the end. His gorgeous pass to Bale near would have been a classic assist.
Adebayor was a disappointment, continuing his poor run of form. He lacked support: it’s not his fault if he became isolated. However, he failed to do the basics and hold the ball or move wide. This became a real problem in the second period when we could not hold on to the ball. It kept on coming back at us and even our fine defence looked at one point as if they would buckle. Bravely Bond took him off.
The duel between Carroll and Dawson was always going to be key, and Daws came out on top. Confident and daring in the tackle, unyielding in the air, Dawson never one shirked his duties. Carroll is a good player suffering a dip in form, undeserving of much of the gleeful criticism his ludicrous transfer fee has brought to his feet. However, he’s not yet sharp enough in the box to be a top striker and obligingly he fluffed the one good chance he had.
Predictably Liverpool upped the tempo as the game went on but we were the architects of our own problems as we failed to keep possession. Modric and Krancjar were less prominent, Benny wasteful, Adebayor absent. Carroll slipped across to King to profit from the crosses that Downing was brought on to provide but crucially Kelly, Spearing and Johnson did not do enough and therefore we were seldom put under sustained pressure in all areas of the pitch. King was regal.
Chances were few and far between. Bale missed them but after all the efforts he had the best of the night, a tired shot against Reina’s legs. A point at Anfield will do. We’ll see how valuable it really is in three games time.
Suarez was on, rightly and roundly barracked by the Spurs fans. I thought his sharp pace might unsettle us but we managed to get a body in the way to snuff out the half-chances. Or in Parker’s case, a stomach. I hope the Liverpool fans realise that it’s not sour grapes that makes the rest of football wonder what on earth they are thinking at the moment. I have enormous respect for their club and fans, whose noise and passion is the envy of the game around the world. Knowledgeable and loyal, theirs is true love. Growing up, Liverpool was everything I wanted Spurs to be. Good football, great players, none better than Dalglish, hard as nails and all the better for it. Now, their manager still denies the problem and their fans wear Suarez masks. I wonder what went through the mind of the fan of Japanese or Chinese origin who happily donned his mask. You aspire to be someone who racially abused a man from a different culture. Like you.
And while we’re on the subject of Things That Are Bad, not in the same league but I want Gareth Bale to stop diving. Sure he picks up more fouls than half the rest of the league put together and he needs shins made of steel, but if it’s not a foul, stay on your feet lovely boy. You’re better than that, or save it for La Liga after your £150,000,000,000 transfer. Or something like that. Said I had trouble with figures.