Tottenham’s Danny Rose, front, competes for the ball with Liverpool’s Sadio Mane, as Tottenham’s Christian Eriksen looks on during the English Premier League soccer match between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool at White Hart Lane in London, Saturday, Aug. 27, 2016.(Photo|AP)
There was no ignoring the celebration from Mauricio Pochettino when the equaliser came, an unrepentantly joyous run down the touchline, a leap and a punch of the air in delight at one point rescued against a Liverpool team that had threatened to overrun his own side at times.
This was a match played at a psychotic pace, between two uber-pressing, highly conditioned groups of players determined to let the other team linger on the ball for no longer than necessary, and for a long time it seemed that Liverpool would seize the day. The first half belonged to them, they went in with the lead at half-time and for most of the game Jurgen Klopp’s team seemed to be fulfilling their manager’s vision for the future.
Liverpool look closer to the finished article, despite the injuries, and once again there was no place for Daniel Sturridge in the starting line-up. They are led by Roberto Firmino, the centre-forward who sets the tone with his chasing and strength, and who won the penalty from which left-back James Milner scored in the 43rd minute. Klopp pointed out that Spurs would always have chances and so it proved that Danny Rose scored with 18 minutes left.
Pochettino’s team appeared less confident about their identity in the first half, although they showed the character to fight back from an unpromising position. They were fortunate too, especially when the referee Robert Madley erroneously disallowed Sadio Mane’s second-half goal for offside after a great counter-attacking move on 55 minutes.
Spurs owed a lot to the persistence of Erik Lamela, who created their equaliser and may feel unlucky that he was adjudged to have clipped Firmino for the penalty when the replays showed the faint contact to be marginally outside the area. Dele Alli and Eric Dier also came back into the match after half-time and the quality that took Spurs to third place in the Premier League last season is still there, even if not everyone is performing.
Pochettino joked afterwards that he would be happy for Harry Kane not to score until the 10th match of the season if, as he did last season, he got to May as the top goalscorer in the league. The Spurs captain was substituted before the end with the home side pursuing a winner and he seems to lack that sharpness which enabled him to turn the smallest opening into a goal last season.
But there will be greater concerns about the level of Christian Eriksen, who struggled to have a meaningful effect on the match and was lucky to stay on until the very last minute when he was replaced by Harry Winks. Kyle Walker had a desperate 25 minutes of misjudgements and lost tackles until he was withdrawn, apparently unwell, and we wait to see whether he is included in Sam Allardyce’s first England squad today.
Sturridge came on eventually with a couple of minutes left to play although it is not hard to see why he does not make the cut in these games. Klopp expects his players to exert wave after wave of pressure, with Philippe Coutinho and Mane either side of Firmino, and behind them Adam Lallana and Georginio Wijnaldum. This is hard work and no-one is permitted to take a break.
“This game showed again what we can do and how we can play,” Klopp said. “It wasn’t only about pressing although we did that really well. We were really flexible and then we played football. We had wonderful moments of passing and direction. I wish we could have won but we will accept a point. No problem, it’s Tottenham.”
Walker’s departure forced a major change for Spurs – Vincent Janssen came on to take Kane’s role, Kane went back to No 10, Alli dropped back into holding midfield and Dier was free to take up the right-back position. It was down that channel which the penalty came for Liverpool.
Before then Mane was booked and was lucky to escape a second yellow later in the first half for a foul on Rose. If that decision from Madley upset the home crowd, they would have had serious misgivings about the foul for the penalty which looked to be outside the area. Firmino got around the pursuing Lamela and on the byline he went down, with the slightest of contact. Milner’s was a confident hit that sent Michel Vorm in the wrong direction.
“The problem was the organisation when we had the issue with Kyle Walker,” Pochettino said. “The second half we had to take risks. They had some chances… but we are very pleased with the performance and the effort from the players. We showed character today. It isn’t easy when you face a team who play on the counter-attack and you have to take risks.”
Liverpool were without the injured Ragnar Klavan and had Joel Matip alongside Dejan Lovren in the centre of defence and it was only after the hour that Spurs at last started to test them. Eriksen wafted a shot over when he should have done better. Lamela’s free-kick was pushed over the bar by Simon Mignolet and from the corner Toby Alderweireld went close with a header.
The equaliser came from the left foot of Rose, who when Dier’s cross from the right broke to him, took his time and put the necessary slice on a left-foot shot, a “shank” he later said, which went just inside Mignolet’s near post. Spurs had the better of it in the closing stages but Lallana had arguably the best chance.
Klopp would not be drawn on Liverpool’s pounds 11?million bid for the Borussia Dortmund’s USA international Christian Pulisic. Pochettino said that Spurs still may try to do a deal before Wednesday’s deadline, although there were signs for both that they are getting close to what their managers want them to be.