Spurs v Liverpool: Match in Pictures
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While it was not largely the case on Sunday, watching Mohamed Salah play football has become a privilege, a 90-minute getaway from incompetent politicians, positive PCR tests and the suffocating, depressing reality that threatens to spoil Christmas. Yet the sheer presence and availability of this spellbinding, magical Egyptian until he boards a Cameroon-bound private jet for the Africa Cup of Nations in January really is the greatest gift this Covid-ravaged Liverpool side will get this year – even if his departure looms large.
Yet the Reds were perhaps offered a glimpse into the future – that threatens their title dream – up ahead this winter, when Sadio Mane, Naby Keita and their fellow African companion Salah temporarily depart.
Prior to this meeting, which felt at risk right up until a few hours before kick-off due to the Premier League’s COVID-19 crisis, the best player in the world bar none Salah already had 15 goals and nine assists to his name in the top-flight this season.
Those kind of alien numbers, not even halfway through a season, would represent an excellent full campaign for some.
Yet the issue for Liverpool heading into a crunch festive schedule is that the Reds do not seem to click to their maximum unless Salah plays to the best of his ability. Thankfully, that has been a constant so far this term.
Make no mistake, this was a match that could have swung either way on the basis of several significant refereeing decisions but during a time when every point that is dropped feels of huge importance, Liverpool needed more.
On this particular afternoon in north London they were without Virgil van Dijk, Fabinho and Curtis Jones after they tested positive for COVID-19 ahead of the midweek 3-1 victory over Newcastle but more absentees would follow for the Reds.
Jurgen Klopp’s camp were rocked by the news that Thiago Alcantara had returned a suspected positive COVID-19 test while captain Jordan Henderson, who travelled to north London, was sent home to Merseyside as a precaution after developing a cold.
It meant there was a first Premier League start for Tyler Morton in midfield alongside veteran James Milner and Naby Keita.
The steel of Fabinho, leadership of Henderson and class of Thiago was sorely missed as Liverpool were sucked into a chaotic game of end-to-end basketball.
And yet with so many integral players missing, this was the kind of occasion where Liverpool desperately needed main men Salah and Mane to step up.
Instead it was Jota and the later sent-off Andy Robertson that were on target as the points were shared as once again, City take control of the title race as the calendar year draws to a close.
It wasn’t long before Salah’s crafty and calculated positioning was causing Tottenham issues managing their defensive shape.
Targeting the pocket between Spurs’ left-wing-back Ryan Sessegnon and left centre-back Ben Davies, Salah lurked dangerously, waiting for his moment to strike.
Two raking switches of play from Morton and Robertson that bumbled onto Hugo Lloris acted as a timely reminder of the persistent threat Salah’s electric acceleration poses on the break.
And after Spurs went in front courtesy of a ruthless finish from Harry Kane, Salah began to warm into the game – although this was far from his best showing in the first half.
Liverpool were soon level through Diogo Jota’s smart header, courtesy of robust work and a pinpoint cross from Robertson.
And Salah soon had his tap-dancing shoes as his immaculate close control saw him weave his way inside his marker in territory reminiscent of his Manchester City and Watford wonder goals. This time his shot was blocked.
His frustration soon became evident early in the second half after Trent Alexander-Arnold and Robertson had ambushed the Tottenham flanks for the final stages before the interval.
This game was not going Salah’s way, a minor rug from Ben Davies went unpunished as he strolled, stropped and threw his arms in frustration at referee Paul Tierney.
Davies was later booked for pulling his marker back as he threatened to evade him but once again, Salah’s body language was surly.
It was a sign that this would not be his afternoon, even if there was a feeling of inevitability about him potentially netting a winner given how quiet he’d been.
That precious winner so nearly came in the dying embers after Son Heung-min levelled but substitute Kostas Tsimikas – who entered the fray after Robertson was sent off via VAR review for crashing into Emerson – failed to get the ball across goal to his close friend Salah.
He, his manager and team-mates were bitterly disappointed at the sound of the full-time whistle and with the margins so increasingly fine, it now feels like an uphill struggle for Liverpool to outgun City. Although there is so much football to be played.
Jota does not seem capable of playing consistently well for an entire match while Roberto Firmino is lacking rhythm due to his struggles with injuries.
Take Salah and Mane out of this side and this is a Liverpool team desperately in need of attacking inspiration that perhaps Anfield legend Divock Origi may not even be able to provide.
January reinforcements also seem unlikely but Liverpool will stay true to their plan and go again on Boxing Day against Leeds in a bid to win maximum points between now and the African Cup of Nations.
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