Our man inside the game turned up at Wembley yesterday and that was also as much as Liverpool managed.
‘What do you think the score will be,’ asked my friend. Is there a question in football that lines the pockets of the bookmakers so lavishly? The ultimate test case of subjectivity in the sport of football is surely to ask that very question.
Unless, of course, you ask the fans of almost any club what they think of Liverpool.
Liverpool. Once feared and admired in equal measure across the world are now a tame impersonation of a top football club.
I’d been invited to Wembley, Tottenham’s temporary home for the season, to watch Spurs take on the Merseysiders by that very friend who also wanted my opinion on whether it’s morally right for teams to play at Wembley, or whether it looked like it was worth £750m, and whether stainless steel is as aesthetically pleasing to piss in to as it is functionally appropriate.
I vowed not to go with him again. Free ticket or not.
That was until the game kicked off and I witnessed Spurs dismantle Liverpool with such ease that if I didn’t know the game kicked off at 4pm I’d have assumed it was a warm-up event.
Liverpool were awful and, depending on who you ask, they have been awful for a long time, at least since Brendan Rodgers had the relative luxury of picking a side that included Luis Suarez and Steven Gerard.
Let’s give Liverpool some credit first. They found the stadium. After that, everything went wrong. Or rather, Spurs did everything right.
Tactically, and in a first that I’ve seen, Liverpool purposely detached their front three of Coutinho, Firmino, and Salah from the rest of the team. Trying to stop Spurs from playing out from the back while attempting to surround Kane and Son with numbers. It didn’t work. And the reason it didn’t work is because Kane is a phenomenon. “He’s just a one-season wonder,” the home crowd chanted, and through their shouts of derision, even the Liverpool fans had to smirk wryly.
There were two major problems for Liverpool. Their names are Dejan Lovren and Alberto Moreno. If these men are able to play football for Liverpool then there is hope for my Liverpool-supporting grandfather. And he’s been dead for 27 years.
You will not find a more obvious example of a team deliberately playing on the weakest link than the way Spurs embarrassed Moreno.
The Spaniard was exposed for the player he is, a very average squad player who happens to be left-footed and so plays as a left wing-back.
Spurs turned him, took him on, toyed with him, and tormented him all afternoon. The plan was simple: Put the ball in behind Moreno and have Son and Kane chase it. It was so obvious that Spurs would shift the entire Liverpool team out of the way by playing out to the left before switching it at light speed to Trippier in the right-back position who in turn slid the ball down the line. Like a heavyweight boxer throwing a lead dummy punch before following up with the knockout shot.
Spurs scored their first and second goals in exactly the same way with Kane and Son profiting; the second, a delightful counter-attack the like of which Jurgen Klopp has been striving to achieve ever since his arrival from Dortmund, where it served him so well. A third almost, and with an identical ball over Moreno’s head, but on this occasion, Son saw his rasping volley crash back off the crossbar.
Moreno’s exposure had a devastating knock-on effect for Lovren, who, in an attempt to tidy up the avalanche of balls flying over Moreno’s head, proved to be an appalling one-on-one defender. Klopp put the Croatian out of his misery after just half an hour to ironic cheers from the home fans that were matched by deafening booing for his replacement, the former Arsenal player, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Even so, Liverpool did claw their way back through Salah, whose enthusiasm was a rare bright point in the afternoon and earned him another goal for the season. What Spurs could do with a player like Salah and what Salah must feel he could do playing in a team like Tottenham.
Spurs are not the soft touch they’ve been for as long as I can remember. Part of the reason is Deli Alli, an English midfielder that matches talent with a nasty and pleasing grit that bubbles just underneath the surface. His volley on the stroke of half-time was timely for him and Spurs.
Spurs’ fourth goal encapsulated Liverpool’s defensive display. Trippier swung in a free-kick that Migonlet patted to an unmarked Jan Vertonghen. His header was blocked but the ball fell to Kane who swivelled and fired home for a fourth. A fifth never arrived but it would not have flattered Spurs.
It’s hard to see where Liverpool go from here.
They are a mile away from the top sides in the Premier League, and while it’s true that they desperately missed Sane, who was injured, it is their defence that goes missing too often.
For the record, I did make a score prediction before the game. I took into account Spurs’ less than impressive record at Wembley and Liverpool’s impressive goalless draw with Manchester United a week earlier and came to a conclusion.
“0-0,” I said.
I may as well go all in and predict the sacking of Jurgen Klopp. I’m not sure what the odds are but it could happen. It really could.
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