Brendan Rodgers must definitely be feeling he took a sharp, positive turn in his Anfield career after his side downed an able Tottenham side at home. Liverpool ran out 3-2 winners in a pulsating encounter in which Spurs’ versatile centre-back Jan Vertonghen bagged a surprising double. His goals though accounted for nothing as Liverpool took advantage of some shoddy defending in the last half-hour or so to complete a great turnaround.
Both teams started the game looking very similar in formation. Liverpool began in a 4-2-3-1 set up with Stewart Downing and Philippe Coutinho hugging either flanks with Luis Suarez the support striker to Daniel Sturridge stationed upfront. Jamie Carragher made his 500th league appearance for the club, second only to Ian Callaghan. Tottenham on the other hand had Jermaine Defoe fit upfront with Gareth Bale in support right behind him. With Aaron Lennon unavailable, Moussa Dembele started in a similar vein on the right with Gylfi Sigurdsson rotating with Bale on the left. Jake Livermore and Scott Parker mirrored Steven Gerrard and Lucas Leiva in the defensive midfield roles. Absolutely like for like.
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That was about it on paper. As for the game, Tottenham Hotspur were the better team for 20 odd minutes as they saw more of the ball. Liverpool were happy to contain the men in white. As the commentator mentioned, the key to keep Bale quiet is to not let him get into his stride, which the home side did well for most parts of the first half. The Spurs midfield kept full-backs Jose Enrique and Glen Johnson calm for the first quarter of the game as they moved the ball in triangles, leaving the Reds with only shadows to follow. Bale had a dipping, swerving free-kick smartly parried by Brad Jones in goal shortly after, Jose Reina out with injury.
Liverpool soaked Tottenham’s pressure well and were subjected to playing long balls and enjoyed only pockets of possession. But the break came from one such long ball out to their Brazilian No. 10 Coutinho on the right.
Tremendous close control and a neat back-flick to Jose Enrique started the move to Liverpool’s first goal. Getting the ball back from Enrique, Coutinho wasted no time in returning the favour by squaring it back to him. Suarez raced ahead into the penalty area and the Spaniard found him with an inch-perfect through pass which the Uruguayan jabbed in under Hugo Lloris, finishing off an exquisite passing move. With 22 goals in the Premier League and Robin Van Persie not hitting top-form, Suarez is easily the best bet for the Golden Boot this year! This strike reminiscent to the one scored a couple of weeks back by Enrique against Swansea City.
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The passing and the movement from Liverpool got excellent after the goal that came on 21 minutes, cheering up the Anfield crowd. The action shifted for a while to the other side on the right with Stewart Downing entering the fray. Liverpool’s flair down the flanks is getting better with every match as the chemistry between the likes of Coutinho and Enrique as well as Downing and Johnson is very much bearing fruit.
With half time approaching the game opened up a bit. Tottenham got over the shock of conceding and put in some really good passes but spurned the chances that followed. Sigurdsson’s miss after being put through by a cute flick from Bale should have at least tested Jones in the Liverpool goal.
There were a few strong tackles and fouls that made the temperatures simmer in the middle for a while but some really good refereeing by Michael Oliver helped sort the situation out. Gerrard’s clash with Bale as well as Suarez’s altercation with Parker was a few instances when the man in the middle showcased great composure.
Steven Gerrard had clearly been assigned the duty of staying on Bale by Rodgers. Whenever the ball was played to the Welshman, Gerrard sped across to his side to frustrate him off the ball. The ploy almost worked for the whole of the first half if not for his tackle which forced Bale off for some treatment on the sidelines. Liverpool were unlucky as Bale came back on close to the corner flag on the near side with the ball being played right there. If he had not been forced off for injury, it was likely he would not have found himself there in the corner. The No. 11 attack-man flashed in a pinpoint cross for Vertonghen to nod in. Both teams went into the break a goal apiece; a lot of sparring between the sides seeing Spurs enjoying more possession.
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The second half began with Liverpool attacking the Kop end and looking to keep the ball for longer parts of the play. The two creative sides on display lined up similar to the first half. The only thing that changed in the first 10 minutes after the restart was that Spurs went 2-1 up – Vertonghen the scorer again. A dead ball undid Liverpool as a goal-mouth scramble led to the omnipresent Belgian slamming home a volley past the diving Jones.
With two former Ajax teammates gracing the score-sheet at this point, the home side looked to be losing the plot. Tottenham were running them rugged as Bale made the right side his own. On one such blinding run of his, he went the whole length of the Liverpool half and found Sigurdsson on the other side. The Icelandic international hit the upright from the resulting shot and the Reds’ were living dangerously.
Then on the hour Brendan Rodgers made a surprising change which turned out to be a piece of tactical brilliance. A very impressive Coutinho came off in place of Joe Allen. The Welshman occupied an advanced role in front of Lucas, allowing Gerrard to push even further in support of Suarez and Sturridge. The former Chelsea striker had found it difficult to influence the game but was an inspiring presence all throughout.
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Then on 67 minutes came a horrendous comedy of errors from the visiting side. Kyle Walker played an erratic lobbed back pass to Lloris which the Frenchman smacked onto an onrushing Downing. The winger found himself facing Vertonghen on the line. With the whole goal to aim at, he went for the space between the defender’s leg, fortunately getting it through! Anfield erupted and Liverpool had their goal. After seeing Spurs dominate, the Reds did not let frustration get the better of them and took their chances as and when they came.
The volume levels of the Kop had definitely cranked up in the aftermath of the goal and Liverpool looked to make the most of their resurgence. It gave them more resolve to defend and a mightier thrust and impetus to attack. Suarez and Sturridge starting getting into open spaces and Gerrard found them with some absolutely immaculate passes, tormenting the away defense. Joe Allen had come on and put up a show of tenacity, fighting with a new found vigour for the ball. A welcome change from his old, meek self.
On 83 minutes Liverpool were presented a chance to take the lead again. Suarez was right in the middle of yet another defensive blunder, this time from Jermaine Defoe. The English striker played a back pass right into Suarez, which the Liverpool No. 7 allowed to bounce into the Tottenham penalty box, before going down under a clumsy Assou-Ekotto tackle. Referee Michael Oliver pointed to the spot and Gerrard stepped up to take this one. Putting Lloris the wrong way, the home team’s Captain Fantastic had put them 3-2 up.
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Liverpool’s worries were not yet over. They now had the task to protect a lead, which they by no means have been good at this season. And with Bale’s heroics in a game’s dying moments were touted to spoil Liverpool’s party.
Rodgers’ side though held on for a famous win which will instill a feel good factor at Anfield for sure. Surely one of Northern Irishman’s best days in the dugout, his side had outclassed a side which was by no means a pushover. Liverpool can be proud of their performance. It was a thriller in every sense of the word. Suarez & Co undeniably have a swagger to their style and it can only get better with time. Spurs though must be reeling under the loss as it now heats up the race with Arsenal and Chelsea for that elusive fourth-place finish.
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