If this is where Tottenham’s title challenge begins to falter, then their consolation will have to be that they have made an almighty contribution to a fascinating season.
They haven’t fallen by the wayside yet. They will of course keep fighting to the end. But what they need right now is victories, with Leicester, four points clear, playing today.
They may fall short. They could fail. But on Saturday evening they participated in an utterrly compelling game, which mirrored the entertainment value of the season.
Indeed, if this is the future of football, then we can all sit back and enjoy. Perhaps it has taken a German and an Argentine to teach us how to play English football?
This was committed, intense, ferocious at times, and passionate. Most importantly though it was technically proficient, a pleasure to watch.
Mauricio Pochettino and Jurgen Klopp’s team match each other for desire. Each press the ball ferociously. Neither will let any cause die without a fight. Yesterday evening those ingredients produced a stunning game yet one which may prove unproductive.
As Harry Kane, scorer of his 22nd goals this season, a gem of a finish, said: ‘You’re always pleased to score. It’s just even better when you get the three points.’
That the Brazilian Philippe Coutinho was the star of the show should not worry Roy Hodgson. For even if at times in the second half it appeared that the game revolved around him, there were a clutch of Englishmen not far behind.
Harry Kane’s turn and finish was stunning; Adam Lallana continued his fine form; Kyle Walker was excellent in the first half, though somewhat bewildered by Coutinho in the second. Even Daniel Sturridge showed signs of edging back to the player he was.
Dele Alli though showed signs that a man of the match performance for England cannot be sustained consistently in one so young. But for Spurs, heroes abounded elsewhere: Moussa Dembele, Hugo Lloris, Toby Alderwiereld were all excellent. ‘We have six games ahead and we need to believe,’ urged Pochettino. ‘In football, it can happen.
‘It’s difficult to come here and win but we came and believed in our quality. We feel now a little bit disappointed. But we need to still believe and be ready for Manchester United. It’s up to us to try to reduce the gap.’
For Klopp there was similar equivocation. He was ready to acknowledge Coutinho was a ‘genius player.’ Yet he expects more. ‘When everyone plays at his best, imagine! How good we could be! I saw a lot of good things today, a really good sign for our future but on the other side we showed a bit of our problem. It is much more difficult to fix our problems than to show our good moments but we will do so.’
The first half was a relentless explosion of energy, with Tottenham starting the stronger and Liverpool finishing in the ascendancy
Walker initially caused endless problems down Liverpool’s left and exchanged passes with Heung Min-Song on nine minutes, setting up Christian Eriksen, whose strike was well saved by Simon MIgnolet.
Liverpool responded and Kevin Wimmer produced a tremendous block to deny James Milner on 13 minutes with Hugo Lloris saving from Philippe Coutinho’s subsequent strike. Lloris had to be even more alert on 21 minutes to tip behind an interception by his team-mate Son which threatened to be an own goal.
Coutinho was booked for a dive – wrongly in Klopp’s opinion but it was certainly a gross exaggeration of the contact he felt from Alderweireld. Kane then dragged a shot wide on 26 minutes but the clearest chance of the half fell to Daniel Sturridge on 36 minutes. Played in by Coutinho, Sturridge was clean through yet Llloris dominated the situation with his presence and eventually blocked the strike with his legs.
As the half drew to a close, Lloris excelled. There was a save from Adam Lallana on 38 minutes. But his best came on 40 minutes when Lallana shot into the ground, the ball bounced up and the Frenchman flew through the air and tipped the ball away with his right hand.
Liverpool’s momentum would see them take the lead early in the second half. Coutinho found an injection of pace on 52 minutes to take him away from his marker and fed Sturridge. His cushioned pass fell perfectly back into the path of the Brazilian, he shot deftly beyond the diving Lloris.
Coutinho then attempted to repay his team-mate on 57 minutes with a quite glorious cross which Sturridge headed just over. The game was in danger of running away from Tottenham, yet they responded in kind on 62 minutes.
Eriksen refused to give up on a superb lofted ball played by Alderweireld, just keeping it in play and flicking it back to Kane. The Tottenham striker controlled the ball, turned Dejan Lovren in a micro second and then struck confidently into the far corner to equalise. ‘For me he is one of the best strikers in the world,’ said Pochettino. ‘and he showed again that I am not wrong’
Mignolet then needed a fine save to keep out a strike from Eriksen from the edge of the box as Tottenham now scented victory. Eriksen lifted a ball into Alli, but the teenager let the ball bounce off is chest rather than bringing it under control. And right at the death, Dier rose to meet a header but could not connect. Pochettino was crouched by the touchline as the final whistle blew and beat the ground twice in frustration. It hasn’t gone yet, but it is slipping away.