Liverpool 3 Tottenham 2: Four talking points
Four talking points as Mario Balotelli nets a late winner at Anfield
Spurs undone again
Liverpool have become a bit of a bogey team for Spurs of late – having now lost to them five times on the trot, and having scored just two goals to Liverpool’s 15 in their four most recent meetings before Tuesday. However, they would have travelled to Anfield with much higher hopes, on the back of four league wins in five, including a superb north London derby win last weekend. Liverpool themselves came into the game with a very respectable 11 points from 15 (making them the second-most in-form team in the league) – and true to form, it was a rip-roaring, end-to-end affair. It could have gone either way and could have produced even more goals. Spurs may well consider unlucky not to be going home with something tonight, for they played with admirable adventure, but Liverpool did shade the game. It all means the race for (realistically) the third and fourth Champions League spots has hotted up even more, with Liverpool now definitely making up a chasing pack of five, separated by just five points (and respective games in hand for Manchester United and Southampton on Wednesday).
The return of the (new) King of The Kop
This was Daniel Sturridge’s first start since being sidelined with a torn thigh muscle – very unfortunate timing given Luis Suarez’s summer departure and Balotelli’s poor form. He looked very sharp, just as he did when he came on and scored against West Ham – finding space, taking a beautifully cushioned touch then firing a shot into Adrian’s near post. He certainly hasn’t lost any of his confidence in his long spell on the sidelines, as he was happy even early on to go toe-to-toe with Eric Dier in a foot race, attempted an impudent backheel which hit the post and wove his way few a couple of defenders to earn a crucial penalty. There have been a few murmurs that Sturridge has been too “fragile” in regard to his injury troubles but for a player who often plays on the last man and relies on lightning-quick reactions and acceleration, there was good reason for the caution. And on the evidence so far, it seems vindicated. Mario Balotelli will no doubt get a lot of the headlines, but that is because, frankly he has been so useless most of the season and because he is Mario Balotelli. Sturridge deserves them more.
A tale of two keepers
This was a strange role reversal for the men in between the sticks. Hugo Lloris, so reliable and often match-winning for Spurs, should have got a much stronger hand to Lazar Markovic’s average finish for the first goal, and in general looked out of sorts, flapping at a cross or two. While Simon Mignolet, whose performances earlier in the season meant he was dropped for perennial understudy Brad Jones, looked far more assured, dominating his area and making a fine stop fingertip stop from Erik Lamela (though he might wish he’d done slightly better for the first goal, which just slipped underneath his leg).
Dowd avoids Kopping an earful
Phil Dowd was very quick to reach for his pocket throughout the game – too much so for what was inevitably going to be a full-blooded affair, but was one that ultimately didn’t boil over. One such occasion was a strong challenge from Steven Gerrard on Harry Kane, in which the Liverpool player played the ball but was obviously judged to have come in from behind, not the side – a debatable free-kick, let alone a booking. It was the free-kick Spurs went on to score from – and Harry Kane was offside for that, albeit marginally. So probably a good for thing for the officials that Liverpool went on to the win the game anyway.