Opinion: Why Spurs should not let their win be clouded by Liverpool VAR chaos

On Saturday, the PGMOL experienced what was certainly one of its busiest and most controversial matches.

Liverpool’s clash at Tottenham saw VAR be called in for judgement three times. The first occasion was the dismissal of midfielder, Curtis Jones, whose challenge on Bissouma was deemed dangerous.

VAR instructed referee Simon Hooper to consult with the video replay of the challenge; to which the English referee decided to upgrade Jones’ punishment from yellow to red, much to the dismay of Liverpool fans and pundits.

The visitors then took the lead eight minutes after losing Jones as Diaz fired a shot into the bottom left corner. VAR yet again was called upon to check the call for offside, the goal was deemed illegal and Tottenham went on to go 1-0 up.

Despite little awareness amongst the fans inside the stadium, VAR had made a glaring error which prompted a later apology from the PGMOL (Sky News). Inevitably, this led to more media onslaught for inconsistent officiating which has been a theme throughout the start of this season.

The controversy seemed to absorb so much attention that little has been said about Tottenham finally defeating one of their toughest opponents, only beating The Reds once across the past six years.

So, exactly how good was Tottenham’s victory despite the officiating mishaps which continue to dominate the headlines?

LONDON, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 30: Son Heung-min of Tottenham Hotspur celebrates the win with Pedro Porro and Alejo Veliz at full time during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool FC at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on September 30, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

Richarlison’s successful re-introduction?

Despite Richarlison’s heroic cameo against Sheffield United two weeks ago, Ange Postecoglou opted for the pace of Brennan Johnson against North London rivals, Arsenal, but an injury to the Welsh winger paved the way for the Brazilians’ reintegration into the starting line-up against Liverpool.

For many Spurs fans, it may have been perceived that Son would be pushed back out onto the left for the game, allowing Richarlison to operate through the middle, but those perceptions were quickly dispelled pre-game as Postecoglou confirmed to Sky Sports ‘He [Richarlison] will start on the left’.

Richarlison offered a different type of threat from the left-hand side than Tottenham had experienced so far this season. Richarlison despite creating 2 chances, one being an unselfish cutback for Son’s opener, the winger also had five shots of his own, two of which were on target and perhaps were unlucky to have not hit the back of the net (FotMob).

Postecoglou had deployed Solomon, Son and briefly Johnson on the left so far this season; Richarlison had the most xG out of them all. The Brazilian experienced 0.78 xG (FotMob), Tottenham’s highest xG from their left-sided attacker all season, by some way too with Johnson’s 0.59xG last weekend being the only performance that came close (FotMob).

It can be frustrating that Richarlison therefore didn’t end up putting himself on the scoresheet, but his quality of chances display that his runs and movement offer something Tottenham haven’t experienced all season, and with Tottenham’s number 9 now grabbing 1 goal and 2 assists in his last 111 minutes of football, it could allow him to lock down a spot in Postecoglou’s team.

Pedro Porro’s outstanding display

A common preconception before the start of the season amongst fans was that you could not start Pedro Porro and Destiny Udogie together, but in true Postecoglou fashion; Ange ripped up the rulebook. Porro has found a new level at Tottenham since the Australian came in and Saturday’s performance was an embodiment of his hard work, especially on his defensive game.

Porro’s Spurs career certainly took off turbulently as former Tottenham boss judged him as being ‘so bad it’s unbelievable’ whilst also claiming his ‘positioning was absolutely disgusting’ (Sky Sports) as Tottenham fell to a 4-1 defeat away at Leicester, Porro failed to make a single tackle that game and was substituted after 75 minutes.

Porro when asked about those Sherwood comments at the time stated, ‘Let me loose in a prison and I’ll end up owning the place’, his flash of arrogance was balanced with a sense of understanding that he’d need to adjust as Pedro also stated ‘it’s hard: it was only a week, I’d never played a minute at City, never played in England in my life’ (The Guardian). It’s now seeming not so hard for the Spaniard.

His display against Liverpool was nearly immaculate, he often dampened the Liverpool attack and utilised his pace to stop any counter-attacking threats, especially when the visitors often used it as their only attacking outlet as they dropped to nine men.

Porro made the most tackles out of anyone in the game (6) (SofaScore) and made the all-important fizzing cross across the Liverpool box which forced Matip to deflect the cross into his own net, sending the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium into raptures.

Porro’s performance was arguably man-of-the-match worthy and won Tottenham the tie; now that the Spanish international has improved his defensive ability, it’s hard to see a true weakness in the full-backs game.

The un-Spursy result

When Tottenham came from behind twice away to Arsenal last weekend to clinch a rare point at the Emirates, James Maddison stated that ‘Neutrals talk about Tottenham, they often say; soft, weak, bottle it, Spursy, all that rubbish.

I think the last couple of weeks shows we might be going in a slightly different direction’ (Mirror), and Saturday’s result suggests that perhaps the tide is certainly turning at Tottenham.

Obviously, the expectation would have been to get a winning goal in those final 20 minutes against a nine-man Liverpool, however, the Reds effectively had all nine of those men behind the ball at times.

Other than the odd outlier Tottenham have notoriously struggled to finish the job off against sides with a low block, but Postecoglou’s side have now defeated two teams back-to-back at home that end the game with an extremely low block with the intention of nullifying Spurs’ threat.

Spurs patiently plugged away, with little sign of players becoming frustrated, shown by the fact that Tottenham only had eight shots from the moment that Jota was sent off.

The patient passing around the Liverpool box is shown by the fact that Spurs had 42 more passes in the final 20 minutes of the second half than they did in the first 25 minutes of the second half (Opta).

Spurs’ winner was the clearest display of the confidence that Postecoglou has breathed into the side and the lack of ‘bottling it’ which Maddison alluded to.

Kulusevski doesn’t panic at the start of the move which caused the winner and even passes it back to the wide-open Romero; a decision which was met with audible groans around the ground.

Romero continues the calmness and confidence in playing Postecoglou’s way as the Argentine holds the ball for six seconds, a time which seems like an eternity when it’s the final minute of the game, but it was a much-needed wait as allowed Porro to drift out wide and ultimately fire in his cross which ensured Tottenham would get three points against Liverpool since October of 2017.

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