Liverpool were unlucky to drop two points in a game that was entertaining and exhausting in equal measure.
Tottenham 2-2 Liverpool
Tottenham Stadium, Premier League
Sunday 19 December, 2021
Goals: Kane 13′, Son 74′; Jota 35′, Robertson 69′
Full-back to full-back
There was a sign of things to come in the first minute when Trent Alexander-Arnold crossed for Andy Robertson – who headed just wide.
Both full-backs were cutting inside throughout, with Trent his usual creative self, and Robertson more of an extra inside forward cutting in from the left.
It was Robertson who assisted the opener for Jota with an excellent cross and then was on hand to let Trent’s cross hit his head and direct it into the goal.
It was another excellent display from the Scouse right-back, with Robertson also heavily involved and arguably man of the match before seeing red towards the end of the game.
These two have changed the game around how full backs operate. Sadly now, Robertson will miss the next three games – meaning a return vs. Chelsea on January 2.
It was all change in Liverpool’s midfield, missing the first-choice trio of Jordan Henderson, Fabinho and Thiago.
Naby Keita and James Milner returned from injury absences, while 19-year-old Tyler Morton made his first Premier League start. It was, to say the least, a makeshift midfield.
It looked very much like a midfield that hadn’t played together before, and one consisting of players not quite in tune with the rest of the red machine which has looked so well-oiled in recent games.
Many of Milner’s passes were under or over-hit, and the same could often be said of Keita.
Morton also struggled at times, but the more experienced players in midfield seemed to make it more difficult for him rather than easier. They failed to use him when he was in space on some occasions, then put him in difficult situations in others.
Morton picked up a booking in the first half which probably led to him being the one withdrawn on the hour mark when it could just as easily have been Milner or Keita.
The Video Assistant Referee seemed to have taken the day off in this game, right up until the point they recommended referee Paul Tierney take a look at Robertson’s challenge.
Two earlier incidents were not looked at when they should have been, which would have changed the outlook of the game in Liverpool’s favour.
Harry Kane went in high and with force on Robertson — the definition of “endangering the safety of an opponent” which constitutes serious foul play in the laws of the game. The left-back did well to lift his foot off the ground just in time to avoid serious injury.
The referee showed a yellow, VAR should have changed it to red but didn’t. England’s captain escaped.
Then when Diogo Jota was felled by Emerson Royal as he readied himself to shoot, the referee waved play on and the VAR didn’t intervene.
The TV analysts all agreed at half time that the outcome should have been a red card for Kane and later a penalty to Liverpool.
It didn’t seem like they weren’t even checked by the VAR, and if they were it makes it even more baffling that the decisions weren’t changed as Robertson’s rightly was at the end of the game due to him using excessive force.
So there you go, all three major VAR decisions went against the same side.
Spurs had their previous three games postponed due to Covid-related issues first in their own ranks, and then at their would-be opponents Leicester last week.
Antonio Conte has been bemoaning the fact he has not been able to train in the usual manner ahead of the Liverpool game, but his side looked ideally prepared to counter-attack against Klopp’s high-pressing, high-line system.
Conte said his side had been training against mannequins during the week, and the Italian known for his meticulous preparation will have found a way to ready his side.
In the end, having such a long time to do so may have been in some way beneficial.
Liverpool, meanwhile, had just two full days between this game and their last, against Newcastle.
Spurs have created numerous good chances. xG of 2.40 so far according to Infogol #TOTLIV pic.twitter.com/SozpqhVWxu
— James Nalton (@JDNalton) December 19, 2021
Spurs caused problems on the break with Kane, though lucky to remain on the pitch after the challenge on Robertson, having a number of chances, and the pace of Son worried Liverpool’s back line too and the Korean eventually got his goal.
The Reds came back into the game but didn’t have enough to win it once down to ten men.
A two-horse title race?
With Chelsea drawing against Wolves, meaning they have won only two of their last six games, the title race is increasingly looking like one between Liverpool and Manchester City.
City dispatched Newcastle, just as Liverpool had done earlier in the week, and now sit three points ahead of the Reds in the table.
Liverpool’s next game is (scheduled to be) Leeds on Boxing Day — a team City saw off with ease at the Etihad recently and the Reds will be expected to do the same.
Klopp’s side will need to be at their relentless best throughout the rest of the campaign if they are to keep up with Pep Guardiola’s league leaders.