This is not how Kenny Dalglish will have envisaged his first match in permanent tenure of the Anfield hot seat. Following the optimism and increasing expectations of recent weeks, this was something of a timely reminder of the work still to be done at Anfield. Both for the Liverpool fans and – perhaps most significantly – the club’s on looking owners.
In achieving victory on Sunday afternoon, Tottenham Hotspur grasped pole position in the somewhat muted race for fifth spot and Europa League qualification. But, perhaps more tellingly, Spurs confirmed to John Henry and co that, despite the shrewd and fruitful decisions which they have taken to date; still many more important decisions await them over the coming summer, if the Reds are to deliver on the early promise on Dalglish’s renewed reign.
This was certainly not one of Liverpool’s better days. The optimism now engulfing the Anfield club has had such an affect that many arriving at Anfield almost expected a routine victory against a Tottenham side who had collected just a solitary victory from their previous 13 matches.
That was not to be. Harry Redknapp’s team reminded all of the quality that they still possess in achieving a deserved victory. Their first at Anfield in the league since 1993.
Howard Webb – one of the most disliked men on Merseyside at present – once more contributed to the Reds demise with some questionable refereeing decisions. Not least the decision to award a second half penalty against John Flannagan for Luka Modric’s decisive second goal. But Liverpool should know by now that they unlikely to get much leniency from Webb.
Liverpool, though, were as much to blame for their own downfall. From the very first whistle, the usual work rate and vigour, which has epitomised Dalglish’s side of late, was missing. And the Reds struggled to find that spark from there on in.
This display was in stark contrast to the manner in which Liverpool disposed of Fulham earlier in the week. But perhaps that is merely a trait of a squad which lacks sufficient top quality players able to perform to the same high levels week-in-week-out.
There is quality within this Liverpool squad. Just not enough of it. There can be little doubt that Dalglish has been maximising the potential of his squad over recent months. But this confirmation that there is much work still to be done on this Liverpool squad.
The Reds may have lacked some of the quality and cutting-edge which they have demonstrated of late. However there was one factor in particular which appeared to knock Liverpool out of their stride.
The loss of, the injured, Raul Meireles and the decision to draft in £35 million man, Andy Carroll, as his replacement, had a seriously deprecating affect on Dalglish’s team. Minus Meireles’ passing and vision in midfield, the Reds too often lost the battle with Sandro and Luka Modric in the centre.
Whilst at the top end of the pitch, the partnership of Carroll and Luis Suarez deprived Liverpool of the tenacious and unrelenting work rate of Dirk Kuyt and Suarez as a front pairing. Kuyt switching back to a role on the right.
Carroll does not suit Liverpool’s brand of football at present. There are mitigating factors, such as Carroll’s lack of fitness and relative lack of match time with his teammates. But the can be little doubting that Dalglish and his backroom staff have plenty of work on their hands if they are to get the best out of Carroll and this Liverpool team in tandem.
Suarez himself was not quite at his best. Yet, even still, the Uruguayan was continually Liverpool’s main attacking threat. Despite having to work with limited support, Suarez always looked the man most likely to get the hosts back on course after Rafael van der Vaart’s well-taken first half volley had given Spurs the lead.
Tottenham had the upper hand in the opening minutes without ever genuinely concerning Pepe Reina. Before van der Vaart made the
breakthrough after 9 minutes. Modric’s right-wing corner was partially cleared by Martin Skrtel but only as far as van der Vaart. The Dutchman showed good technique in controlling the ball a sending a volley – via a deflection off Glen Johnson – beyond Reina from the edge of the area.
Liverpool laboured to drag themselves back into the game after that early setback. Jay Spearing should have done better with the home side’s first chance of note. But his effort was tame. And just before the break, on a rare occasion that Carroll was able to get the better of the Tottenham centre-halves, he sent a poor header over the bar when well-positioned to hit the target.
But any momentum which the Reds had been able to muster was swiftly eradicated before the hour mark. Webb of course wasted no time in pointing to the spot when Steven Pienaar went down following a coming together between the winger and full-back Flannagan. This despite the fact not only did a foul seem very questionable but the offense also clearly took place outside the area.
It was even more unfortunate that Flannagan – one of the Reds most standout performers – has to be the culprit. But the ever-impressive Modric stepped up to beat Reina from the spot. The Croatian all but putting the game beyond Liverpool in the process.
The Reds attempted to rally in the closing stages. But never looked worthy of adding to the 13 goals they had managed in the previous three matches.
Dalgish introduced Jonjo Shelvey and David N’Gog for the ineffective Spearing and Maxi Rodriguez. Whilst Suarez and substitute Shelvey both sent shots narrowly wide of the mark. But the Reds were forced to succumb fifth place to their North London rivals.
Liverpool’s quest for European qualification this season is a fairly trivial issue. The Reds will, of course, want to finish as high and as positively as possible. And there is still a possibility of the Reds achieving that goal at Villa Park next weekend.
The most lasting memory of this weekend, however, will be the confirmation of Manchester United as league champions. Taking them ahead of the Reds in the all-time list.
A sore sight indeed for all Liverpool fans. But, if the Reds are achieve their long-term objective of matching or bettering their bitter rivals again, this setback will have provided a timely reminder to all of just what is still required.
Man of the Match
Suarez was a threat again. But Flannagan deserves the accolade for the progress he has made since breaking into the first time. Perhaps his most assured performance to date.