The better team won, though it’s hard to say they were better tonight. There’s not a supporter, coach or player of either team who could tell you honestly what would have happened without the Sissoko penalty.
Maybe Liverpool is much more aggressive and still takes the lead in the first half. Or maybe they make themselves more susceptible to a counter and we score first. But it’s done now. A harsh and unlucky but also correct call in the first 20 seconds determined the entire course of this game. Liverpool did what they do best—press and invite you to try and go over the top—and if by land or air you manage to get by they have a formidable back line there to stop you from making it count.
Of course we were rusty, as were they. And the familiarity of teams from the same league often produces games like this—cagey, tight, neither side able to produce anything special. Son, Dele and Kane were simply out of synch or when a better scoring opportunity surfaced, unable to best the likes of Van Dijk, Matip or Alexander-Arnold. Should Kane have started?
The first 20 minutes when he was bullied off the ball by VVD and otherwise looked a bit out of sorts would call Poch’s decision into question. But after that he settled in and was as capable as any of them of causing a threat. Son’s touch betrayed him on numerous occasions, as did Dele who failed to connect with his Korean teammate several times in their third. Winks was a bit uneven, though in the second half as Spurs increasingly dominated the action, he became more aggressive, and I’m not sure Lucas added much more though certainly that particular substitution made sense at the time.
It is curious that the final two dramatic moments came down to the two veteran players who seem almost certain to depart over the summer. Danny Rose—in a typically dynamic showing—leaped for a ball and was fouled about six inches outside the box, but still giving Eriksen an excellent chance to score. From the replays I think his ball would have curled into the far corner, but Allison ain’t Karius or Mignolet, and there went our last best hope. We never looked like a goal on the corners or crosses we got (Dele headed a ball over the bar and Vertonghen sent one wide but other than those two, I can’t think of a decent attempt)—but they were always a threat on theirs. And finally after a scramble, Toby was guilty of ball watching and left Origi alone for the clincher. Son and Lucas had had decent opportunities just earlier but the Eriksen free kick seemed to be the last straw.
They knew what to do after the pen, and they did it. We were not at our best, but certainly the effort was there. It felt a bit like Atletico Madrid against their bigger rivals—we were game, but not clinical enough—and ultimately the better class told.
My biggest regret is one that the entire last five months underscored—somehow, except for a few bursts (Lucas v Ajax and Huddersfield; Jan/Son v Dortmund; Son v City) our attack fizzed out. With or without Kane. Something was missing. Surely Pochettino—if he stays, and I think those odds improved with tonight’s result but who knows?—knows that strengthening and revitalising our attack is job one. We may need a Lo Celso type to fill the hole Dembele has left, and an upgrade at right back—but the bigger job is to add pace and quality in the final third. We didn’t have enough of either tonight.
I hope this wasn’t a one-off. We had better teams in the two years before this, and hopefully we’ll have better XIs in the next few—but this was the one that somehow got to this point, only to have reality hit them square in the face in the first breaths of the game. It was as if we were the better horse and thus had been issued a one goal handicap to play the rest of the game with.
I think it is as simple as our luck ran out, and Liverpool had shown over the past nine months that they were the better team. And they repeated it for 90 minutes. In the next two months we will learn—from the manager on down—the precise shape of next year’s Spurs. I don’t think we’re going away.
Have something to tell us about this article?