View From Paddock
Dan Holland looks back at a great win over an in-form Spurs side at Anfield on Sunday.
Sunday was always going to be an eventful trip to Anfield as me and a fellow Liverpool fan were sharing a lift across the M62 with two Spurs fans, who would have bragging rights on the way home?
Now I’m not one to name and shame but on this occasion I feel it necessary. Nathan Usher was the driver on Sunday and picked me up a mere 50 minutes later than scheduled which meant upon arrival in Liverpool the pubs were packed so no beer was consumed. Naths promise to us on the way there was that he would make up as much of the 50 minutes as he could. However, getting over taken by a Nissan Note tells you that he didn’t achieve this!
Anyway we arrived in Liverpool had a quick walk round the ground before I took my seat. On the walk around we saw an unlikely ‘VIP’ arriving in the shape of Doug Ellis – if he’s scouting for Villa now it may explain their league position!!! Once in my seat, I wasn’t overly confident about the game I’ll be honest. The form Bale is in was a worry, Defoe’s speed in and around the box concerned me and the fact Spurs had a 4 man midfield against our 2 (although two were in wide areas) was also a concern. Luckily only the latter became apparent and BR remedied that.
Looking up at the director’s box, I saw another unexpected face, that of former Southampton manager Nigel Adkins. Is he still there in a scouting position or was he guest of LFC as a supporter of the Reds? Who knows!
Encouragingly the early moments of the game were fast and it was Liverpool that was dominating. The atmosphere also was far better than it had been in recent weeks, on the back of my recent article it would be nice to think I played a part in this but sadly I don’t think I quite have that kind of influence!
Coutinho again started very brightly with some great touches and passes, two exceptional ones with the outside of his right boot. This lad really looks to have a great future despite being in the embryonic stage of his Anfield career, to settle in so well so quickly is the trademark of a really special player and is already looking a bit of a bargain. Once the little Brazilian had played his part in another extremely well worked goal down our left hand side, his opposite number Kyle Walker had had enough.
A superb drag back and flick set Jose Enrique on his way; he in turn fed Luis Suarez who applied a sublime finish with the outside of his foot finding the smallest gap at the near post. One nil Liverpool, after being shown up by Coutinho, Walker used every trick in the book to keep the Brazilian out of the action and to a certain extent it worked. At every opportunity there was a pull of the shirt, a tap of the ankles and a push here and there. This effectively bullied Coutinho out of the game as on more than one occasion he looked at the bench in exasperation. He will learn to live with this I’m sure and he will get plenty more of it with performances like the ones he has already produced.
As the half wore on Spurs became more and dominant and the issue in the midfield area became very apparent. It’s not that Lucas or Stevie were having a bad game, quite the opposite in fact, it’s just that Dembele and Sigurdsson who were operating in the wide areas are essentially central midfielders and were tucking in at every breakdown. Downing and the afore mentioned Coutinho were both having exceptional games but couldn’t offer us the same protection. We were outnumbered in a critical area with Dembele being the stand out performer for Spurs. Luckily the back four on the whole had a very accomplished afternoon and limited Spurs chances to a Sigurdsson low drive which went past the post and two long range free kicks from Bale, one worried Brad Jones who was deputising for the injured Pepe Reina and one flew over the bar which led to a rather amusing chant from the Kop of “Your just a s**t Stewart Downing”.
As the first half was drawing to a conclusion two moments of controversy led to a Spurs equaliser. Firstly a superb blood and thunder challenge in the midfield left Bale in a crumpled heap, this to me looked like a perfectly won header by Gerrard, surely with the lack of strong challenges allowed now Tommy Smith and Graeme Souness to name but two wouldn’t have had a career!
As a result of the challenge Bale went off the field with a supposed bang to the head, when he returned to the field obviously unmarked in an attacking position he swung over a cross that Jan Vertonghen headed in unchallenged at the far post. The decision to allow Bale to return to the field in such an advantageous position led to Brendan Rogers grilling the 4th official. So the teams went in all square, which on balance was probably fair as we hadn’t really worked Lloris in the Spurs goal despite Suarez, Downing and Coutinho all impressing.
The second half started much the way the first finished with Spurs in the ascendancy, in fact the half was only 7 minutes old when a very soft free kick was awarded for, well I’m not sure what. Lucas was next to Bale whose reaction was theatrical to say the least. The resulting free kick was whipped into the box and eventually broke to Vertonghen who added his 2nd of the game to give Spurs the lead. Shortly after Sigurdsson could and probably should have increased Spurs lead which would surely have then been game over the Reds.
Rodgers had seen enough and a little belatedly realised we needed more numbers in the midfield with Joe Allen replacing Coutinho. The little Welshman got off to a decent start for Liverpool but in recent months has been someway short of the player we expected. The return from injury of Lucas has limited his chances which also won’t have helped his form but his introduction at the weekend turned the game Liverpools way as he was very industrious, pressed very well and generally helped us regain control in the middle of the park.
Urged on by the crowd who like against Zenit responded to going a goal behind in a very positive way urging their team forward and the reds responded. Agger & Carragher were solid at the heart of the defence, Gerrard was slowly becoming a bigger influence, Sturridge had woken up, Suarez was being his usual self causing everyone in the Spurs rank concern and bemusement and Downing was giving Assou-Ekotto all kinds of problems and seems to get better week after week (which by the way BR has to take huge credit for with his man management skills).
In the 65th minute it was the former Aston Villa man who drew Liverpool level after a catalogue of errors from the Spurs defence. Kyle Walker played a wayward back pass to Hugo Lloris but despite it being wayward the French international got there but couldn’t connect with the ball, allowing Downing a clear run on goal before rifling a low shot through Vertonghens legs.
The next 15 minutes resembled more of a basketball game than football with both teams attacking in numbers, there were however very few real goalscoring chances with Sturridge having the best chance for Liverpool with a header into the side netting after another great run and cross from Downing.
In the 81st minute we were awarded a penalty after a foul on Luis Suarez after Defoe mis hit a clearance sending it back into the Spurs penalty area where an awkward challenge from Ekotto rightly resulted in a spot kick. That’s three penalties Suarez has won in close succession at the Kop end, testament I think to his improved behaviour on the field and staying on his feet more often than not.
Up stepped the skipper and brilliantly put the ball into Lloris’ bottom left hand corner. As Gerrard ran away celebrating he pointed to the corner where he put the ball (which I’ve never seen him do before) and after receiving congratulations from his team mates he ran down the touchline and made a bee line for the dug out where he high fived the goal keeping coach. My guess is he had told Gerrard where to put the ball, if true this again testament to the thorough preparation that Brendan and his team put in to each and every aspect of the game.
We managed to see out the remaining time and ran out 3-2 winners in an extremely entertaining game, this sees us rightfully back above the blue noses in the table and still with an outside chance of Champions League football. Man of the Match for me was Luis Suarez again but two exceptional performances from Stewart Dowing and Steven Gerrard. Fingers crossed for 6 points from the next two away games before we welcome back Rafa to Anfield where we will no doubt give him a better reception than the Chelsea fans.
Finally, needless to say I enjoyed the trip home more than my two ‘Spurs’ friends whose highlight of the day was either seeing the Premier Leagues best player score the opening goal or the KFC on the way home!!!