Liverpool drop vital points in title race after being held by Tottenham at Anfield

Liverpool dropped two points to Spurs

For the first time in four months, Liverpool dropped points to anyone other than City. After 13 wins in 14 league games came a draw. After 12 straight Premier League victories at Anfield came a different result. Even as Luis Diaz embarked on a second rescue act in a week for Liverpool, this lacked the happy ending.

For Tottenham, perhaps it was both a bonus point and a case of what might have been. When Son Heung-Min put Spurs ahead, it threatened to be the first time an Anfield crowd witnessed Liverpool lose a Premier League game since Crystal Palace prevailed in April 2017. More pertinently, it would have taken them ahead of Arsenal.

As it is, Thursday’s North London derby is shaping up to be a seismic affair, but perhaps a must-win game for Conte’s charges. The frustration for them may be that they have beaten City twice, held Liverpool home and away and slipped up too often against others.

Arsenal occupy fourth but Tottenham can hold their own against the best. For the most part, an ambush was expertly executed at Anfield. Spurs were under siege for much of the match, camped in their own territory. Theirs was a rearguard action conducted with intelligence as well as determination, underlining Conte’s excellence as a defensive strategist. Ben Davies flourished against Mohamed Salah. Cristian Romero was characteristically committed. Spurs, who have only won once at Anfield in the league since 1993, were unSpursy.

But they were undone by a deflection and a man they wanted to sign. Four days after changing the game in Villarreal, Diaz delivered another crucial intervention. This time it was as starter rather than substitute but, once again, Liverpool had trailed and they needed someone to alter the tide of the game.

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Their newest player obliged. He was the man of the match in the Carabao Cup final and his influence may yet help them win other competitions: for that, perhaps they can thank Tottenham. Had they not tried to sign the Colombian in January, Liverpool might not have fast-tracked their own move.

Luis Diaz grabbed an equaliser for Liverpool but it wasn’t enough

Tottenham needed few reminders of Diaz’s merits. They had tried to buy the Colombian in January, only for Liverpool to steal in. A series of driving runs and a crisply-struck half-volley that Hugo Lloris parried offered earlier evidence of his menace. Then, with defeat beckoning, Diaz collected Thiago Alcantara’s pass, powered infield and shot, but the deflection off Rodrigo Bentancur probably defeated Lloris. Even by its own standards, Anfield erupted.

Yet there was no crescendo, no winner. Tottenham arguably had the best chance. They had scored an injury-time decider at the Etihad Stadium and there could have been a sequel, the unmarked Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg misjudging a header.

The goal they did get was only the second Liverpool had conceded in the top flight at Anfield in 2022. It was clinical. Harry Kane had only completed two passes in the first half but he made one of the most meaningful of the second, meandering infield to find the overlapping Ryan Sessegnon. Part of Conte’s gameplan was to get runners in behind Liverpool’s full-backs, a task Sessegnon approached with enthusiasm, and his low cross meant Son was afforded with a simple finish for his twentieth Premier League goal of the season.

Son Heung-Min opened the scoring for Spurs

It represented a double blow to Salah: the Golden Boot may be slipping from his grasp and the South Korean, with nine goals in seven games, has the momentum. When Fabinho later resorted to a rather agricultural approach to stop Son, it felt understandable: he can be the scourge of City and Liverpool alike, a player who thrives on such stages.

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Liverpool had to be alert to halt him. This was a high-class game that nevertheless lacked incident until the final few minutes of the first half. It was played at pace, a tactical battle of contrasting approaches and featuring fine defending; Tottenham as a team, Liverpool in one-on-one situations.

Then the woodwork was struck at either end. Liverpool swapped their corner taker on the left, trading Andy Robertson’s out-swingers for Trent Alexander-Arnold’s ability to whip the ball in. Virgil van Dijk met it and headed against the bar. Spurs responded in kind. Hojbjerg clipped the base of the post with a drive from 25 yards. It was one apiece in that respect, one apiece in the other scoreline. And City, whose season began with a defeat inflicted by Son, may have been cursing him then but could cheer him now.

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