Reports of Liverpool’s demise may well have been exaggerated.
Parts keep on falling off, but the machine still works.
And here, in north London, it started to purr once more.
What a win this was, both in terms of its importance and its execution. The Reds’ first in six Premier League matches was a dominant one, a deserved 3-1 triumph over Tottenham which fires Jurgen Klopp’s men back into the top four and, maybe, back into the title race too.
So much has faltered for the champions of late, but it all worked fine here. Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane scored, Gini Wijnaldum and Thiago Alcantara ran the show in midfield, where James Milner, 35 years old, put in the performance of a young pup.
And then there was Trent Alexander-Arnold, the beacon of Liverpool’s recovery. A goal and an assist for the Scouse full-back, who was very much back to his best after a winter dip.
Not even another centre-back crisis could halt Klopp’s side, who were a level above their rivals throughout. Not even Jose Mourinho could argue here, although knowing him he’ll try.
Liverpool lost Fabinho before a ball was even kicked. “Minor muscle issue,” said the club. Major selection headache, more like.Getty Images
At least Joel Matip was back, though, selected again after missing the FA Cup loss to Manchester United last week. Matip looked like a Rolls Royce in the first half, first to everything, but he lasted just 45 minutes, replaced at half-time by Nathaniel Phillips, who slotted in alongside captain Jordan Henderson at the back. "Ankle ligaments," said Klopp. It looks and sounds like a serious one.
That, incredibly, means Liverpool have now used 16 different centre-back partnerships this season – Matip and Henderson was the 15th. They have played 20 Premier League games, and started with 11 different combinations.
As things stand, their three senior centre-halves are injured and so is their backup. No wonder ‘Sign a CB’ was trending on Twitter. There is still time before Monday’s deadline. They simply have to act.
At least they looked like themselves otherwise, though. Spurs’ performance was curious, lacking in ambition once Harry Kane, their talisman, had departed with an injury of his own at half-time. Mourinho has now lost each of his last four games against Klopp, a statistic that will trouble the Portuguese as much as his team’s display.Getty Images
Liverpool led at the break, Henderson picking a gem of a pass from deep for Mane, whose cross gave Firmino the simplest of tap-ins. It was the Reds’ first goal in the league in 486 minutes, and Firmino’s fifth in six games against Spurs. The Brazilian, like Alexander-Arnold, was his old self on the night.
Spurs had seen an early goal, scored by Son Heung-min, disallowed after a wafer-thin offside call by the VAR, but they were second best for the most part. Alexander-Arnold got Liverpool’s second, rifling home after Hugo Lloris made a meal of Mane’s low shot. It was the 22-year-old’s first goal of the campaign, and taken clinically.
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s rasper gave Spurs hope, as did another VAR call which denied Mohamed Salah a third for Liverpool.
Thankfully, the officials would not decide this contest, the players would. Alexander-Arnold was the provider, his superb cross causing problems for Joe Rodon and allowing Mane to ram home for 3-1.
That was enough, Liverpool closing the game out with focus and determination, epitomised by Milner’s relentless hustling and Henderson’s constant instruction from the back. They’ve had their critics, deservedly so, but here they were stars dressed in red, every last one of them.
For the first time in weeks, they looked like Liverpool. After a month of darkness, has the dawn arrived?