Liverpool FC fans are notorious for their romanticism, often derided for their seemingly never ending optimism. Every pre-season, it’s going to be ‘our year’.
It’s a symptom of past glories, a feeling that we are bound to recapture those halcyon days of previous generations.
But this optimism has been severely tested at times this season. A humiliating FA Cup exit, an insipid Capital One Cup defence, a ‘too-little too-late’ style departure from the Europa League, and a thus far mediocre league performance.
Two figures in particular have kept our collective chin up: Luis Suarez, for obvious reasons, and, our manager, Brendan Rodgers.
There’s something about Brendan.
Somehow, there’s a sense that ‘we will be okay’ and a feeling that steady sustainable progress is afoot, and that, in itself, is thanks to him.
Of course, he hasn’t escaped criticism. I think most Liverpool fans are a bit tired of his seeming insistence on the team passing the ball around our penalty area – hearts in mouths to say the least.
What also hasn’t helped is the club’s failure to record a big league scalp. Finally, Liverpool put that to rest after a precious 3-2 victory against Spurs. Ironically, it came after one of their less assured Anfield performances, but winning in these circumstances can often prove very important in a team’s development.
Buoyed on by a superb Anfield atmosphere – helped by Liverpool’s encouraging recent form – the home side started on the front foot, refusing to let Spurs settle.
On 21 minutes, Liverpool took a deserved lead. Another beautifully executed goal (team goals such as these are becoming more frequent of late) which began with Philippe Coutinho’s back-heeled flick to Jose Enrique, the dynamic Spaniard then nudged a return pass to the Brazilian and sprinted towards goal. Coutinho then played an incisive through-ball back to Enrique, who in turn slid the ball to Luis Suarez; the Uruguayan’s right footed finish came early, far too early for Lloris to react, and Liverpool were ahead.
Luis Suarez’s clever early finish shouldn’t be ignored, but it would be hard to deny the influence of Coutinho for the goal. His skill and close control continue to impress, but his main attribute could lead to several more Liverpool assists: his vision. Several examples of this can already be cherry-picked from the highlight reels of his incredibly short Liverpool career.
The goal sparked a dominant attacking spell from Liverpool, and on 27 minutes, Coutinho found Luis Suarez with a breathtaking outside of the foot pass which almost left him clean through on goal; unfortunately however, he had just drifted offside.
Around the half hour mark though, Spurs began to find their feet and show what the recent fuss has been about. Growing in confidence the longer the half wore on, their first real chance came when Gylfi Sigurdsson – who rejected Liverpool’s overtures in the summer in favour of a move to White Hart Lane – aimed a powerful side footed effort from 20 yards which drifted just wide of Brad Jones’ right hand post.
Liverpool didn’t take heed of that particular warning and conceded an equaliser just before half-time. Gareth Bale, who had just returned to the pitch after a knock on the head from Steven Gerrard, crossed deep into Liverpool’s area and Jan Vertonghen – who had lost his marker Glen Johnson – rose well to glance a header into the bottom left hand corner.
Indeed, Spurs really took a stranglehold in the first 20 minutes of the second-half. Their performance during this spell, and indeed across the whole game, was probably the best seen at Anfield from any visiting side in the last three years.
Their pressing and possession play was a sight to behold. Liverpool just couldn’t keep the ball, any time it went remotely close to Spurs’ defensive third, it was snuffed out immediately and they would build again, putting Liverpool’s back four under increasing strain.
This period was made all the worse for Liverpool because Spurs had taken what was a probably deserved lead on 53 minutes. Bale’s free-kick was dealt with poorly by the Reds’ defence and the ball fell to Vertonghen, who helped himself to a second with a tidy left footed volley.
The game could have been wrapped up three minutes later. Bale’s right wing run left Liverpool stalwarts Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher floundering, his cross found Sigurdsson who had drifted away from a ball-watching Johnson; he then cut inside and fired a right footed shot that deflected off the England full-back and cannoned off the post. A lucky escape.
There have been several occasions where Liverpool have been unlucky to lose after performing well this season (and last season for that matter), so they will have welcomed the stroke of fortune with open arms.
On 58 minutes, Rodgers surprised many by substituting Philippe Coutinho for Joe Allen. It has been reported on here previously that Rodgers’ substitutions are often impressive in their tactical foresight, but this was probably his best change this season.
Joe Allen – playing through the pain barrier with an injured shoulder that probably needs surgery – brought combativeness to Liverpool’s midfield that was so desperately required to temper Tottenham’s onslaught.
It still looked ominous however and Spurs continued their bombardment. It looked a lot like Liverpool would fall further behind, but the away side pressed the self-destruct button on 66 minutes and sent the Kop into a frenzy.
Kyle Walker aimed a hospital ball towards Hugo Lloris that forced the impressive French keeper to attempt a pass around Stewart Downing towards Benoit Assou-Ekotto; he mis-kicked however and Downing would intercept and sprint towards goal. Only Jan Vertonghen came between him and an open goal; Downing struck the ball hard right footed and it flew through the Belgian’s legs – another stroke of luck, and Liverpool were level.
It sparked a breathless finale to a tremendous match. Things began to turn a little nasty, understandable in such a highly-charged, emotional contest, with Mousa Dembele and Suarez going at it briefly which would later spill over after the final whistle.
A draw would perhaps have been a fair result, but this would be the home side’s day. On 83 minutes, a Liverpool attack was cleared towards Jermain Defoe, who subsequently lofted a terrible back-pass straight back into the danger area. Luis Suarez – like a tiger hunting for his prey – pounced and chested the ball beyond Assou-Ekotto, who then clumsily bundled Suarez to the turf.
A definite penalty. A crucial one also. Step forward Liverpool’s leader Steven Gerrard, whose cool right footed spot-kick nestled into the bottom right hand corner.
A tense finish, but Liverpool weren’t to be denied, victory was theirs.
An enthralling encounter and an enormous victory in the context of Liverpool’s development. Their first league victory against a top six side this season.
Credit to Tottenham. This is certainly a great side in the offing. Liverpool rode their luck and their victory was more a result of dogged determination and extreme guts as opposed to superior quality.
This was encapsulated by the introduction of Joe Allen. Rodgers’ canny change on the hour was certainly the turning point and the 22-year-old Welshman will take great confidence from that.
It’s hard to recall the last time Liverpool ‘won ugly’ like this. That’s what good teams do. And that’s what Liverpool are starting to become – just look at the stats.
Liverpool’s have won their last four games, scoring 15 goals in the process. Looking further back, they have played 13 games in 2013 and have scored 31 goals, an average of 2.4 goals per game.
Remarkably, not so long ago, Liverpool fans were complaining about the club’s lack of fire-power, but now, there’s been a complete reverse. It’s Liverpool’s defending which appears to be the club’s main concern, not helped by Jamie Carragher’s impending retirement.
If this Liverpool side can begin to find renewed frugality, they can start to realise their unquestionable potential. If they do become successful, they will look back at this victory with great fondness.
L4L Man of the Match: Stewart Downing. His recent form has lasted far too long for it to be termed a fluke. Downing is threatening a long-standing belief that his signing was a very expensive mistake. A tireless performance capped off by an immensely important goal. He just edges Suarez (who else?) who upstaged his Player of the Year rival Gareth Bale.
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