As the season winds towards its conclusion, Liverpool walk away from a crucial fixture with all three points, keeping the pressure on Manchester City. It was a victory that never really looked certain. After going behind early in the first half, Spurs fought back resolutely, clawing themselves back to parity in the second half and almost pulling ahead. The Reds turned up the heat in the final minutes of the game, but it was looking to be too little, too late - until a disastrous own goal from the visitors.
Now join us as we examine some of the narratives, tactics, reactions, and questions Liverpool will be dealing with and the fans will be talking about in the aftermath.
Winners and Losers
Liverpool midfield trio hand-wringers. Anyone looking to complain about the infamous Milner-Henderson-Wijnaldum triumvirate found plenty to moan about, fairly or unfairly. They were quietly adequate in the first half and more like invisible in the second half. There were more opportunities for them to link up with the forward trio shortly after the goal, but even then they struggled to handle Lucas Moura and weren’t up to dealing with Tottenham’s formation adjustment. It didn’t help their cause when Fabinho looked lively and effective immediately after coming on following the equalizer.
Daytime soap opera fans. This fixture was characterized by late, late drama last season, and the more things change, the more they stay the same. Harry Kane’s controversial penalty salvaged a point for Spurs last time around, and even after the stunning own goal in injury time that gave Liverpool a slender lead, there was still a worrying sense for Liverpool supporters that there would be a painful twist in the tale. No late penalty materialized, but fans of over-the-top drama were winners all the same.
Moussa Sissoko. Liverpool were just about on the ropes when Lucas Moura made it 1-1. Already, Andy Robertson had to come to the rescue with a crucial block on an onrushing Christian Eriksen. When Sissoko and Eriksen found themselves in acres of space, with only Virgil van Dijk and Alisson to worry about, it looked bad for Liverpool. Very bad. Van Dijk gambled that Eriksen would be the more effective finisher and closed off the passing lane, inviting Sissoko to take a shot which was blazed well over the bar. It’s unfair to be judged by just one sequence of play, but Sissoko’s chance will sting for Spurs fans.
Antacids. Thought you could stop worrying about the Premiership and focus instead on the Champions League? Think again! Get ready for a few more stomach-churning, butt-clenching, aorta-bothering weekends.
Dissecting the Narrative
Once again, there will be questions about “What Is Wrong With Mo Salah?” The naysayers will point to a moment where Salah and Mané appeared to have eluded the Tottenham defenders, leading to the type of situation that is usually almost guaranteed to result in a Salah goal. This time, when the shot came it was comfortably covered.
More fuel for the “Salah’s overthinking it” narrative? Perhaps. The attempt from Salah was uninspired, and there were those crying for him to lay it off for Mané instead, but Spurs’ defenders had done an excellent job of closing down the space for the pass and also collapsing quickly on Salah.
As the game wore on and the pressure was slowly ratcheted up, there were a couple of attempts from Salah that did seem to come from somewhat nervy decisionmaking. The Egyptian forward seemed much happier (and was more effective) linking up with Firmino and Robertson to create opportunities for others. He was far from a forlorn figure, but one senses that all the talk is starting to seep through the headphones. This has been whispered in the weeks before, but at some point during the crucial phase, Liverpool are going to need Salah to score.
What Happens Next
Liverpool will try to shrug off any bumps and bruises and focus on a trip to Southampton on Friday (Friday, gotta get down on Friday), which precedes an action-packed Porto-Chelsea-Porto sequence. Southampton are languishing in the not-fun sections of the league table, but picked up an important three points this weekend and surprised Tottenham before the international break. Fun fun fun fun.
How The Fans Reacted
Before the own goal, many supporters were getting ready to blast Jürgen Klopp for being too reactive instead of pro-active. After the final whistle, thoughts turned instead to the vital moments that allowed Liverpool to sneak away with the points.
Lucky? Perhaps. Alisson and the back four were not always at their best today, but they were in the right places at the right times.
Example number 168793820 of why you wait for Virgil van Dijk. Why you don't settle for someone else.— Melissa Reddy (@MelissaReddy_) March 31, 2019
Why you make him the world's most expensive defender.
Why he still seems an absolute bargain. pic.twitter.com/amvtvaS1of
Overall, emotions consist unsurprisingly of a mixed bag of relief, elation, hope, and trepidation. Liverpool’s fate is still not within their own hands, despite a truly astonishing season they’ve put together. Whatever happens in these final matches, it’s worth remembering that.
Liverpool are on course to record the fourth biggest points total in Premier League history, and still come second.— Daniel Storey (@danielstorey85) March 31, 2019
Beware anyone who accuses either of these two teams of 'bottling' the title race. This is unprecedented.
Ultimately, the Prime Minister of Iceland summed up the important bits.
Þessir eru alltaf til gleði #YNWA https://t.co/ohpgcScyuT— Katrín Jakobsdóttir (@katrinjak) March 31, 2019
Credit To The Visitors
“Spursy” is a concept that has gotten way more airtime than it deserves. Despite starting off with three at the back, Mauricio Pochettino brought a strong lineup to Anfield, and to his credit made adjustments in the second half when he realized what wasn’t working well in the first. Tottenham then gradually imposed themselves on the Liverpool midfield and fully deserved their equalizer when it came. And when it came, Heung Min Son hadn’t even made his appearance yet, a pending introduction that must have terrified certain segments of Anfield. All told, Spurs will rightly feel a little hard done by the final scoreline.