Premier League: Liverpool may baulk at refereeing decisions, but defensive failures against Tottenham must rankle

In the end, amidst all the disgruntlement and clash of opinions, there was not a lot either side was pleased about. For Liverpool, it felt raw. Two penalty calls went against the Reds and their Champions League hopes are hanging in balance. A win would have given Jurgen Klopp’s men a five-point advantage over Tottenham Hotspur. In the end, the difference remained at two.

However, there was some dissatisfaction in the visitor’s camp too. Such is Spurs’ underwhelming away record against fellow members of the top-six—just one win in 21 matches—a point must have felt like a good reward. But manager Mauricio Pochettino was convinced that it were the hosts which were lucky to have got a draw. Klopp, of course, did not speak his mind entirely. The “biggest fine in the world”, which he thought would be dealt to him if he did, was not the kind of punishment you seek when your side has failed to win in frustrating circumstances.

Liverpool players, staff argue with the linesman after the match. Reuters

Liverpool players, staff argue with the linesman after the match. Reuters

However, this is a familiar feeling for the Reds. Under the German manager, Liverpool have dropped 45 points from winning positions. About three weeks ago, a late City rally had also exposed the team’s problems. On that occasion, though, Liverpool held on to win 4-3.

The backline remains a major concern. It is rather remarkable that for the most part, defensive issues have cropped up away from Anfield. Even after Sunday’s match, Klopp’s men had conceded only nine goals at home – only Manchester United has outdone them on this count.

But before their failings caught up, Liverpool adopted a cheery demeanour as they set about dominating the opposition. Spurs stuck to their quasi-diamond shape in midfield which had brought them much joy in the midweek against Manchester United. Yet, it seemed a switch had gone off. Within the first three minutes, an Eric Dier error allowed Mohamed Salah to sneak in and fire the hosts ahead.

The beginning was reminiscent of the bungled defending we witnessed when these sides met last, Spurs running away 4-1 victors back in October at Wembley. That afternoon, though, Liverpool had crumbled in face of the pace and inventiveness Pochettino’s men brought to the park. However, Klopp’s side is known to harm the opposition with pace and pressure itself and the initial exchanges on Sunday bore that out.

Within the first 22 minutes, Liverpool had won the ball thrice following a clearance from the opposition goalie Hugo Lloris. Spurs could not get into a rhythm, failing to see much of the ball. Even when they were in possession, it was overturned quickly. But they did not crumble. Liverpool were unable to make much of their advantage either. A mis-hit pass or an over-ambitious ball ruined potentially fruitful moves.

However, once the match entered the second half, it was Liverpool’s turn to enter a state of confusion. Spurs returned a side refreshed. Dele Alli took on the mantle and his movement asked questions which had not been posed until then. Heung-min Son’s direct running pushed Liverpool back and finally, Harry Kane’s presence was registered.

Yet, it was not until Victor Wanyama’s thunderous strike in the 80th minute that Spurs achieved parity. Liverpool’s substitutions could also be attributed to the regression as Sadio Mane and James Milner were replaced by Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain and Joel Matip. Klopp’s decision to preserve the lead did not seem wise once Spurs equalised. The pressure was rising.

The visitors could have even gone ahead but for a penalty miss by Kane. The decision by referee Jon Moss and his assistant Eddie Smart led to much hand-wringing as the striker was offside when the ball was played by Alli but as the experts explained later, it was the right call since the phase of play is allowed to develop until the ball reaches the attacker or a challenge is made. Dejan Lovren got a touch before Kane and the latter was rendered onside.

The missed penalty, though, gave Liverpool a second wind and a mesmerising run by Salah put the host ahead again. The Egyptian and Kane have been locked in a race to win the Premier League Golden Boot and the former’s second goal of the evening put him level with the Spurs striker. It was a goal worthy of winning any match; with his shift to the right, Salah sold Jan Vertonghen and then lifted the ball over the onrushing Lloris from a tight angle. Delightful, albeit the joy was short-lived.

For the penalty call which was to leave Liverpool furious arrived a few minutes later. Klopp was convinced the referee bottled the decision but replays suggested that Virgil van Dijk struck Erik Lamela in the back and on the thigh. Lamela was accused of exaggerating his fall but the nature of the offence was not going to spare the host. Up stepped Kane, showing courage minutes after a bad penalty, to take a point away.

Now, he is again ahead of Salah in the goal-scoring charts. Spurs are not exactly ahead of Liverpool but one senses that they gained more from the humdinger. With the gap between the sides still at two points, Pochettino’s men will be confident of overhauling it.

As for Liverpool, Klopp will feel that this result could come back to hurt his side at the end of the season. Of course, he would then feel let down by the referees. But it might be worth recalling how poorly Liverpool played in the second half and his substitutions did not help their cause. In a match where one found little agreement, perhaps that is one of the few things which cannot be contested.

Updated Date: Feb 05, 2018 12:26 PM

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