European football on the cards for White Hart Lane again as visitors earn victory which gives them the upper hand in race for fifth, and leaves Reds with slim hopes of Europe.Tottenham have put themselves into the driving seat for Europa League qualification as they defeated Liverpool at Anfield with goals from Rafael van der Vaart and a controversial penalty which was scored by Luka Modric. The result sees Harry Redknapp’s side move above Liverpool into fifth in the Premier League and means they go into the final round of games next Sunday with the advantage in the race for European football next season.
Spurs scored in both halves in a game which frustrated the Anfield faithful and put the brakes on the Dalglish lead revival. The result is the perfect pick-me-up for Spurs after the defeat to FA Cup winners Manchester City last Tuesday killed off Tottenham’s hopes for a second campaign in the Champions League.
The mirror image can be said of Liverpool who after scoring five past Fulham in their last outing, were kept at bay by the visitors from north London.
Anfield is a bogey ground for Tottenham. Their last victory was way back in 1998 when they won a League cup game 3-1. The current groups of Spurs players would be unaware of this fact and these doubts were quickly expelled as the visitors found themselves in the lead in under 10 minutes. A Luka Modric corner was cleared from the danger area where Rafael van der Vaart picked up the loose ball and let rip with a powerful lob which flew beyond Pepe Reina and into the top left of the Liverpool net. An excellent start for any team away from home.
The first half produced very little for the Liverpool fans to cheer. The Reds struggled to build any tempo in their attacks and this wasn’t helped by referee Howard Webb. The World Cup final ref made a number of calls which infuriated Anfield. One of note was the decision to book Luis Suarez after the striker kicked out with petulance at Tottenham captain Michael Dawson. The Uruguayan challenged the centre-half and felt Dawson fell too easily and responded with a gentle kick which Webb punished with yellow.
It was hard to believe that this was the same Liverpool outfit which was scoring at will against Fulham on Monday evening and Kenny Dalglish was visibly frustrated on the bench at what was playing out on the rain sodden pitch.
Liverpool did improve as the half progressed and began to establish an impact on affairs and chances did finally materialise. Young Jay Spearing saw his shot from within the box fly wide right but the best opportunity to level the score fell to Andy Carroll. An overlapping run from the defender, Martin Skrtel was finished with a looping cross to the far post where an unmarked Carroll headed over. The £35million pound held his pony-tailed head in his hands as he failed to even hit the target from such close range.
Carroll’s slaloming run at the end of the half was halted by Sandro and the resulting free-kick by Suarez, which flew narrowly wide was the last of the half and gave the Reds confidence that parity was within touching distance as they returned to the dressing rooms.
The second half begun as the first did, an early Tottenham goal. A jinking run from Steven Pienaar was abruptly stopped when John Flanangan shoulder charged the former Everton winger and he tumbled to the turf. On first sight it appeared to be a harsh penalty as Flanagan was side-by-side with the South African when he made the challenge. Regardless, Webb pointed to the spot and Luka Modric hammered home to double the lead. The mood in Anfield turned even more sour.
Tottenham didn’t have everything their own way as goalscorer van der Vaart was replaced with an injury and replaced with Jermain Defoe. Not what Redknapp would have wanted going into next Sunday.
The game continued in much the same fashion, a great deal of huff and puff from Liverpool but no real sense that the goal would ever come. Tottenham were content to hold up the ball and play for time.
Both sides enter the final round of games next week with everything to play for. Liverpool travel to former manager, Gerard Houllier's Aston Villa hoping for a favour from their ex-manager. Whilst Spurs host Birmingham City, who themselves need the points in the battle against the drop to the Championship. An interesting week awaits.