Spurs came away from Anfield with a point in a match of stunning quality and excruciating tension. The NHS may be busy but all Tottenham fans need a heart check-up. It’s an emergency.
The game crackled with electricity throughout, a feeling a bit like the time I picked up the end of a bare wire when I was a kid. I accidently pulled the flex from the standard lamp in our front room. Playing football, see, the standard lamp was a perfect goalpost. Football, the cause of all my troubles…
Like the shock, this was breath-taking stuff, football of the highest quality played at breakneck speed. Spurs got on top from the whistle, knocking it around with panache and majesty. I could have reflected on how far we’ve come this season, that this is the norm now, but there was little time to draw breath let alone stop and think. Couple of might have beens as Son and Alli stretched to balls that were just a touch too far or when Walker should have shot himself, instead passing to Eriksen who hit it straight at the keeper.
Then Liverpool collected themselves, got their game together and so from then on the two highly drilled pressing teams pressed each other in a pressing contest. Impressively. They hurled themselves at each other like two boxers in a 50s black and white boxing B-movie, going the distance toe to toe without landing the knockout blow.
Spurs were denied any space yet refused to back down, skilfully improvising their way out of defence, sprinkling the pass and move with long passes and crossfield balls to change the point of attack. For their part, Liverpool surrounded the man with the ball in the hope of forcing errors and saw the spaces vacated by our advancing full-backs as an opportunity. Then, they inserted Lallana and Sturridge into the gaps between our back four, allowing the wily Coutinho to find them with clever passes.
Palace and Wham closed down our full-backs. Liverpool instead targeted the awe-inspiring Dembele as our danger man. He shrugged them off like a wounded bull in the ring. Yet while the Reds never downed him, they did enough to limit his effectiveness going forward and in a game of the finest margins, that was sufficient.
Liverpool landed the heaviest blows. Lloris made three excellent saves, those powerful hands pushing away efforts at full stretch then an easier fourth when Sturridge shot straight at him, wasting the best chance of the half.
For Spurs it was one of those might-have-been evenings. The abiding image is of touches being a fraction too heavy and forwards stretching for balls that were just out of reach. I’ve not bothered with the stats but it felt as if we carved out more room in the box than for many a game with no shortage of bodies up front. However, the best opportunities were squandered. Kane uncharacteristically hesitated twice and saw his trademark cross-shot blocked as we glanced up expecting to see it nestle in its customary spot inside the far post. Alli and Eriksen too. Son meanwhile took his chance first time but volleyed a long ball from Dier decisively wide when a mis-kick or toe-poke might have seen it dribble in.
Liverpool finally scored in the second half. Not for the first time Tottenham were split apart by neat, incisive passes and Coutinho slotted home. Replays focussed on how Dier lost his man’s run from the edge of the box. Sure, but for me this was a game where good football from both sides rather than crass errors created the opportunities. Pressing occupied players further upfield, exposing the back four and limiting numbers. Both sides did it supremely well, Liverpool probably had the better chances. One cross come shot, I can still see it in my mind’s eye hitting the back of the net, but thankfully it was an optical illusion and the ball somehow drifted past the post.
But this is Pochettino’s Tottenham and they are relentless. Spurs came at them again, or rather did not stop attacking despite the setback of conceding. When Eriksen chased a lost cause into the corner, nothing much looked on but with the outside of his foot he hooked the ball back into play. There was Kane, one touch away from the defender but also away from goal. Such difficulties mean nothing to him. Second touch, he turned the ball back across the keeper into the goal, a masterful finish.
Good performances across the board with Lloris’s contribution by a whisker having the most influence on the final result. Kane and Alli were not quite as good as they were for England in Germany where the four Spurs players made a fanbase deeply proud and confirming that Pochettino is the best England manager since Ramsey. Predictably though their efforts blunted their edge on Saturday evening. The passes that connected in Berlin were inches wide, the first touch an inch too heavy and as I’ve said this was a fullblooded game with no room for error.
That 11th man problem in the forwards was again highlighted. We need everyone to function to win games of this level and Son for all his movement and effort failed to make an impact in and around the box where we need it.
Spurs have a knack of bringing out the best in their opponents. I keep reading about how Liverpool are weak in the last 15 minutes and concede late goals but no sign of that. Then of course the London derbies turn hurdles into Grand National fences. Claiming Leicester’s scalp doesn’t apparently have the same kudos. Then again, you can’t expect any favours.
Playing like this feels like earning a point not dropping two. I don’t carry a sense of failure from this match, which we could just as easily have lost as won. What can we do except keep playing, keep attacking, keep going for the win as we did to the final whistle yesterday. A wise man once said something about it being better to fail aiming high than to succeed aiming low. If in the end we’re not quite good enough, so be it. It’s the manner in which we take on the challenge that I’m so very proud of.