Suarez returns but Anfield left with a familiar feline

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Liverpool 0-0 Tottenham
Premier League, Monday, 6th February 2012

Anfield witnessed the return of Luis Suarez on Monday night. But, neither the return to action of the gifted Uruguayan following an absence of more than a month – nor a surprise first-half cameo from a now famous feline friend – could inspire Liverpool to victory over Spurs.

Liverpool headed into the game aware that a win would lift them to within two points of fourth place Chelsea and put them on the scent of Champions League qualification. Ultimately both Tottenham and the Reds had to be content with a single point which helps neither of their personal causes at any great extent.

It was a familiar story of Liverpool’s travails on home turf this campaign. The Reds toiled throughout and could have every right to have adjudged themselves to have shaded the contest overall. Yet, a lack of killer instinct in front of goal meant that Liverpool’s intentions repeatedly came up short against a disciplined and imposing Tottenham rearguard.

Spurs, in the absence of Harry Redknapp – stranded in London in lieu of a suspended flight and his ongoing court proceedings – could claim to have had the best chance of the evening. That came when Gareth Bale gained the benefit of an offside decision to race clear of the home defence; only to be denied by the onrushing Pepe Reina.

But it was Liverpool who created the greater quantity of chances and showed the greater attacking intent. Whilst Spurs were largely content to soak up any pressure and utilise their pace on the counter-attack.

Some wayward passing hindered both sides in the opening half. The Reds, in particular, struggling to find the kind of rhythm and fluidity to their passing which has been evident in recent victories. Dalglish had opted to delay the imminent return of Suarez; with the forward named amongst the substitutes. Andy Carroll was retained as a central striker but lacked regular support. Craig Bellamy – so effective of late – rarely got the better of Kyle Walker done the Liverpool left.

Glen Johnson – covering for the injured Jose Enrique – proved more threatening and it was he who forced Brad Friedel into a rare save just before the break. Although, before that, the best opening of the half had fallen to Jay Spearing. The midfielder sending a 20-yard effort narrowly wide of the post with Friedel seemingly beaten.

Referee Oliver had to halt play midway through the first half as a cat, bizarrely, entered the field of play and drew the cheers of the Anfield crowd. In truth that was one of the most notable moments in a largely uneventful first-half.

With Liverpool generally able to cope with the threat of Bale, Adebayor and co, the Reds remained on the front foot after half-time. Martin Kelly’s drive forced Friedel into a decent stop at his near post before the hour. Yet, Liverpool lacked a spark; one that seemed most likely to be afforded to them by the man sat on the bench.

Suarez finally got his chance with 25 minutes remaining and with instant impact. The number 7 immediately robbed Benoit Assou-Ekotto of possession to set up a Liverpool attack and within three minutes of entering the field had received a yellow card for volleying Scott Parker’s stomach rather than the ball.

Though, Suarez had the opportunity to score the decisive goal which seemed destined to be his; when he agonisingly directed a header into the arms of Friedel from Gerrard’s delivery late on.

Before then Carroll had blazed a similarly inviting chance over the crossbar. Carroll still has plenty of scope for improvement in front of goal but the growing confidence and increasing threat which he has demonstrated over the past three or four games will have been enough to encourage his manager.

At the other end of the field, Spurs created opportunities of their own, as they looked to steal the three points to boost their potential tilt at the league title; with new signing Louis Saha replacing, the largely ineffectual, Adebayor. Bale had his clear cut chance to win the game with six minutes remaining; but that would certainly have been harsh on Liverpool, who had rarely been breached defensively.

Yet, this was an eighth home draw already this season for the Reds. A record which Dalglish and co will surely to focusing on as an area for urgent improvement during the remainder of this season and into the next.

If Liverpool are to come up short in regards to their aspirations in this season – in terms of the Premier league at least – then it is likely to be a lack of Anfield goals and a glut of home stalemates which are put forward as a prime factor. This was just another case – although a draw against a team which has shown as much attacking prowess as Spurs this season can hardly be seen as a major set back.

There is still, of course, sufficient time for Liverpool to kindle to flames of a genuine challenge for a top four finish. But to achieve that they will need to prove themselves capable of stringing together a sequence of back-to-back Premier League wins between now and the season’s end; something which has eluded them thus far this campaign.

In fact, the similarly reliable inconsistency of the other teams currently challenging for the final Champions League berth seems to be one of the principal reasons that the Reds remain in with a chance of achieving that aim come May.

Man of the Match

MARTIN SKRTEL
Another resolute defensive display from one of the leading candidates for player of the season to date.

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