Tottenham 2: Lennon 8', Bale 16'
Liverpool 1: Bale (og) 71'
An unchanged eleven was certainly a possibility heading into today, and dropping Steven Gerrard never seemed that likely, but to see Brendan Rodgers pick the exact same personnel in the exact same roles was a bit surprising and more than a little disappointing. Stewart Downing was atrocious against Swansea and Gerrard's workrate defensively was nigh-on absent, so while Rodgers' choices are limited with the personnel available, the threat of Spurs' pace and ability in attack was worrying for these reasons alone.
And as it were, Rodgers and Liverpool were punished for that inside of ten minutes, as their early spell of posession gave way to what would eventually be a half full of Spurs dominance. It kicked off with Gareth Bale gliding through Liverpool's midfield and defense, first past Gerrard (x2), then around a stoic Martin Skrtel before sliding across the face of goal to an unmarked Aaron Lennon, who had eased past Downing at the back post and pushed it into an empty net.
Open chances for Suarez and Jordan Henderson followed shortly after, neither of which came to fruition, and it only got worse minutes later, with Spurs rewarded for a clear Clint Dempsey dive around twenty-five yards from goal. Bale's free-kick either took a slight deflection or swerved just enough to absolutely confound Pepe Reina, who was left rooted to the spot as the ball flew past him. 2-0 down away from Anfield with little going on at the other end of pitch, and things were looking very, very discouraging.
Thankfully it improved around the half-hour, even if those improvements led to further frustrations. Jose Enrique continued his good work on the left and proved the most threatening, but Liverpool's best chance came on the opposite flank, with a smart interplay freeing Steven Gerrard into the area. He was nudged down by Sandro--surely more contact than the Jordan Henderson foul given on Dempsey--with no penalty given by Phil Dowd, and a follow-up effort by Suarez was cleared off the line by Kyle Walker. The threat was growing, and a number of ricochets off Tottenham defenders very nearly got the guests a goal, but Liverpool still entered the half down by two.
At the start of the second half it'd be fair to say that the mood was more than a little depressed; the first half chances led to nothing and no changes were made, and while Liverpool seemed more on the front foot, it was hard to believe the goals were actually going to come. The early signs after the restart were encouraging, even if the final product was lacking, this time with Jose Enrique wasting a good cross from Suarez by trying to head back into space for Jordan Henderson.
The pressure mounted as the half wore on, with the usual suspects involved in and around the area but no finishing in sight. Spurs offered very little but didn't necessarily need to, and after Liverpool looked to have run out of ideas they enjoyed an extended spell of possession, with a little back and forth breaking up what settled into another verse, same as the first. And second. And etcetera.
Jonjo Shelvey's introduction for Jordan Henderson was supposed to give Liverpool increased attacking support, but a clear-cut chance didn't arrive until ten minutes later, with a cross from Glen Johnson gifting a chance to Jose Enrique that was blocked wide for a corner. Shelvey's out-swinger was eventually headed across goal where Aaron Lennon waited, but the winger's clearance went straight off Gareth Bale's face and into the back of the net and in.
Rodgers made another change with just over ten minutes to play, this time bringing on Oussama Assaidi for Stewart Downing and shifting Enrique to left-back. An equalizer was nearly on the cards five minutes later, with a persistent Daniel Agger flicking back from what looked to be out-of-bounds only for Luis Suarez to blaze a volley over from ten yards out. An Enrique half-volley from a cleared corner bent wide of the post as time wore down.
They should have had a penalty just before stoppage time, with Suarez controlling smartly from Enrique only to be tripped up by William Gallas, but Phil Dowd was having none of it and whistled play dead for a Sterling foul on Sandro, the second Spurs giant that the miniscule 17 year-old managed to drag down. From there they were done, and what could have been a point spared ended as three dropped.
It's hard to know what to feel after that match other than excited annoyance and pessimistic hopefulness. Liverpool were dire but created clear goal-scoring chances in the first sixty-odd minutes, and dominated the ball and the match towards the end but had fewer chances to score than earlier and had to rely on an own goal to be within a goal. Liverpool continues forward, backward, and every other direction imaginable.
The litany of poor individual performances continued, with a midfield that was passive at best and Raheem Sterling showing clear signs of wear and tear. That Liverpool were able to turn the match in their favor towards the end was more a shock than anything else; with Joe Allen and Steven Gerrard both off-form and in need of a rest, it seemed as though Liverpool was destined to fade badly.
But it didn't, and whether it was Jonjo Shelvey's introduction or the Lennon missile off Bale's face, Liverpool refused to lie down even though they'd spent much of the previous hour trying to do just that. Brendan Rodgers' side are an absolute mystery right now, and it's impossible to draw any conclusions other than that it's probably not going away any time soon, and that it'll continue on Sunday at Anfield.