Having suffered only two defeats last season, Liverpool began their quest for their 19th League title with a disappointing performance and a 2-1 defeat to Tottenham at White Hart Lane.
Rafa Benitez and his side will feel strongly aggrieved at the failure of referee Phil Dowd to award a second penalty late on when Benoit Assou-Ekotto clearly fouled Voronin on the edge of the 6 yard box, but in all honesty the home side were the better team and deserved the win.
Liverpool lacked fluidity and failed to get their talismanic duo of Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres involved, particularly in the first half. Their hopes weren’t helped by a horrible clash of heads between defenders Jamie Carragher and Martin Skrtel which led to both players suffering injuries and having to lead the field temporarily. Skrtel was later replaced by youngster Daniel Ayala for his debut, with Skrtel looking in much pain around his jaw. Benitez will hope to have the strong Slovakian available for the physical encounter with Stoke on Wednesday at Anfield.
Spurs took the lead just before half-time through Assou-Ekotto when Tom Huddlestone’s free-kick rebounded to the left-back who took one touch out his feet and rifled a shot past Pepe Reina from outside the box into the top corner. The Spanish stopper had earlier denied former Red Robbie Keane with a superb save across his goal but he could do nothing to stop this.
The second half saw Liverpool start somewhat brighter and they leveled through Gerrard’s penalty on 56 minutes after Glen Johnson had been brought down by Gomes after a strong run down the Reds’ right. Gerrard dispatched the spot-kick down the middle to make it 1-1.
But Spurs re-took the lead within 3 minutes, debutant Sebastien Bassong heading home an inswinging free-kick after out-jumping Carragher. The introduction of Yossi Benayoun for the ineffective Ryan Babel added some creativity to what had been a stale Liverpool attack.
Without Xabi Alonso to supply some creativity from deep Gerrard began to drop deeper to receive the ball and influence play, often leaving Torres isolated up front against Ledley King. Benitez must be eager to have new signing Alberto Aquilani available to add some invention to the Reds’ midfield.
Andriy Voronin replaced Dirk Kuyt and should have had a second penalty with 5 minutes remaining. Assou-Ekotto clearly shouldered into the Ukrainian but referee Phil Dowd gave nothing, much to assistant manager Sammy Lee’s anger who was later sent from the touchline. Lee was no doubt incensed by a second penalty appeal, again Assou-Ekotto was the guilty party, this time the ball clearly struck his arm from a cross.
With the rest of the big four (five if you count Man City) all enjoying opening weekend victories, Benitez’s side are already playing catch up and with a tough first home game against Stoke it could be a rocky start if Liverpool are to finally end their 20 year wait for a 19th league Championship.
TIA Man of the Match
Not many candidates unfortunately. Johnson impressed on his full debut, he definitely adds width and attack down the right hand side and I’m looking forward to seeing him link up with Kuyt later in the season. But Pepe Reina made two world-class saves to show why he is the best keeper in the League.