Was this the game of the season? It sounds like a big call, but I was already convinced after four minutes. The game had barely begun, and it already had the stamp of a seven goal thriller. James Milner (yes, James Milner) had a lovely left-footed shot on target, and Trent Alexander Arnold had a lovely left-footed shot on target. It was all systems go. This was a game played at such a frenetic pace that the doors on my advent calender started opening by themselves.
By half time, the stats suggested Liverpool had dominated, and yet that old saying springs to mind – Lies, damned lies, and playing a high line is fucking dangerous. Liverpool could have easily been five-nil down. Tottenham had the best of the chances, Son and Dele Alli wasting glorious opportunities to pour cold water on the visitor’s vim.
It was Spurs who took the lead, at a time when it looked like their more solid and experienced midfield was starting to dominate. A probing run from Alli was repelled, but only as far as Ndolembe who played a through ball to Kane, the Englishman allowing the ball to beat him and making mince pies out of Konate and Alisson.
Liverpool recovered their composure, and despite the obvious grit and organisation that Antonio Conte has instilled in this team, the Reds started to probe. Mo Salah thumped a right footed half volley into the body of Hugo Lloris, and the Frenchman’s left knee served as adequate reposte to Trent Alexander-Arnold attempting the same intrusion. Could the young Scouser become the first right back to score 100 goals for his club?
The game fizzed and sparkled, and Liverpool became Liverpool again. The only downside of this performance was perhaps the first signs that James Milner is mortal. At 146 years old, he is allowed to have the odd bad game. And tonight, it was well compensated for by the presence of Tyler
Alonso Morton, adding class and vision to Naby Keita’s spics and stomach. Harry Kane should have seen red for an awful studs-up challenge on Robertson, and Diogo Jota, fouled in the box, saw one of the most obvious claims for justice turned down since OJ Simpson tried on those gloves in a Los Angeles court room.
The equaliser, whist not quite predictable, had the hallmarks of everything that was coming, and everything that Liverpool and Jota do best. Breaking from their own half, there was the usual interplay down the left-hand side before a lovely ball found Jota unmarked. But somehow, he’s always unmarked. That can’t be a coincidence, can it? For a player of his stature, his prowess in the air is remarkable. Accuracy, power, and a strange technique that makes him look slightly childlike as he bobs his head forwards. Inevitably though, it’s always into the top corner. Half time. Can this game get any better?
In the second half, Spurs were at it again. They picked apart Liverpool’s defence too easily, and should have scored but for a wonder save from Alisson when Dele Alli cut back to Harry Kane. Kane should have buried, but the Brazilian’s anticipation was outrageous. Flinging himself forward, his cat-like paw came out and blocked as the open goal beckoned.
Seventy minutes gone, and Spurs were now looking strong and ambitious, until suddenly the narrative changed. A strong penalty appeal was turned down at one end when Dele Alli fell from a push in the back by Alexander-Arnold, and Liverpool broke. Mohamed Salah could not convert a cross to the back post with Hugo Loris saving well, but when Alexander-Arnold appeared majestically at the other end of the pitch, he hooked the ball across the six-yard box to Andy Robertson who headed into the empty net.
The statistics pop up showed that Liverpool had had eighteen chances to Spurs eight, but something didn’t feel right. Within minutes Spurs would teach Hublot and Opta to mind their own fucking business. A clever run from Son in behind left Joel Matip for dead and Alisson rushed from his line. His anticipation, Liverpool’s saving grace so many times in this game, and this season, was here his undoing. Any touch on the ball would have eliminated the danger, but instead it drifted through the keeper’s legs like the ghost of Christmas present. Son gratefully accepted the gift and slotted into the empty net. It was cruel on Alisson, who otherwise might have been man of the match.
With 10 minutes to go, Andy Robertson was sent off and the game took on a different complexion. Liverpool now had to defend their point, but it was telling that in the closing minutes, it was Liverpool who had the better chances and showed most urgency, whilst Spurs were happy to run the game down. A draw in the end, seemed fair.
So many talking points. So much drama. What a game. Two years ago, this fixture was described as the worst European Cup final in history. It may be too late to make up for that, but both teams showed their class here. For Liverpool fans, a huge positive has to be their ability to compete even with so many senior players missing. They took the game to Spurs from the off, and were it not for that goalkeeping error, and some contentious refereeing decisions, they would have taken all three points.
My take home memory from the game was the performance of Tyler Morton, who looks a better prospect than Curtis Jones. Which makes him a very good prospect indeed. And watching Jota head the ball of course. I just want to watch him head the ball all day on Christmas day. There are lots of reasons to believe that this Liverpool team will be right in the mix at the very end of the season- whenever that turns out to be.