Premier League: Liverpool emerge from another nerve-jangling night with victory against Tottenham Hostpur

The question now is not whether the Liverpool players have it in them, but if Liverpool fans can hold their jangling nerves.

Srijandeep Das April 01, 2019 11:34:01 IST
Premier League: Liverpool emerge from another nerve-jangling night with victory against Tottenham Hostpur
  • At full-time, Robbie Fowler, a Liverpool legend who has seen some of the greatest Anfield nights, admitted to be shivering and be at a loss for words.

  • The second half performance, or a lack of, would belie Liverpool’s early dominance.

  • So, the question now is not whether the Liverpool players have it in them, but if Liverpool fans can hold their jangling nerves.

As things stood, Manchester City were leading by two points with a game in hand. The scene was set for a sucker-punch: Liverpool’s captain Jordan Henderson and deputy James Milner were substituted, the formation changed to an ultra-attacking 4-2-4 from a 4-2-1-2, and the team bared its soft underbelly. Duly, in the 85th minute Tottenham Hotspur’s slingshot counter-press was threatening to punch a hole in Liverpool’s title aspirations. Liverpool, with their momentum leaning forward in search of the winning goal at 1-1, were caught in a one vs two situation: Van Dijk vs Moussa Sissoko and Heung-Min Son.

Premier League Liverpool emerge from another nervejangling night with victory against Tottenham Hostpur

Liverpool's Mohamed Salah (right) and Roberto Firmino celebrate after a late winner against Tottenham Hotspur. AFP

In despair, hamstrings tensed, and jaws clenched, all across the stands as the crowd half-rose off their seat expecting Moussa Sissoko to pummel the ball pass Alisson or lay it off to the clinical South Korean for a tap in. Andy Robertson as Andy Robertson does, was seen mouthing profanity in a thick Scottish accent all the while straining every sinew to get back into position even though he was more than thirty yards away on Liverpool’s left. Further up the pitch Roberto Firmino clasped his hand over his eyes, lips moving in prayer.

Virgil van Dijk was a culmination of that prayer: managing to, not only in that mere few seconds, work out an angle that not only closed down the pass to Son, but simultaneously show Sissoko to his weaker foot, jockeying him sideways, while intuitively aware of his goalkeeper’s positioning. It’d be easy to say that it was his mere looming presence unnerved the Frenchman to sky the shot into the top tier of the Anfield Road End, but that would be only half the truth. Even goals don’t usually get celebrated as loudy in most grounds as van Dijk’s non-tackle was. Veteran match goers and journalists like Tony Barrett dabble in blasphemy, swearing that multiple title-winning Alan Hansen may not be Liverpool’s best-ever centre back anymore.

“When a team like Liverpool need to improve their team in a certain area, people said it was crazy to pay £70m for a centre-back,” Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino admitted in the post-match press conference. “Some people said: ‘Why would you pay £70m for a centre-back?’ But the people have now been shown that Liverpool were right, Jurgen Klopp was right.”

The second half performance, or a lack of, would belie Liverpool’s early dominance. “I think they first half an hour we blew them away. When we didn't get the second goal we got sloppy. To be fair to them they beat us in the second half,” man of the match Andy Robertson noted. The full-back, bought like a bargain in a thrift shop from Hull, was at the very centre of Liverpool’s attacking impetus. Only Andy Hinchliffe (1994-95) and Leighton Baines (2010-11) can boast of more assist from a full back position in the Premier League.

The Scotland skipper’s bombing runs set the precedent of Liverpool’s forward thrust, and it was little surprise that the left foot that could probably peel a mango, put a sumptuous cross on a plate for Roberto Firmino to head home in the first half. The ball had the bend of a fish-hook.

Football is strict meritocratic system and Tottenham’s equaliser through Lucas Moura in the 70th minute was more than deserved. Serving a touchline ban, Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino rang his assistant asking him to incorporate a change of system that saw Liverpool full-backs Robertson and Trent Alexander Arnold get as less of  the ball as possible. It was until that moment of inspiration by van Dijk that Tottenham had all of the say.

At the full-time whistle the cheeky Robbie Fowler, a Liverpool legend who has seen some of the greatest Anfield nights stood at the touchline with a mic and admitted to be shivering and be at a loss for words on live TV; Klopp was seen delivering a trifecta of fist-pumps directed at the Kop which drew a standing applause from a gleeful Kenny Dalglish; Mo Salah, a man relieved, was being mobbed by his team-mates. Elsewhere fans gathered at screenings all over the world, at Fenway, Boston; Khar, Mumbai; and WWE superstar Sheamus at NBCSN, separated by miles were celebrating together in spirit this reckless, joyous, breathless brand of football Liverpool now embodies.

Some people will put Salah’s 90th minute header which forced the error on Tottenham goalkeeper Hugo Lloris and resulted in a Toby Alderweireld own goal down to luck. But the regulars at the Kop know better. Liverpool have scored 33 winning goals in the 90th minute or later in Premier League history, eight more than the next best (Arsenal with 25). It wasn’t the first time when the machinations of the universe was bent to the collective will of who wanted it more. More than likely that this won’t be the last 2-1 win of the season.

On the night, Liverpool wanted it more. "We have to fight. Today the crowd was outstanding. It was an incredible atmosphere, they were really here to push us," Klopp acknowledged in the post-match press conference.

As dazed Liverpool fans were trickling out of the stadium, van Dijk with his ankle wrapped in a bulbous white ice pack was asked by Alan Shearer whether he’s feeling the pressure. His response was short and delightfully sweet: “I am a Liverpool player ― I enjoy every bit of the pressure.”

So, the question now is not whether the Liverpool players have it in them, but if Liverpool fans can hold their jangling nerves.

Updated Date:

Find latest and upcoming tech gadgets online on Tech2 Gadgets. Get technology news, gadgets reviews & ratings. Popular gadgets including laptop, tablet and mobile specifications, features, prices, comparison.

also read

Ligue 1: Neymar scores in 100th appearance for PSG to help club beat 10-man Montpellier 4-0
Sports

Ligue 1: Neymar scores in 100th appearance for PSG to help club beat 10-man Montpellier 4-0

Kylian Mbappe scored twice and Mauro Icardi was also on target with PSG leading 1-0 before netting three times in the space of four minutes around the hour mark.

Premier League: Burnley win at Liverpool for the first time in 46 years, other key stats as Reds stumble again
Sports

Premier League: Burnley win at Liverpool for the first time in 46 years, other key stats as Reds stumble again

Liverpool are six points behind leaders Manchester United halfway through their title defence, having not scored in four successive games.

Premier League: Jurgen Klopp seeks quick response to Liverpool scoreless streak after United stalemate
Sports

Premier League: Jurgen Klopp seeks quick response to Liverpool scoreless streak after United stalemate

Klopp's men have now failed to win their last four league games to slip to third in the table, three points behind United.