Just a few more days in the warm glow of derby glory. Would that have been too much to ask? Spurs gave it a good old go up at Anfield last night and there was plenty to admire, especially in their sustained attacking intent and flowing forward interplay. We ran, we pressed, we created chances but the zip wasn’t quite as zingy and in the end some familiar defensive frailties did for us in a close contest.
Once more time stood still as the ball went goalwards. This time however it wasn’t Kane’s header floating into the net. Markovic shot, Lloris dived – and my stream froze. In twenty or thirty seconds of freeze frame, I had time to compute the ball’s trajectory in relation to Hugo’s dive. Conclusion: Hugo saves it. Show your working: Hugo saves everything and this low shot is well within reach. Eureka.
Buffering over and the ball bounces over our captain’s outstretched hand. Furiously Lloris picks himself up and admonishes the culprit, a little bump around the penalty area. He knows he should have had it, though. This came after an opening quarter of an hour that saw both sides have chances. It gave Liverpool the edge and there was often a frantic element to Spurs’ efforts to catch up.
Two teams with different formations but similar strengths and weaknesses. Both are very open at times and look better coming forward rather than defending. Both wanted to go out and win the game. The resultant lack of caution will have given both managers a sleepless night but it made for a brilliant exhibition of high-octane end to end attacking football that would have pleased the neutral DAMN THEM! What good are neutrals? Spurs drew level twice but could not hold on to take the shine off a decent performance and an excellent few days.
Spurs have suddenly become opponents to respect. You could tell for two reasons. One, a few people in the crowd booed Kane as soon as he touched the ball. Because that’s what fans always do these days, isn’t it, boo any opposition player who is any good irrespective of any grievance or other reason to do so. English talent? We don’t have much so let’s abuse what we do have!!
Two, Liverpool closed Bentaleb down early. As a result he was seldom a force in attack and was often caught in possession. He wasn’t the only one. At times Lamela was Liverpool’s ball-winner – after he got it Liverpool always had the next touch – and in the first half in particular we constantly gave the ball away, unable to pass forward from our own half. Vertonghen and Dier had to be alert.
Liverpool are open so you always think you have a chance against them. However they are difficult to pin down so our pressing game wasn’t as effective as against a more compact Arsenal side. Tiredness is the other reason, understandable after Saturday up to a point at least but we kept going extremely well. The physical aspect is one thing, sustaining that intense mental focus is quite another, particularly for this young side, the youngest to appear in the Premier League this season.
Maybe this was part of learning how to do precisely that. That we came so close says a lot about how well these young men are doing. We weaved some beautiful patterns in attack. Dembele, Lamela and Eriksen interchanged with effortless fluidity. They’ve developed a fine awareness of each other and don’t end up running into each other, the inevitable end to many of our attacks earlier in the season. With Rose and Walker dashing up on the flanks plus Vertonghen and Mason charging forward when they could spare the time it was lovely stuff, unthinkable even a month ago. The move between Lamela and Eriksen to set up Kane for our first was quick invention at its best. Harry’s blast was straight at the keeper but went between his legs.
In the end, Liverpool won a crucial tactical battle on the flanks where the midfield offered less and less protection for the full-backs as the game went on. Rose was vulnerable. His performance was a mix of tenacious, brave tackles and impetuosity. Sturridge had him spellbound and Rose tripped him in the box when there were several team-mates to cover. Gerrard scored the penalty.
Eriksen’s free-kick once again brought us back into the game again but not directly. Kane pounced on the rebound as Mignolet saved low down to his right. His cross was bundled in by Dembele who had another strong game, Liverpool defenders literally bouncing off him at times.
Both teams went for the win when most others in the PL would have shut down to keep what they had. Liverpool edged it through better use of subs. One, Ballotelli, scored the winner but it was the other, Lallana that made the difference. He’s good at surging into the box. Chadli however, on for Eriksen on the left, is not good at tracking back. The Belgian didn’t stay with his man and Lallana’s cross left Marion with a sheepish tap-in.
Shame really. Our standards are higher now, I thought we could keep that point. However, we never tightened up enough at the back and our opponents were too good not to take advantage.
Good signs – Vertonghen is a man transformed, back to the form we saw early on his time with us. Dier, a young man who should have got more plaudits after the derby win, is fearless in the tackle and takes responsibility, an attitude that could lead to a long and successful career with us. Not so good – Lamela mixes pure class – three passes plus a shot that was well saved – with sheer mindlessness. He puts in the legwork but with no positional discipline, and he cannot resist running inside straight at defenders.