Tottenham Hotspur 0 Liverpool 0

Carrick's message for Eriksson
Click to follow
The Independent Football

The England manager needs answers, and quickly. Out on the pitch a certain Michael Carrick, possibly, provided one for him in that thorny issue of who to engage as a holding midfielder - if anyone. His passing, positioning and overall influence - combating Steven Gerrard - was dominant among the nine England players on display.

"He mastered the whole midfield. He was quite outstanding," said the Spurs manager, Martin Jol. "Liverpool used all their midfield players so you could see they were not happy." Indeed, they did - Gerrard, Dietmar Hamann, Momo Sissoko and Xabi Alonso all took a bow. "They pressure him and he always plays like he is in the park. Hyde Park," Jol added of Carrick.

It was no stroll, however, in what amounted to a litmus test, an entertaining, committed examination of credentials as to who is worthy of claiming a top-four finish. Both sides struck the crossbar, both sides pushed forward and both had goals disallowed. Bizarrely both efforts - headers - were ruled out because the ball had gone out and back into play from corners.

The parity provided nothing conclusive. Spurs have collected two points from three games; Liverpool have scored just once in three Premiership games and that was from a free-kick. That's the glass half-empty. Half-full - and Spurs are fifth and Liverpool have racked up three clean sheets and reversed their fragile away form of last season.

"We are more consistent," said the Liverpool manager, Rafael Benitez. "But we need to score the goals from the opportunities we have." For Jol there was also the mitigation - he got it in first - of effectively starting with four debutants plus a return for Ledley King. "Five then," he said with a smile. Of those it was Lee Young-Pyo, pushing forward cleverly from left-back, who made the biggest impression.

However, his inclusion is bad news for Andy Reid, confined to the bench yesterday, with the South Korean likely to provide the width as Edgar Davids is tucked into the left of midfield to accommodate Jermaine Jenas.

It looked lopsided despite Jol's protestations to the contrary, although even he admitted his players sat off Liverpool in the first half, allowing a side playing, astonishingly, its 10 competitive match of the season to wrestle the early advantage.

But it helped the competitive flow that Benitez started Djibril Cissé alongside the injury-free Peter Crouch, who impressed on his Premiership debut following his £7m transfer. Cissé snatched at two chances, while Crouch, cleverly, linked play. Speed and control. It was what Benitez had demanded from his strikers.

The sight of Crouch will have caused a pang of regret for Spurs. After all they have spent all summer toiling to find a "big man" - and here was one, all 6ft 7in of him, who was allowed to leave White Hart Lane while a trainee.

Instead of Crouch, Spurs had to make do with Grzegorz Rasiak, a £2m deadline-day signing from Derby County. He started ponderously but was there to meet the parry of Liverpool goalkeeper Jose Reina from Davids' thunderously struck shot after a free-kick was rolled to him. Unfortunately for the Pole, his looping header clipped the bar and was cleared.

Alongside him, Jermain Defoe was waspishly busy. He sliced over, he sent in a curled shot with not quite enough bend and then he almost provided for Jenas who failed to get a touch as the alarmingly unsure Reina froze.

Liverpool acted. Benitez switched "a few players" and after the break Crouch and Cissé combined with the latter fiercely striking the former's knock-down with a clean half-volley from 20 yards. Paul Robinson punched it away.

Even more dramatic was John Arne Riise's astonishing volley from Gerrard's corner which whacked against the bar and bounced down sharply close to the goal-line. Seconds later, Robinson clutched, at the second attempt, on to another Riise drive.

The ferocity peaked when Carrick then sent in a powerful shot from 25 yards which Reina spilled and Defoe spooned over. Both sides then had their disallowed headers. First Rasiak, from Carrick's corner, then Crouch from Gerrard's. But the breakthrough wouldn't come.

"It was difficult to play against them," admitted Jol afterwards. "They are a good team. Good organisation. But I'm sure they feel the same about us." It could be nip and tuck all season.

Comments