Liverpool 2, Tottenham Hotspur 0.
By Umarah Naz.
It seems fitting with Valentine’s Day around the corner that Liverpool have been reunited with their true love.
Of course, I’m talking about Sadio Mané.
He has proven to be the heartbeat of the club this season, and his absence last month saw Liverpool’s pulse fall away with their title and cup dreams dying a cruel death. A top four berth is still very much alive for the Reds but the winless run needed to stop. And what better club to do it against then one of your main rivals in the top six.
Liverpool’s record against those top teams is literally second to none. Unbeaten. It has been waxed lyrical about many times, so Spurs’ visit to Anfield was the perfect opportunity to lay Red demons to rest. And rest then they did.
A quick-fire Mané brace in the first-half was enough to sink Spurs and put Jurgen Klopp’s men within a point of both North London clubs. The Champions League spots are as open as ever with only two points separating second from sixth, with Manchester City still to play on Monday night.
Liverpool started the game like they had done many games before; with lots of possession and all the attacking intent in the world. What they had been lacking previously was the clinical finishing to make the chances count.
The lack of pace has been shouted about from the rooftops recently and there’s not much more to be said about. Except everything. It makes all the difference in those final third, marginal moments. The difference between being a goal up or having a shot blocked or a last-ditch tackle ruining the flow. The difference between winning and losing. A lesson Liverpool have learnt the hard way.
However, it took them just sixteen minutes to take the lead at Anfield on Saturday evening when Mané latched onto a beautiful ball from Wijnaldum and beat Ben Davies in a foot race to tuck it hime past Hugo Lloris. There’s that pace.
The visitors had little time to settle and find their feet when just two minutes later, Mané dispossessed Eric Dier to attack the Spurs goal alongside Firmino. The Senegalese teed up Adam Lallana whose first-time shot was saved, as was Firmino’s follow up, until he reaped his just rewards and buried the ball in the back of the net.
At this stage, one would think Pochettino would be desperately concerned that this could turn into an embarrassing rout. The next few minutes would only exacerbate those fears when Mané was presented with more opportunities to score his hat trick, but Lloris and a shot into the side netting kept the score at 2-0.
Mignolet was called into action at the other end when Son inexplicably tried his luck despite Harry Kane being in a much better position to score. As it was, the Belgian saved his team the tension of conceding and the home team went into the break with their clean sheet intact. The only “negative” being that Liverpool were somehow only two goals up. And you know what they say about two-goal leads.
Surely Tottenham would improve in the second-half after being cut open time and time again. Would Liverpool rue those missed chances? We have become accustomed to a defence conceding poor goals and sometimes seemingly comfortable leads.
Lucas had retained his place alongside Joel Matip after Dejan Lovren failed a late fitness test due to a knee injury. Despite nervousness among fans at his inclusion, the Liverpool veteran had a very good game in defence and played an integral part in the team’s first league clean sheet of the year.
The rest of the second-half was a collection of yellow cards, substitutions and a rare show of game management by Liverpool. Tottenham’s only real chance of the second-half came when Kane hit the post but was flagged offside. Other than that, Liverpool managed to see the game out and gave themselves a much needed boost after a torrid run of results.
Much will be made of the problems Liverpool have in failing to beat mid to bottom table opposition. The next two fixtures are versus Leicester and Arsenal who like to open up and play which, as we all know, suits Liverpool down to the ground. And with Mané back in to inject speed, the next few weeks could be interesting for the Reds.
One hopes that by the time Burnley visit Anfield mid-March, Klopp will have used the time to devise a plan to silence his critics and overcome the proverbial parking of the bus. No matter how good you are against the big teams, it all means little if Swansea, Hull, Burnley and Bournemouth get the better of you. It’s going to take all of Klopp’s expertise and his players mental strength to fix those problems.
Saturdays win against Spurs will go some way to boosting a side low on confidence. Two weeks off to train will undoubtedly be beneficial. That and Sadio.
It’s possible that his return will have everything clicking back into place for Klopp. It’s clear his absence has left Liverpool in a dark place, but today showed that his energy and vigour seem to rub off on the team. One could say…almost Suarez-esque.
As long as he stays fit, he will almost certainly be hugely influential in Liverpool’s league position at the end of the season. The love affair has been rekindled. Let’s hope this relationship is fruitful and pushes the team to clinch the that top four spot.