By Max Gallagher (@Maxgallwrites)
The following is a guest article by the aforementioned author – linked above – and is not necessarily representative of opinions held by anyone at Empire of the Kop…
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 calendar 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, Heung-min 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 free-kick in a dangerous area was headed out but only as far as Tanguy Ndolembe who played a through ball to Harry Kane, the Englishman allowing the ball to beat him and making mince pies out of Ibrahima Konate and Alisson Becker.
Liverpool recovered their composure and, despite the obvious grit and organisation that Antonio Conte has instilled in this team, 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 an adequate riposte 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. Kane should have seen red for an awful studs-up challenge on Andy 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 courtroom.
The equaliser, whilst not quite predictable, had the hallmarks of everything that was coming, and everything that Liverpool and Jota do best. Breaking from their half, there was the usual interplay down the left-hand side before a lovely ball found the Portuguese international 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 the Reds’ No.1 when Dele Alli cut back to Harry Kane. The England skipper 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.
70 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 Alli fell from a push in the back by Alexander-Arnold, and Liverpool broke. Salah could not convert a cross to the back post with Hugo Loris saving well, but when the Liverpool full-back appeared majestically at the other end of the pitch, he hooked the ball across the six-yard box to Robertson who headed into the empty net.
The statistics pop-up showed that Liverpool had had 18 chances to Spurs’ eight, but something didn’t feel right. Within minutes the London-based outfit 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 the 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.