Tottenham Hotspur hosted Liverpool, the presumptive Premier League champions, at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Saturday, and played the champions pretty close. Unfortunately, “close” only counts in horseshoes and hand granades. Roberto Firmino scored a first half goal, and Tottenham couldn’t put away their second half chances, as the Reds took all three points in north London. The final score was 0-1.
Spurs’ starting lineup provided the biggest surprise of the Jose Mourinho era, as academy graduate Japhet Tangaga earned his Premier League debut, starting alongside Davinson Sanchez and Toby Alerweireld in a back three formation. Danny Rose also rejoined the starting lineup, slotting in at left back in place of Jan Vertonghen, who was on the bench. Harry Winks and Christian Eriksen anchored the midfield, with Dele and Lucas Moura in the attacking band behind Son Heung-Min. Serge Aurier retained his place at right back.
0’ — KICK-OFF! Oh god where are my smelling salts
2 — Not even two minutes in and a big chance from Liverpool. Firmino takes a shot open in the box, which is blocked away by Tanganga. Oxlade-Chamberlain then puts a ball off the inside of the post and out. Yiiiiiiiikes.
5’ — Oooh close from Lucas, who plonks a ball off the outside of the post and out. Spurs are really open in the early goings of this match, it’s scary.
13’ — Spurs getting some success on the counterattack. Toby fired a long ball from deep that ended up with Dele inside the box; Dele skied the ball over the bar and at some point it went off his arm as well, so VAR would’ve been involved even if it had gone in.
18’ — After a few counters early, Spurs have settled deep and are basically letting Liverpool have the ball. They can’t keep ahold of the ball on the rare times they do get it and aren’t getting out of their own half.
22’ — A rare opportunity going forward for Spurs, but Eriksen’s left footed effort from the top of the box is low and weak.
23’ — Great save from Gazzaniga, who palms away a Van Dijk header at the back post. Joe Gomez picks up a yellow on the ensuing counter for fouling Sonny.
32’ — Great play from Tanganga! Japhet anticipated a pass to Mane, stole the ball, and then earned a foul as he dribbled upfield. That was good!
35’ — Another chance for Liverpool — Salah cuts the ball back to Mane in the box, who catches the ball wrong and fires over the bar. Whew.
37’ — Goal Liverpool. Well, that was a long time coming. Roberto Firmino with the left foot int he box, and Spurs are down 1-0. Salah gets the assist. There’s a brief VAR check for a possible handball, but there’s nothing in it, and the goal is given.
39’ — Yellow to Oxlade-Chamberlain as he takes down a sprinting Lucas Moura. Free kick to Spurs.
43’ — Salah nearly doubles Liverpool’s lead after Sanchez slips in the box, but Toby is there to block and the ball squirms wide of the post.
45’ — Into extra time, and Lucas was wide open on a corner at the near post. Wide open, but couldn’t direct his header on target.
HALFTIME — It’s been all Liverpool as expected. Spurs have been content to sit deep and try and hit on the counter, but the midfield’s been an issue all match. They’re gonna have to do something different in the second 45 to get anything from this match.
No changes to start the second half.
54’ — More of the same in the second half — Liverpool has most of the ball, Spurs are still trying to absorb pressure and hit back on the counter whenever they can. Liverpool still tactical fouling whenever Spurs do.
57’ — Chance for Spurs! Route One football as Dele gets the ball at pace, dribbles into the box and is tackled by VVD. Lucas has an open look at goal but it’s saved by Allison. On the ensuing play, Firmino gets open in Spurs’ box, but his shot is straight at Gazinga.
60’ — Chance for Son! Sonny dribbles Alexander-Arnold, cuts inside to the middle of the box, and fires, but his shot is deflected out for a corner. Adam Lallana is the first sub for either side, coming on for Oxlade-Chamberlain.
66’ — Andrew Robertson stamps on Tanganga’s ankle just outside of the box, leaving both players on the pitch in pain, but Martin Atkinson doesn’t even stop play. That would’ve/should’ve been a red on Robertson. No VAR review either.
69’ — A nice double sub for Spurs — Erik Lamela and Gio Lo Celso coming on for Eriksen and Danny Rose. YOLO. Let’s do it.
73’ — Tanganga is down holding his ankle, right in the place where Robertson hit him studs-up that wasn’t called. That’s great! Jan Vertonghen is warming up, but Japhet is back up.
74’ — ARGHHHHHHH. That was it. Lo Celso won the ball in midfield, Lucas took the ball up and found Sonny wide open in the box, but he puts it over the bar.
80’ — Ugh, another “nearly” for Spurs — Lo Celso drives to the end of the field and puts a fizzing cross in, but nobody’s at the back post to meet it. Also — sub for Liverpool, Divock Origi on for Sadio Mane.
82’ — OMG HOW HOW HOW!! Serge Aurier puts a lovely cross into the box and Lo Celso gets a boot to it but somehow it goes achingly wide of the post. Frustrating miss.
86’ — Another yellow card worthy tackle on Robertson, which again was not called even as a foul by Atkinson. Not much time left to get an equalizer.
89’ — Shot by Lamela, but Allison had it covered and makes the save. Ugh.
90’ — Origi with a low shot on target, but Gazinga goes down to make the save. On the ensuing play, Lamela goes down in the box, wants a penalty, no call. Three minutes of ET.
91’ — Liverpool’s final sub, as Salah goes off for Shaqiri.
93’ — That’s probably it — Sonny with a shot, but again it’s right at Allison who collects it easily.
FULL TIME — A frustrating loss for Spurs who should feel good about their effort, but not their finishing. They had chances. They did not take them. Final score — 0-1.
- This was obviously a tactical game plan from Jose Mourinho, and Spurs did what they were asked to do against a team better than them — sit deep, absorb pressure, hit on the counter when possible. If not for finishing, it might have worked, too.
- It’s not that Spurs didn’t have good chances — they did! They just couldn’t convert them. Sonny was wide open and scuffed a chance over the bar, Lo Celso went agonizingly wide, Lamela and Dele shot straight at Allison. On another day, Spurs get at least a point.
- The second half was one of the best halves of football I’ve seen all season from Spurs — they were progressive, intense, getting chances, defending well. I there’s a silver lining here, it’s this — Spurs finally put together some good football against a good team, without Harry Kane and Tanguy Ndombele.
- The match changed in Spurs’ favor as soon as Lamela and Lo Celso came on. Maybe there’s a lesson we can learn from this, I’m not sure... hmmmm....
- Robertson’s foul on Tanganga was a red card and Atkinson didn’t even deem it worthy of a foul. That was maddening. All of the marginal calls were no-calls from Atkinson, and all of them went Liverpool’s way.
- Tip your cap to Japhet Tanganga, who was thrown into the biggest game left on Spurs’ calendar and not only held his own — he was pretty darned good! Let’s play him more.
- Harry Winks was god-awful in the first half, but turned things around in midfield and had an excellent second 45 minutes. Full credit to Winksy — he was doing great things late.
- Lucas Moura also had a pretty good match — he was tricky, trying things that didn’t always work, but always looking to push forward.
- Danny Rose looks like he hasn’t played a game for a couple of months. Perhaps not a coincidence that Spurs looked better when he came off.
- Christian Eriksen was... well, pretty bad and looked like he didn’t want to be there.
- This was a strangely confidence-building loss from Spurs. If Mourinho can actually get Lamela and Lo Celso involved and Ndombele healthy, then Tottenham might be cooking with gas.