Just when it appeared Jurgen Klopp’s tactics, not starting Fabinho and delaying changes as the game went away from him in the second half, would be questioned, the manager gained relief.
For Jordan Pickford in the Merseyside derby here last December read another goalkeeper Tottenham Hotspur’s Hugo Lloris — who dropped a late, late clanger.
The 90th-minute own goal, which took Liverpool two points clear having played a game more than City, will be attributed to Toby Alderweireld. But it was decidedly the Spurs goalkeeper who was at fault as he had both hands on a -Mohamed Salah header, only to spill the ball. It rebounded off his defender before trickling slowly over the goal-line.
It felt like a moment frozen in time; followed by unbridled and chaotic relief for Liverpool. They had been racked by nerves and doubt in the second half when Spurs were the better team. «I had luck. Goal is goal,» Salah later said. He did have luck. A goal is a goal and a win is, wonderfully for them and cruelly for Spurs, a win.
Having triumphed late against Fulham just before the international break, through a penalty awarded after another goalkeeper blunder, Liverpool won even later. They have only six games to go and this was quite probably their most taxing remaining fixture. City are slender favourites, but they arguably have a tougher programme. But what is tougher? So tight are the margins in this title race that we have to go game by game, and with an encounter like this, almost minute by minute. Certainly, here, it was defined in the 85th minute as well, with Spurs appearing set to ram home their superiority by actually winning this game.
No one could have argued with the result if they had done. Instead, they head to their first game at their new stadium on Wednesday and could do down to fifth place before they kick off — if other results go against a team who have now taken just one point from 15.
It could have been so different. With five minutes to go, at 1-1, they broke swiftly with Moussa Sissoko sprinting forward, before Harry Kane played a brilliant first-time pass to substitute Son Heung-min. He released Sissoko, who had continued his run, and suddenly it was two against one except, fortunately for Liverpool, that one was Virgil van Dijk. He gambled by closing off the pass to Son and forcing Sissoko to shoot. It was not what the midfielder wanted but, even so, he should have scored. Instead, he blazed wildly over.
It felt like another big moment and so it proved as Salah headed a hoisted Trent Alexander-Arnold cross goalwards. Spurs did the rest. By then Liverpool were playing with a 4-2-4 formation but, despite having all those attackers, it was their two full-backs who were their standout performers, with Andrew Robertson also contributing with an assist.
With Mauricio Pochettino in the stands, serving the second game of a two-match ban for confronting referee Mike Dean, Spurs also had to adjust to the absence of Harry Winks and Eric Dier by reverting to a three-man defence. As assured as they started it did not work and the manner in which Liverpool opened the scoring will have infuriated the Spurs manager.
Again it was careless, as Lloris’s loose clearance allowed Georginio Wijnaldum an easy header and -Jordan Henderson eventually switched play for Robertson to -deliver an excellent, curling cross.
It dropped between Davinson Sanchez and Jan Vertonghen, as Roberto Firmino stole in to direct a header down into the turf, with the ball spinning up and past Lloris.
That, remarkably, was Liverpool’s only effort on target until Salah’s injury-time header — apart from the ball deflecting inadvertently off Firmino, late on, from -another header by Van Dijk. There was pressure from Liverpool, with Sadio Mane twice curling shots -narrowly wide, but the dynamic shifted.
Maybe the swirling wind played its part, but it appeared more to do with Liverpool’s evident anxiety, Klopp’s failure to react and Spurs’ determination to strike back. Christian Eriksen became more influential, while Lucas Moura proved a sharp, constant threat.
Both were involved in the equalising goal. Kane had already drawn a save from Alisson Becker — with Robertson making a crucial intervention to deflect Eriksen’s -follow-up away for a corner — before the Spurs striker intelligently took a quick free-kick.
The ball may well have been moving, but Kane was alert as he hoisted it cross-field to Kieran Trippier, who cushioned inside to Eriksen. He sent in a low, first-time cross and there was Moura to nip in and deliver the finish.
Panic ensued. Liverpool hit back, with Lloris tipping over Alexander-Arnold’s dipping shot, but so did Spurs and — as well as Sissoko — Dele Alli went close before Alderweireld’s inadvertent, decisive intervention.
«If we are there at the end of the season it will be down to will, desire and attitude,» Klopp later said. True. Plus, as he acknowledged, a little luck. As all champions receive.
The Daily Telegraph