Liverpool 2-2 Tottenham Hotspur: Questionable refereeing and tactics contribute to a helter-skelter finish
Well deserved draw?
Anfield erupted with a chorus of boos and "cheat, cheat" as the final whistle blew for the end of what had been a tedious performance by the home side. With the exception of the last 10 minutes, this had been a laboured performance from a Liverpool side which has been so thrilling in their recent encounters against the top-six sides, under Jurgen Klopp.
In the build-up to the game, there was a crackle in the air as Liverpool looked to solidify their Champions League position with an opportunity to extend their lead over Spurs by 5 points. But then the London side, fresh from their victory against Manchester United in mid-week, were in no mood to give up their own charge for the Champions League places.
Spurs have a tough set of fixtures in the upcoming weeks and it was surprising to see, for a change, that Pochettino elected the same playing eleven that was so convincing in their mid-week encounter.
However, by the end of it, it was a seething Klopp that everyone will remember. Questionable refereeing by John Moss and his team of officials, and the lack of control of the Liverpool midfield made this game more of an attack versus defence exercise.
Spurs dominate possession
In a game devoid of possession for Liverpool, Spurs deserved something out of the game, but it was the manner of assistance provided by the team of officials that left the German manager seething with anger, while Mauricio Pochettino celebrated jubilantly.
Spurs dominated possession, as statistics reveal, with around 66% possession in entirety. But during certain phases of the game, they had possession between 72% - 80% with no Liverpool player getting close to the Spurs players.
With the home-side conceding possession and looking to press, it was one-way traffic as Spurs imposed themselves. Liverpool, though, defended stoutly - a characteristic which was undone in the last minutes of the game.
Earlier on, Liverpool had taken the lead as early as the third minute (134 seconds to be precise) once again via the effervescent Mohamed Salah, who booked himself into Anfield folklore as he grabbed his 20th goal of the season.
Spurs could do little as poor defending combined with a tentative defensive poke by Dier set the Egyptian away with only Hugo Lloris to beat. What may have been a difficult chance, was taken nonchalantly by the Egyptian as he went across Colombian defender Davinson Sanchez, to plant a shot past the French keeper in only the third minute.
But it was only in the 80th minute that Spurs found a way through, as a corner was poorly cleared out by Loris Karius and then Emre Can. Fortunately for Spurs, it was perfect for Victor Wanyama, who connected sweetly with the ball as it flew past a hapless Karius. The ball was still rising and the sting in the shot would have beaten any keeper.
Frenzied period of play
As was evidenced by the respective managers in their post-match interview, the mood in the opposing camps were poles apart. Liverpool had a right to be aggrieved after the officials failed to take note of Harry Kane’s offside positioning, which then led to the English international collapsing after questionable contact from Liverpool’s goalkeeper, Karius.
Liverpool players appealed for a dive but after a lengthy conversation with the linesman, John Moss decided to award the penalty. The ball seemed to have broken through to Kane after a slight deflection off of Dejan Lovren, but the English international went down rather softly, having anticipated a challenge.
Karmic justice was served as the England international’s poor penalty was thwarted by the keeper. But that was just the start of a frenetic last few minutes, as Liverpool went down the other end and scored what looked to be a likely winner at the time.
Mo Salah was the protagonist once again, scoring his 21st goal, having received a throw-in before wriggling his way past the Spurs defence to find the space to dink the ball over the onrushing goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.
Anfield celebrated wildly, as did the German manager who ran towards the Kop end to show his appreciation. But as has been the theme this season, Liverpool never looked comfortable in defence, and after Spurs were awarded a corner, which Liverpool then failed to clear convincingly, Virgil van Dijk seemed to catch Erik Lamela on his follow through.
John Moss chose to play on before being called back by the insistent linesman who confirmed that there was contact. Once again, a penalty was awarded and this time, Kane didn’t make any mistake as he convincingly picked the spot to give Spurs the equalizer for the second time in the game.
Speaking after the game, Juergen Klopp expressed his dismay stating, “The game was very intense between two really good teams. It is not a penalty, it is a situation. I am angry, but I can't change things so what's my job? To create headlines? To get punished? To pay a fine? If I said what I think I would pay the biggest fine in world football. That makes absolutely no sense."
Mauricio Pochettino, though, held a different view, commending the referees for being eagle-eyed, stating. “I congratulated the referee for showing that sort of character. It was difficult to know at the time if they were right but in the dressing room, I confirmed that they were right in every single decision. Sometimes we complain about them. I don't as I decided a long time ago to stop complaining. It's important to recognise when they are right because it's a very difficult job for them."
Liverpool have only themselves to blame for the result. Questionable refereeing aside, Liverpool failed to exert control in the midfield and that is where they probably lost the game. The midfield in the second half seemed to run out of energy and the high press which had served so well in the first half was rarely in action.
For a team playing on its home ground, it seemed at times like Liverpool were playing an away fixture as they only looked to break with Salah and Roberto Firmino. They were rewarded as well, with the Egyptian scoring superbly on both instances.
Liverpool though should have settled the game in the first half when they were in control and have only themselves to blame for the points dropped.
Spurs made the right tactical decisions as they shifted Dele Alli towards the centre in the second half and showed their tenacity to claim a deserved point. The introduction of Victor Wanyama and Lamela for Mousa Dembele and Sanchez respectively, showed Pochettino’s willingness to chase the game.
Having looked devoid of ideas in the first half, it was a commendable performance by Pochettion’s men as they rescued a point from the jaws of defeat. With demanding fixtures to come in the weeks ahead, Spurs have proved, so far, that they have the required mental resilience and appetite.