Friday, January 28, 2022

Tottenham Hotspur 2-2 Liverpool: Five talking points as spoils are shared in controversy-loaded contest

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Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool scored two goals each in their Premier League match on Sunday, one of the five that didn’t get postponed due to teams missing a number of players through positive COVID-19 tests. Harry Kane opened the scoring for the hosts in the 13th minute, and Diogo Jota equalized in the 35th. Andy Robertson turned the score around in Liverpool’s favour in the 69th, but Son Heung-min set it back level five minutes later.

Controversies continue to plague English game

It’s never a good thing when refereeing decisions are discussed after a match more than the performances of the two teams, and yet, this has become common practice among those following the Premier League closely. The referees continue to draw unnecessary attention to themselves with poor and inconsistent decisions, which frequently leave at least one side frustrated and the neutral spectators bewildered.

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Paul Tierney was the man of the moment, and certainly not for the first time, though plenty could be said about those in the VAR room as well.

Minute 20 was passing with Spurs in the lead when Kane produced a high, obviously dangerous studs-first tackle on Robertson’s shin, which Tierney punished with a yellow card and received no information from the VAR that would have prompted him to change his decision. Sheer luck and reflexes helped the Scotland captain avoid getting his leg broken.

It was a different situation with a completely different outcome in the 77th minute, when Robertson applied unnecessary force while challenging Emerson Royal for the ball. He was late; he missed the ball and ended up hitting and upending the Spurs wing-back. Tierney also gave a yellow for this initially; but this time VAR did react, Tierney was sent to the pitch-side screen, and having seen a replay, he decided to show Robertson the red.

Very few people will argue against the second call. There can be no doubt that Robertson’s challenge was reckless and could’ve injured Emerson. Even Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp admitted after the game the decision was ‘fine’, but what Kane did was undoubtedly worse. It wasn’t a mistimed, reckless tackle; it was a malicious one, aimed solely to take the opposition player out with the ball not even close. When asked about it, Spurs boss Antonio Conte took some time to think, before refusing to discuss it.

Harry Kane getting away with things like this has unfortunately become a regular occurrence in the Premier League. It seems being the England captain has its benefits. But the general standards of refereeing in the English top flight and its discrepancy with the quality of the teams is arguably a bigger problem here. Henry Winter, the chief football writer for The Times, summed it up as precisely as anyone, from a completely neutral point of view.

Liverpool’s midfield problems

Fabinho, Thiago Alcantara and captain Jordan Henderson, arguably the best combination for Liverpool’s three-man midfield in Klopp’s current setup, were all unavailable for this match. Tyler Morton, 19, James Milner, who turns 36 next month, and Naby Keita, were chosen to take their places, and the makeshift trio was obviously lacking a few things to act as a compact unit.

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Most notably, they continuously failed to close down the passing lanes for the opposition, mostly Dele Alli and Tanguy Ndombele who frequently sought to send either Son or Kane in behind the high Liverpool defence line. Both Spurs goals came in that manner, and there were a host of similar opportunities for the home side apart from those two moments; those passes and consequent runs in behind were simply too easy to make from Klopp’s perspective. Both Son and Kane are extremely dangerous when given such passes and space to run into, and it showed very much against this Liverpool side.

To make it worse for Liverpool, the one defender that is usually superb when defending large spaces, Virgil van Dijk, was also unavailable.

A quiet Mo Salah

It’s not very often that we see Mohamed Salah kept quiet. The Egyptian is rightly considered among the best players in the world at the moment and he’s topping the Premier League goalscoring chart with 15 strikes, five more than teammate Jota in second place.

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Ben Davies and Ryan Sessegnon, who covered the left flank for Spurs in this match, both did a fine job of dealing with the Liverpool hitman, they were completely up to the task, but it should be said that Salah himself looked unusually tame. There were very few attempts at dribbles coming in off the right wing, one or two feeble attempts at goal and several hopeful crosses, and that’s about it. You can almost say that each of his teammates looked more likely to score than he did, except perhaps Morton and Ibrahima Konate.

There won’t be any reason for concern for Klopp though. Salah will surely bounce back and be as dangerous as ever soon enough. Even he is allowed a game of less productivity every now and then.

Spurs defensive approach

Spurs obviously approached this match from the point of view that anything that’s not a defeat would be a good result. Starting with three centre-backs, it may have looked like they would be arranged in a 3-5-2 shape with Sessegnon and Emerson pushing high against Liverpool’s fullbacks, but but the pair of them were mostly in line with Eric Dier, Davinson Sanchez and Davies, which means their formation was actually a highly defensive 5-3-2.

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Even with a completely changed midfield, Liverpool had no difficulty in having the majority of possession, which further indicates that the home side were actually happy to let that aspect of the contest go and hurt their opponents as frequently as possible through counterattacks. This is where the pace of Son and the sense for space exploitation of both the Korean and Kane came in very useful.

It seems Conte still hasn’t been able to give his team a clear identity, and he was therefore forced to search for a way to contain the Merseysiders. His players can be said to have accomplished that to a reasonable extent, and the point they won is certainly deserved. They could have gotten more with Kane, Son and Alli all wasting big chances, but the final score reflects what went on throughout the match well.

Robertson and Alisson – heroes and villains

Robertson indeed had a very good game right until that 77th minute. His trademark perseverance and usual understanding with Mane on the left flank were very difficult for Emerson and Sanchez to cope with, even though they were frequently helped by Ndombele as well.

It took a pinpoint cross to pick out Jota for Liverpool’s first goal the way he did, and a great presence of mind to divert the ball in for the second, but unfortunately for him, it also took a great deal of frustration and disregard of the safety of the opponent to earn that red card.

But the game was arguably even more weird for Alisson Becker. In a number of situations the Brazilian goalkeeper seemed at his absolute, world-class best, denying Dele Alli from close range when the Spurs midfielder already thought he had scored and dealing with several very dangerous counterattacks in his own, recognizable style.

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However, it was just such a moment in the 74th minute, when he rushed out to meet the oncoming Son, missed the ball and allowed his opponent one of the easiest goals of his career, which ended up costing Liverpool two points.

Like with Salah, nobody at Liverpool will lose too much sleep over these incidents. They’ll be hoping that both Robertson and Alisson have learned their lessons and will avoid such mistakes in the future; especially Robertson.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Veselin Trajkovic


Vesko is a football writer that likes to observe the game for what it is, focusing on teams, players and their roles, formations, tactics, rather than stats. He follows the English Premier League closely, Liverpool FC in particular. His articles have been published on seven different football blogs.

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