Before the match, many Liverpool fans were as nervous as they'd been all season. Matches away at White Hart Lane have been unenjoyable at best in recent years, and the decision to give Luis Suarez the captain's armband was greeted largely with skepticism. With Arsenal dropping the ball in a big way against Manchester City yesterday, this was a huge opportunity for Liverpool to gain ground in the chase for the title, and just as big a chance to send a message to the league as to how serious the squad is this season. Fortunately, Brendan Rodgers and his side had more than a few tricks up their sleeves today.
Liverpool 5 Suarez 18', 84', Henderson 40', Flanagan 75', Sterling 89'
The match started out in nervy fashion, with Liverpool pressing well but utterly ineffective in possession. There were also some nervy moments at the back during Tottenham's early forays forward, but all the would quickly turn around as the players settled in to the match.
The high pressure did a lot to disrupt what Tottenham was trying to do in possession, especially with Paulinho working as Spurs' playmaker instead of a more traditional attacking mid. With the hosts unable to string together much of a chance, the best opportunities of the early goings fell to Liverpool, and they enjoyed some brilliant attacking play from Raheem Sterling in particular, who abused Kyle Naughton basically every time he touched the ball.
The opening goal was a triumph of pass-and-move football: Luis Suarez drove a through ball to Jordan Henderson at the edge of the box, then immediately sprinted in to the box himself to support the midfielder. This proved vital, as Michael Dawson managed to just spoil the pass, forcing Henderson to turn his back to goal to win the ball. With Suarez crashing the box, though, that let Henderson make a simple tap to his right to feed Suarez, who easily put the ball past Lloris for his 16th league goal of the season.
Spurs would start to grow back in to the match after Liverpool's goal, finally able to string together some possession and create chances, but events would conspire against them after the opener as well. Michael Dawson was booked for a professional foul in the 27th minute for pulling down a sprinting Henderson, and then their midfield enforcer Sandro had to come off with what looked like a hamstring injury just three minutes later. Sandro's replacement, Lewis Holtby, did a lot to help Tottenham in possession, but losing that defensive solidarity in midfield would prove lethal to the home team's cause.
After two near misses, Liverpool struck again. Henderson burst in to the box, which he did brilliantly all day long, and collected a pass from Joe Allen before firing at Hugo Lloris. The Frenchman did well to parry it away, and did so again when Suarez fired the rebound at goal. Liverpool would not be denied, however, as Henderson made a run across the box after his shot and found himself in perfect position to volley the ball home. Just as notable as the goal, however, was the gorgeous cross-field pass from Sterling to set the whole thing up. This would, without a doubt, prove to be the winger's best match of his career so far.
The first half wouldn't end without controversy, with Roberto Soldado putting the ball in to the net, but getting the play whistled off for a foul on Simon Mignolet. The Belgian had, perhaps unwisely, come well out of his net to chase down the ball at the edge of the box, and at the end of his footrace with Soldado, was barged over by the striker. Despite Soldado's protestations, that call was never going to go in his favor, especially against a goalkeeper. That would kick off a chippy spell from Spurs, who gave away several rash fouls before the halftime whistle, which would see them booed down the tunnel by the home crowd.
The break saw Sterling's best friend in Kyle Naughton subbed off in favor of Zeki Fryers, and Tottenham as a whole seemed to have settled quite a bit after their helter-skelter first half. They put together some quality possession and caused some frightening moments, but just couldn't make the right pass or right run in the final third to unlock Liverpool's defense. Mamadou Sakho was absolutely massive in central defense, and was seemingly everywhere when Spurs tried to drive at goal. Lucas Leiva was quietly dominant as well, cutting off a number of otherwise quality passes and breaking up play left and right. Then, in the 63rd minute, the wheels fell completely off for the home side.
Just minutes after Andre Villas Boas hit the "go for broke" button and used his last sub to pull off a central midfielder, Moussa Dembele, for a winger, Andros Townsend, Paulinho lost his head. He put in a high boot to ostensibly win a ball away from Luis Suarez, but left his boot high and tugged his leg back a bit once he was past the ball, connecting high on the Uruguayan's chest. The ref was right there to see the action and didn't even hesitate to pull out the red card, and there ended any real chance Tottenham had at getting back in to the match.
From there on out it was almost a formality, but that didn't stop Liverpool from going all-out. Jon Flanagan incredibly netted his first career goal, ramming home a Suarez chipped cross on the half-volley. The squad's reaction to the local lad's goal was note-perfect, with just about everyone who was on the field coming over to pile on to the young fullback in sheer glee.
With the match put squarely away, it was all Liverpool from there. Luis Alberto was brought on for Lucas shortly after Flanagan's goal to give the Spaniard a little bit of a run, and in the 84th minute Suarez scored a beautiful goal to put Liverpool up by four. Not to be outdone, Sterling finished off the match with a well-earned goal of his own in the 89th minute with You'll Never Walk Alone ringing out in London from the away fans, putting the lid on a simply dominant performance.
It cannot be said enough how vital this win was. Tottenham have been a bogeyman for Liverpool in recent years, and to give them such a thorough tonking away from home feels incredibly good.
Liverpool are now just two points out of first and on probably the best form in the Premier League. Luis Suarez has been unplayable lately, and even on what was clearly not a full-steam match from him bagged two more goals (bringing his tally to a ludicrous 17 in 11 matches) and a pair of assists. If he and the team can keep this up... the possibilities are exciting, to say the least.
Jordan Henderson was given free reign in the box-to-box role that many have been crying out for him to get, and put in probably his best match of the season, along with Raheem Sterling's scintillating match on the right. Seeing him get his goal at the end was wonderful, because nobody deserved one more than Sterling today. Everything good that Liverpool did, the young winger had a hand in.
So the first match of a brutal two-week stretch is down, and three more points are in the bag. Hopefully they can keep up the intensity against 15th-place Cardiff City, because carrying this energy in to the matches against Chelsea and Manchester City would be huge.
Also: Luis Suarez has now scored more goals than all of Tottenham. Just so you know.