Liverpool 3: Suarez 21', Downing 66', Gerrard (pen.) 82'
Tottenham 2: Vertonghen 45' 53'
Team news was met with surprise and shock ahead of kickoff--Pepe Reina was ruled out with a calf injury, opening the door for Brad Jones to make his first Liverpool start in months, and around ten minutes or so ahead of kickoff we learned that Joe Allen, who was included on the bench, was due to undergo shoulder surgery. The lineup itself was somewhat surprising as well, with only Steven Gerrard and Lucas in the Liverpool midfield, and each of Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge, and Philippe Coutinho starting across the front.
It was end-to-end stuff to start, with Liverpool settling on the front foot for much of the opening. Coutinho was the brightest from both sides, showing creativity and skill in surging forward. He nearly created on his own by curling over at the far post, and just after the twenty minute mark he combined well with Jose Enrique to spring Suarez for Liverpool's opener.
A neat backheel fell just behind the Spanish fullback, who knocked back to Coutinho before venturing further forward. The Brazilian skimmed a low pass to Enrique's feet, and after recovering from a slight jumble, he played a perfectly-weighted through ball forward for the onrushing Suarez. A toe-flick was all the Uruguayan needed to beat Hugo Lloris at the near post, and Liverpool were flying high.
Unfortunately that dissolved around the half-hour mark, as the visitors pinned Liverpoool deeper and deeper. The equalizer was inevitable, but the manner in which it arrived seemed especially cruel. Michael Oliver called a foul on Steven Gerrard, who'd fairly won a header over Gareth Bale. The initially delivery was cleared, but Spurs maintained possession long enough for Bale, who'd gone off briefly after receiving treatment, to swing in a cross to Jan Vertonghen, who beat both Jamie Carragher (who'd been held down by Michael Dawson) and Glen Johnson to send the match to halftime level.
The second half was barely ten minutes old when Bale and Vertonghen combined again to put Spurs on top--Bale's free-kick from deep sent Liverpool's defense into collapse, and again Carragher and Johnson found themselves unable to cope with Vertonghen. The Belgian defender had time and space from eight yards out, and made no mistake in hitting a half-volley past a helpless Brad Jones.
Liverpool struggled to cope immediately after the goal and looked fully capable of conceding at least two more. The tide started to turn, though, and while Joe Allen's entrance didn't bring about a sea change, Liverpool gradually coped better through the midfield and were more dangerous in possession. He wasn't terrific by any stretch, but the extra body proved vital.
Of course, Liverpool's equalizer had nothing to do with anyone other than Kyle Walker and Lloris, who conspired to leave Stewart Downing on goal with only Vertonghen in the way. It was a confusing moment, but Downing collected himself calmly and hit a low shot with his right foot straight through Vertonghen. Liverpool were level through the type of defensive error with which they've become painfully familiar, and with over twenty minutes to play, they had plenty of time to get a winner.
Spurs' threat decreased as Liverpool's continued to grow, with the winner finally materializing after Luis Suarez was clattered down by Benoit Assou-Ekotto on the far side. It was a clear penalty--one that even a terribly inconsistent Michael Oliver couldn't miss--coolly taken by the Liverpool captain, and it proved to be enough for Liverpool as they got their fourth consecutive win and first against a side in the top four.
I don't really know how to feel other than sweaty and gleeful after that result. At times I was enraged, disappointed, rapturous, and confused, and now it's all settled into a contented feeling that Liverpool have finally won a match that had some sort of importance attached to it. They weren't at their best on the day, and have arguably lost matches in which they looked far sharper, but they did exactly what we've been begging them to do, and that feels mighty good.
It's hard to pick out any star performer for Liverpool, who struggled both collectively and individually throughout. Philippe Coutinho was probably the most consistent player in a red shirt, with a number of dangerous spells in possession and the spark to give Liverpool their opener. He is a 5'7" bundle of hope for the future, and so far he's delivered the future far more quickly than any of us could have expected.
His partners in attack varied from brilliant to disconnected; Luis Suarez produced his typical moments of flash and got a goal but was sloppy as well, Stewart Downing got his second goal in two games and was solid on the right, and Daniel Sturridge--who was clearly some ways off fitness--showed smart movement but failed on far too many occasions with his first touch.
Brendan Rodgers takes much of the blame for setting the midfield up to be overwhelmed, and while each of Steven Gerrard and Lucas performed admirably, the decision to bring on Joe Allen was something of an acknowledgement that Liverpool just could not expect to win if things were left unchanged. I still don't agree with bringing Allen on rather than Henderson, as the latter could have done just as much as the former. Particularly with shoulder surgery apparently on the horizon, it looked a teacher's pet decision more than anything, with Henderson getting mop-up minutes once Liverpool had the lead. Still, Lucas was smart and timely in the tackle despite being booked for a soft foul on Gareth Bale. His distribution was off and on, but we're ever closer to the Lucas we remember.
The less said about the defense the better--moments of solidity when needed, but calamitous errors once again nearly cost Liverpool points. Glen Johnson had his worst match of the season (which I'd hope is a one-off) and Jamie Carragher was frightful at times, and neither of Daniel Agger or Jose Enrique fared much better despite having better days than the former pair. Brad Jones did what was asked of him and made a couple of saves, but I don't know that anyone will feel at ease if he continues as the number one.
So what did we learn? Jesus, I have no idea. Liverpool made many of the same errors they've made all season and looked destined to be on the wrong end of a 4-1 scoreline, and then they go and turn it all around to get all three points. First win of the season against a side above them in the table, four straight, and a much-desired victory in a close match.
They should do this more often.