For the second season in a row, Liverpool's left-back provides the defining moment at White Hart Lane, and for the second straight season, Liverpool come away with an emphatic victory against Tottenham Hotspur. It wasn't as comprehensive a display as last season's 5-0 romp, with more than a few nervy moments, but Brendan Rodgers' side were comfortable throughout and provided the perfect response to their disappointing defeat against Manchester City on Monday night.
Liverpool 3: Sterling 8', Gerrard (pen.) 49', Moreno 60'
The starting eleven selected by Rodgers was an enticing one; injuries kept Glen Johnson and Martin Skrtel out of the squad (along with Adam Lallana, who the manager decided pre-match not to rush back), meaning Javier Manquillo and Mamadou Sakho were in, giving Liverpool another new-look back four, but one that--at least on paper--looked to be near their best available. Mario Balotelli came in for Philippe Coutinho, and Rodgers switched to the 4-4-2 diamond with Joe Allen and Jordan Henderson in front of Steven Gerrard and Raheem Sterling at the tip, with Daniel Sturridge and Balotelli up front.
As expected, the opening minutes were chaotic, with Spurs pressing early and often and Liverpool trying to get a foothold. The visitors had the best chance of the early-going and nearly took the lead on a Balotelli header, but Hugo Lloris was perfectly placed to catch the new signing's effort. It wouldn't take Liverpool much longer, though, as Sterling got on the end of a low Henderson cross to give them a 1-0 lead. The build-up was superb, with good pressure from Henderson and Manuillo giving Liverpool possession, Sturridge picking out a quickly transitioning Henderson, and a no-look cross from the midfielder to give Sterling a chance.
It should have been more over the next twenty minutes, with Balotelli heading wide from a corner and later fluffing a chance at an empty net from forty yards. There were other half-chances and quick counters, primarily through Sterling and Sturridge, but Spurs gradually came back into the match, with their improvement--and Liverpool's increased shakiness at the back--culminating in an arrowed Nacer Chadli volley that Simon Mignolet did well to save just before the half.
That proved vital, as Liverpool kicked on to put the match to bed by the hour mark. First it was Allen winning a penalty after Eric Dier pulled him back ever so slightly, which Gerrard tucked past Lloris to keep up his excellent record from the spot, and then Moreno killed the match off with a brilliant solo goal. The fullback dispossessed the newly-introduced Andros Townsend just inside Liverpool's half before sprinting into space and hitting a low shot past Lloris at the far post. It was a terrific moment, and one that, like Flanagan's volley last season, settled the match.
The final half-hour saw the introductions of Lazar Markovic, Emre Can, and Jose Enrique, with the former pair representing a far cry from last season's "match-changing" substitutes. Can's rush forward in possession from the midfield before laying off for Sterling was the highlight of the match's latter stages; the midfielder burst forward and kept hold long enough to get the ball to Sterling, who juked in and out of four Spurs defenders before scuffing a shot when free on goal. It was a stunning move, and one that would have been the cherry on top of another very, very good day at White Hart Lane.
What was most impressive about today's victory--other than the goals, the comfort with which it arrived, the strength of Liverpool's squad, having actual fullbacks that fullback, Mario Balotelli's workrate with and without the ball, 12-0 in three matches against Spurs--was that it came without really hitting top form. Overall it was excellent, but it also leaves plenty of room for growth and improvement when Liverpool get back into the swing of things after the international break.
The most popular point of contention will be at the back, where Dejan Lovren had difficulty adapting to a right-side role and didn't click immediately with Mamadou Sakho. Neither were on top of their game (and both improved as the match went on, especially as Spurs' pressing died down), but Lovren continues to worry with his impulsivity and tendency to get caught out. It will improve as he forms a steady partnership in the middle, no doubt, but he was nearly to blame for a fifth goal conceded this season when he abandoned his post to challenge for a header that was already covered by Sakho and ultimately left Chadli alone for the chance just before the half.
Other concerns were primarily a result of Spurs' early pressure, with Steven Gerrard's atrocious first-half performance the lowlight, and some wasted chances by Balotelli that could have seen Liverpool's lead extended. Stability will come, but the ill-timed international break isn't doing any favors right now.
That aside, though, it was an enjoyable performance, with nearly all involved providing plenty of reason to be excited. Mignolet made the save he needed to, while Javier Manquillo and Alberto Moreno were terrific in their respective fullback roles. The former again impressed after dropping out of the side against Manchester City, while the latter built on his display at the Etihad to turn in a man of the match performance. The goal was the pick of the afternoon, but his work at both ends was absolutely terrific.
The same can be said for Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling, as both did their duties in the midfield and forward areas remarkably well. They combined for the opener and were dominant throughout, with Henderson's engine spurring the midfield on and Sterling proving unplayable for large spells of the match. Joe Allen had an excellent day and won the penalty to put Liverpool 2-0 up, Daniel Sturridge was up for it as well, aided by the presence of Balotelli, who, while arguably wasteful, got himself involved and looked lively both with and without the ball. Bringing on Lazar Markovic and Emre Can had to be a particularly enjoyable moment for Rodgers, who will now look forward to having Adam Lallana added to the mix along with Philippe Coutinho, who didn't feature today.
International breaks are always the worst, but when they're kicked off with results like this afternoon's, they're at least manageable. Stay healthy, get back to Liverpool in one piece, and get ready for a busy fall that will see the club take part in three competitions, including the long-awaited return to the Champions League on September 16th after welcoming Aston Villa to Anfield in the first match back.