Frustrated Liverpool unable to punish slow-starting Spurs
Tottenham 1 - Liverpool 1, White Hart Lane
Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool are two teams with similar aspirations and comparable styles, unlikely to be separated by much at the far end of the season.
But they left White Hart Lane yesterday afternoon with the same frustration of drawing a game they hoped for more from.
Liverpool were the better team and should have won it, Spurs must have wondered why it took them an hour to get going.
This was a compelling back and forth affair, with far more energy and incident than is often seen in these lunchtime matinee games. It was a game in which Liverpool had by far the better chances, which they should have won by a distance even after James Milner's first-half penalty put them ahead.
Spurs barely showed up for the first hour, sloppy and disjointed, desperately lacking Moussa Dembele. Their late surge earned them a Danny Rose equaliser, but there was more bad than good about this Tottenham performance.
Mauricio Pochettino warned this week that his players were still "a little bit behind" in their fitness work this season. Most of them only had two weeks of pre-season before opening weekend. The result is that this is a Spurs team still struggling to get up to speed. Against Everton and Crystal Palace they were poor in the first half and better in the second, and the same was true again here.
It does not help that Spurs are having to start the season without their most important player. Michel Vorm is an able deputy for Hugo Lloris, but they have no real replacement for Mousa Dembele. He is the man who makes Mauricio Pochettino's system work, taking the ball, taking risks, taking men on, freeing up the space for the men in front of him to attack. Victor Wanyama is good at what he does but is not in the same technical league as Dembele, and it shows.
With no Dembele Spurs struggled to string anything together in midfield, frequently going long through lack of ideas and giving the ball away. He brings the whole team together, and without him Spurs looked like an orchestra missing its conductor. It was no surprise, then, that Liverpool were the better team in the first half. They played brisk, sharp counter-attacking football, cutting Spurs open on the break and making all the best chances in the first half.
After just three minutes Liverpool should have scored when Roberto Firmino cut in from the right and crossed to Philippe Coutinho at the far post. Vorm saved brilliantly with his feet, showing as he did all afternoon that he is good enough to step into Lloris' role. Vorm saved against at the far post from Coutinho, from a Sadio Mane cross, while making two brilliant tackles on Mane outside of his box.
Liverpool could get in behind Spurs almost every time they tried, and with three minutes left before the break they finally got the reward for their dominance. Firmino darted in down the left, and Lamela was too eager to stop him and brought him down. Milner sent Vorm the wrong way from the spot.
Spurs had to chase the game in the second half, and in doing so gifted Liverpool the chances to kill it. Joel Matip should have done better with a close-range header before Mane converted a brilliant counter-attack, only for it to be ruled out for a marginal offside call. This was the spell in which Liverpool could have sealed the three points but they did not, and Spurs finally grew back into the contest.
Tottenham's rhythm had been hit by the first-half replacement of an ill Kyle Walker with Vincent Janssen. This forced a reorganisation to 4-4-2 and it was only in the second half that the players adjusted to their new roles. Eric Dier was at right-back, but he became increasingly dangerous in the second half. After an hour he crossed to Christian Eriksen, who shot weakly over the bar. Pochettino ran down the tunnel and thumped a door in frustration.
The pressure was mounting, as Lamela had a free-kick tipped over and Toby Alderweireld was denied by a brilliant save. Eventually they broke though, as Lamela flicked on Dier's clever cross and Danny Rose darted in at the far post to slice the ball past Mignolet.
That goal gave Spurs 18 minutes to push for a win but, aside from another Alderweireld header, they never looked like doing so. Liverpool, in fact, had the best late openings on the break. They were the better team and should have won.
They already look closer to being the side their manager wants them to be than Tottenham. Until Dembele returns, and the players sharpen up, Spurs are still some way away, even with this hard-earned point.