Liverpool 3 Tottenham Hotspur 2 match report: No Bale out this time as Suarez forces Spurs to pay the penalty
Monday 11 March 2013
One journalist was sent to Anfield with the task of writing about this game without mentioning Gareth Bale or Luis Suarez. It was like asking the Washington Post's theatre critic to review the opening night of "Our American Cousin" without referring to the fact that Abraham Lincoln had been shot while watching it.
It was more than Suarez versus Bale. The immense roar that greeted the end of the game and the way the Tottenham Hotspur players reacted on the final whistle was proof of that.
Some did turn on Suarez, although it is not quite clear why they were so angry with the Uruguayan. There was a blatant attempt to win a penalty with a dive but it was the Liverpool striker, Daniel Sturridge, rather than the usual suspect who hurled himself to earth with all the conviction of a baddie in a B-movie.
When Suarez was questioned on the penalty he did win that allowed Steven Gerrard to settle this game, he seemed untypically unsure whether Benoît Assou-Ekotto had actually fouled him. Tottenham's manager, Andre Villas-Boas, however, was more certain – it was a clear penalty.
For Brendan Rodgers, who once worked alongside Villas-Boas as part of Jose Mourinho's backroom staff at Chelsea, this was his first big win as Liverpool manager.
For Villas-Boas, it was further evidence of the single biggest barrier to Tottenham becoming a force that can win the Premier League title – their ability to self-destruct at critical moments.
Earlier in the season, it was worked out that Spurs would have been top of the league, comfortably ahead of Manchester United, were games to last 80 minutes. Here, they would not have lost their first game since December – also on Merseyside, at Everton, and also in the wake of a European tie – without two back-passes that were respectively ludicrous and careless.
Tottenham were 2-1 up and in reasonable control. Kyle Walker was on the touchline, not far from halfway, when for reasons best known to him, he tried to punt the ball back to his goalkeeper.
It was unnecessary and, worse, the pass was inaccurate. As Hugo Lloris dashed out of his area to meet it, the French international made a hash of trying to boot it clear.
The ball was at Stewart Downing's feet, there was just Jan Vertonghen to beat and he drove his shot through the centre-half's legs.
Tottenham reacted by panicking some more. As the ball bobbled on the edge of his own area, Jermain Defoe attempted to toe-poke it back to his goalkeeper and succeeded only in looping it upwards for Suarez and Assou-Ekotto to challenge for it. The result was Michael Oliver pointing to the spot.
"It is difficult to us to take because we did ever so well to get back into the game," said Villas-Boas, who rejected suggestions that tiredness in the wake of their swaggering destruction of Inter Milan in the Europa League on Thursday had undermined them.
"We lost control and it was down to our own mistakes when things were going out way."
He argued that had his Icelandic midfielder, Gylfi Sigurdsson, who would have been well acquainted with the bitter chill, not struck the post when he had an ocean of time to measure his response to Bale's cross, Tottenham might have cruised to three points. As it was, Spurs stumbled and then they fell.
It may not be his rivalry with Suarez for the title of Footballer of the Year that makes Anfield dislike Bale. It may be the way he poses before taking a free-kick like a Welsh Ronaldo or it may be Alan Shearer's theory that crowds instinctively jeer footballers they fear. When he sent a shot with the same trajectory as a Jonny Wilkinson drop-kick high into the Kop, there was laughter but it was laced with relief.
Bale did not score, as he had in Tottenham's five previous matches, but he contributed to both goals which were scored by the Belgian international, Vertonghen.
The free-kick that saw Spurs take the lead was questionable both because Bale flung his hands to face, an area of his body Lucas Leiva had gone nowhere near to win it – and because it was soft. "On that reckoning, there would be 200 free-kicks a game," said Rodgers.
Liverpool did not deal with it well. Jamie Carragher headed it down, it struck Daniel Agger, Glen Johnson slipped and Vertonghen, switching feet with the kind of effortless technical ability that seems to come as standard for those who have played for Ajax, drove it home.
The first had been more of a centre-half's goal as Mousa Dembélé held the ball up by the corner flag and found Bale, who characteristically produced a superlative cross.
Once more Vertonghen intervened, rising above Johnson to leave Brad Jones, deputising for the injured Pepe Reina, stranded.
Then it seemed Liverpool's opener would be a lost jewel that would vanish in defeat. It was fabulously executed, featuring some wonderful interplay between Philippe Coutinho and Jose Enrique, whose pass was brilliantly anticipated by Suarez to beat Lloris at his near post.
On reflection, it was debatable whether Liverpool deserved to win this pulsating encounter – they had probably played better when drawing with Manchester City and at Arsenal earlier in the season.
However, Suarez's latest goal, his 22nd of another remarkable scoring campaign, deserved to count for something.
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