Magic Mane lifts Anfield gloom as Spurs' title challenge falters
Liverpool 2 Tottenham Hotspur 0
A happy new year at last for Jurgen Klopp, for whom the dismal league form of 2017 finally took an upturn with Liverpool's first victory since the very end of December, and a ray of hope for the future in the form of the sensational Sadio Mane.
This was the evening that Mane at least tried to put a little glow into the dying embers of Liverpool's title challenge, and gave them their first league win in six games, and only their second victory of 2017 after the FA Cup third round replay triumph over Plymouth Argyle. He cannot rebuild the house that stood at the turn of the year, which Liverpool saw in having beaten Manchester City, but the striker was certainly transformative.
His two first-half goals were the very least that Liverpool deserved in a dominant first period in which they seized the initiative and should have scored more, and would have done were it not for Hugo Lloris. That gave Klopp's team the belief that they could win this game and their hard-running meant that Tottenham were never really in the hunt for a comeback.
Alas, for Spurs, their pursuit of Chelsea has hit a pothole from which they will do well to emerge. Antonio Conte's team can extend their lead to 12 points with a victory at Turf Moor today, although that could go down to ten again come City's game tomorrow. Mauricio Pochettino appeared to misjudge Liverpool and pushed his team up high against the home side, which allowed for space in behind.
While Chelsea look like galloping into the distance, Liverpool moved back up to fourth for the time being. There are, for now, just two points separating the five teams in the positions below the leaders and everything to play for with the exception, it seems now, of the league title.
There will be disappointment for Pochettino that his key players failed to inflict much damage on Liverpool, with Christian Eriksen notably quiet, and barely a chance to speak of for Harry Kane. It was indicative of the Spurs manager's lack of options that he turned to Vincent Janssen before the end.
Lloris came off at half-time something of a hero for Spurs, given that without their captain's quick reactions in goal the deficit would have been so great that there would have been no way back for Mauricio Pochettino's team.
They only had themselves to blame for giving Liverpool the space in behind them which enabled the home side to be direct and then there was Mane, an exceptional finisher and surely the quickest man in the Premier League. He scored both first half goals. They came in the space of two minutes and after that, in the 22nd minute Lloris made two exceptional saves from Mané. The first demonstrated the pace of Mane. Ben Davies was losing so much ground on the Liverpool striker as he went through on goal that even when the left-back raised a tentative arm to try to reach out and foul his opponent, the gap was already too big. Mane stumbled as he went to pull the trigger, but his agility meant that he could still lift a shot over Lloris.
The second goal originated with a throw-in deep in Liverpool's half, a long ball forward and then Eric Dier dispossessed by Mane, who ran in on goal with team-mates to choose from. Adam Lallana was given the first shot and Roberto Firmino the second, both of which Lloris saved before Mane volleyed in his second.
Spurs only came into the game as an attacking force just before the half-hour. Heung-min Son had an excellent chance on 27 minutes but Simon Mignolet saved. The second half never hit the heights of the first and Liverpool controlled the game well. The game was notable for a few moments of tension, especially between the Englishmen on the pitch. Kane, of all people, went in wildly on Nathaniel Clyne and landed his studs on the top of the full-back's right boot. James Milner sought retribution minutes later by jumping into the Spurs striker and also picking up a caution. By the end of the game, substitutes Harry Winks and Trent Alexander-Arnold included, there were ten Englishman on the pitch.
For Spurs, however, it looks a long way to Chelsea who, not for the first time, look set for a very good weekend of results.