Yesterday Spurs meekly succumbed to Liverpool’s power, pace and team-work. Rodgers and Pochettino are disciples of the new football, play at pace, work as a unit with and without the ball and press until the life is squeezed from your opponent. Three games, 12 goals with none in reply, show the Reds are streets ahead. It’s what you’d expect, given the constant chopping and changing in the Spurs ranks. Remember that the Liverpool board gave Rodgers the time he needs, let’s give Pochettino the same opportunities. In the meantime, his players need to start by giving more effort than was on display in this sorry effort.
The referee’s whistle was the signal for Liverpool to launch a ferocious assault on the Tottenham defences. They hurled themselves at every Spurs player who had the temerity to have the ball at their feet, two or three men blocking, hustling, niggling in a frenzy of pressing. The intensity was terrifying and Spurs had no escape. Trapped, we repeatedly conceded possession and Liverpool pounced with the same high-speed passion in attack.
Balotelli missed from close-range, Lloris getting down quickly to save his low header, before a poor clearance from a penned-in defence led to a lightning break and cross that found Sterling at the far post. It could have been one of several Liverpool forwards – we were all over the place.
That early onslaught finally abated after twenty minutes, by which time the game had been won and lost. There were other moments, including a highly debateable penalty, but the Spurs midfield were shattered and never recovered from the shock. The forward midfield three, so prominent against QPR, were utterly ineffective. Chadli posed and preened but allowed the game to pass him by, as he tends to do unless it’s played at a pace that suits him. Lamela kept going but discovered in a generally central role just how little room there is in a PL midfield. Bentaleb was swamped. Eriksen was the most disappointing, a man who has the ability to make an impact but who faded away before being substituted ignominiously early in the second half.
Only Capoue resisted, working hard throughout the match to break up opposition attacks. He was Spurs best player and you wonder what we missed last season when he was persona non grata.
After twenty minutes Liverpool funnelled back but still controlled the game, pressing but from starting positions ten or 15 yards closer to their goal. Adebayor’s lob went just over and the Reds missed a couple more, including another Ballotelli effort, wide after a howler of a fluffed Lloris clearance left an open goal. Chadli had our best, indeed only chance, catching a high ball well but it was too close to the keeper. Mignolet made his only proper save of the entire match. It offered a tantalising glimpse of surprising vulnerability in the Liverpool defence that Spurs never again exploited.
Despite being decidedly second best, being only one behind at half-time meant we were still in it. That changed when Liverpool were awarded a penalty. As Dier came across Joe Allen, his arm clipped Allen’s, who thereupon hurled himself into row K and the ref gave it without a moment’s hesitation.
My gripe with penalties like this one is they defy the laws of physics, never mind the laws of football. In the outermost reaches of the universe, galaxies and black holes are created and destroyed according to immutable laws of matter, mass and motion. Yet entering a Premier League penalty box is like going through a portal into another, parallel reality where these laws apparently do not apply or if they do, are random and inconsistent.
There was contact and Dier should have known better but neither in themselves are reasons to give a foul. There is no possible way that knocking Allen’s arm could have led to him falling in that way. It did not have anywhere near the force to cause him to lose his footing. Matter, mass and motion. A rugby player in a similar situation would not have gone over, instead would probably have dismissed it as having the power of an insect momentarily landing on his or her arm. A distance runner would not have gone over if they had been jostled in the 10k.
And that’s never mind the outbreak of WWE every corner. Or the fact that those incidents were never, ever given as fouls until comparatively recently. Or the referee missing a huge tug on Adebayor’s shirt, so big that you could hear a cartoon sound-effect ‘boing’ when the fouler let go.
Both have an incentive to stay upright and until footballers have the same, the diving will go on. This isn’t about Liverpool, Allen or any team – Spurs players have done exactly the same. It’s about the game. If referees stopped giving those oh-so-modern fouls, the players would stop falling over so easily.
Dier is promising but he showed his inexperience in allowing the possibility of a penalty. He looks like the sort of player who learns quickly: let’s hope his team-mates do the same. Pochettino has had five competitive games with his squad, Rodgers has had a hundred and boy did it show. Throughout Spurs failed on the basics – pressing together without the ball, making themselves available for team-mates with it. Back to the bad old days of looking up, finding nothing was on, trying to beat an opponent then getting caught. Time and again we lost possession.
Two down, Pochettino kept up his policy of active substitutions by bringing on Dembele and Townsend. His plans were destroyed by the winger’s first touch. Receiving the ball 60 yards from his own goal, he foolishly tried a drag back. Promptly tackled, Moreno ran most of that distance to our goal without being challenged. Covering the Liverpool forward line, we failed to get in the way of the man with the ball. A fine goal but entirely avoidable. My fear for Townsend is that these problems of poor choices and not knowing when to do the simple lay-off were around 4 seasons ago when Redknapp gave him his debut. That said, play him on the left where he can run at defenders.
My worry that Kaboul will never be the same player after his injuries is sadly being supported by the evidence. He was dreadful. Vertoghen did not stand out, except as backdrop as Sterling whizzed past him. Lloris made valuable saves but his poor distribution in the first half increased the pressure on an already beleaguered team.
Time to draw breath and work on that system.