Liverpool regain air of champions as Tottenham count the cost of painful defeat

Tottenham 1-3 Liverpool: Harry Kane’s injury only added to Spurs’ woes as Roberto Firmino, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Sadio Mane all found the net

Miguel Delaney
Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
@MiguelDelaney
Thursday 28 January 2021 23:20
comments

A huge result, that may have bigger repercussions. Liverpool at last looked like champions again, and several levels above Tottenham Hotspur, to leap ahead of them in the table with a 3-1 win at White Hart Lane that at times looked like it could have been 5-1 or 6-1. It wasn’t the only contrast on what felt a significant night in the season as a whole.Jose Mourinho’s problems may just be beginning despite this team’s ongoing poor run, as Harry Kane went off injured at half-time. On the other side, many of Liverpool’s poorly-performing stars suddenly looked back to their best, chiefly goalscorers Roberto Firmino, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Sadio Mane.

It was the Brazilian that ended this team’s surprisingly long Premier League goal drought, claiming their first in 486 minutes in first-half stoppage time. The truth was they had already looked so much freer before that. The goal just fostered further belief. There are lessons there, not least for Spurs. Liverpool have got out of this bad run, and so quickly looked so good again, because they kept faith in an approach and a plan. 

Spurs meanwhile just looked to be hoping for the best. 

That's what Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s admittedly fine strike was, although summed up by the fact it was Spurs' only shot on target in the second half, when they were supposedly chasing the game. How else could you describe Mourinho’s tactics, that have so swiftly left them swept away and adrift in the league? It really doesn’t look like much beyond keep it tight, get it to two or three stars, and rely on constantly getting breaks.

That will eventually come back against you, especially against elite sides with a proper plan.It helped Liverpool look like a proper team again. This was maybe exactly the right fixture for them, not least in how Mourinho’s reliance on a suspect defence would leave them space to play. Some of their players were revelling in it.Even before the opening goal goal, Firmino had been having his best performance for a while, and it’s perhaps not a coincidence that Liverpool were having their best attacking performance in a while. 

The Brazilian was offering all the brilliant little touches that were just adding a fluency to the side’s play, and making them flow better. There were at least four excellent interchanges in normal time of the first half, where Liverpool carved Spurs open with quick passing. The only thing that was missing, as in recent games, was the finishing touch. Unlike recent games, though, that wasn’t because they were rushing chances or allowing an anxiety to seep into their play. They looked assured going forward.

That wasn’t completely the case at the back. Although Joel Matip temporarily made them look more secure - before, almost predictably, going off - there were still gaps; there was still space. Spurs did look on the brink of exploiting those faultlines repeatedly, but Son Heung-Min wasn’t quite at his best, Kane not at his sharpest.

The latter was particularly the case when he hobbled off at half-time. Mourinho must have thought everything was going against him at that point, especially given his side could have had the lead. Son’s third-minute strike was ruled out for being offside by a fraction, which was about the same distance as Mane was onside for that game-breaking Firmino goal. Hugo Lloris wasn’t great for that, or Trent Alexander-Arnold’s follow-up, and Mourinho might well point to such fine margins.

They only masked a much bigger, deeper gap between the teams. Liverpool try and play. It’s still a little hard to say what Spurs do, other than try and get it to their stars and go there.

The absence of Kane gave them much less of an outlet, and allowed Liverpool to push forward much more - and express themselves much more.

There was a joy to their football again, as they put together some supreme moves. Every goal had a mark of high quality, even the one disallowed. For that, it was the Thiago Alcantara step-over, that led to a joyous Terry Butcher-style motivational shout as he wore his Terry Butcher-style headband after a cut to the head.

For the first goal, it was Jordan Henderson’s ball and Mane’s take before the cross. For the second, it was Alexander-Arnold’s finish. For the third - capping the right-back’s best performance in some time - it was a supreme cross, that Joe Rodon struggled with, before Mane supplied an emphatic finish.

It was a finish of assurance, and aplomb, that also ended the game. It might well have kick-started Liverpool’s season.

As for Spurs, Mourinho was left on the sideline angrily cursing at everyone and no one. Spurs are suddenly in danger of going nowhere this season.

Liverpool, after this, can again aim for the top. They finally looked like they belonged there.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments