Saturday 23 September 2017

Six things we learned from Liverpool-Spurs: Top Four race is more exciting than title race

Mamadou Sakho, Martin Skrtel and Simon Mignolet celebrate Liverpool's victory over Tottenham at Anfield
Mamadou Sakho, Martin Skrtel and Simon Mignolet celebrate Liverpool's victory over Tottenham at Anfield

The squabble to challenge for the Champions League is the season's most thrilling story - and five other things we learned from Liverpool v Tottenham.

1. The battle for the Champions League is more exciting than the title race

This was a cracking match, played at a furious pace and peppered with brutal tackles, stinging shots, laser-like passing and, yes, some absolutely awful errors.

In short, it summed up everything that is good and bad about the Premier League and served as a reminder of why television companies are prepared to pay literally billions of pounds for the right to show it.

It also suggested that the tussle to qualify for next season's Champions League has the potential to be far more breathless than the title race: while Chelsea are in danger of disappearing over the horizon, with only Manchester City in their rear-view mirrors, the battle to claim the other two spots in the top four is turning into a five-way fight which is impossible to call.

Top of the table

2. Hugo Lloris is mortal after all

The Tottenham goalkeeper has given the impression of being impenetrable at times this season, and it is hard to see anyone apart from David de Gea challenging him for a place in the Premier League's Team of the Season.

But here was a real collector's item: a mistake that led to Liverpool's opening goal early in the first half. The Frenchman showed an unusually weak left hand when trying to block Lazar Markovic's well-struck but hardly unstoppable shot, and the ball ended up in the corner of the net.

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Hugo Lloris of Tottenham Hotspur reacts after the goal scored by Mario Balotelli

3. Harry Kane cannot be stopped

At one point, this looked like being a rare off-night for English football's new golden boy.

There was a tumble in the area over the challenge of Simon Mignolet which looked suspiciously close to a dive early on, and a slightly peculiar effort from the halfway line which the striker probably would rather forget.

But just when Liverpool might have felt they were going to get away with it, Kane found his range: the striker scooped up Christian Eriksen's pass after a slick Spurs move, capitalised on Mamadou Sakho's slip and fired a crisp low shot through Mignolet's legs. Normal service resumed.

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Harry Kane celebrates after scoring Tottenham Hotspur's opening goal in their Premier League clash with Liverpool at Anfield. Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

4. Mamadou Sakho has a future as a rugby player

If there's been a funnier foul committed than Mamadou Sakho's on Moussa Dembele just before half-time we haven't seen it.

Sakho slipped just as he was closing in on Dembele but rather than doing the dignified thing and rolling around, pretending he'd been fouled, he instead opted for the desperate rugby tap tackle as Dembele broke away.

To be fair, he got his man perfectly in a technique which might have attracted some admiring glances from Philippe Saint-Andre. Instead, he got booked. Shame.

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 5. Daniel Sturridge is finding his range again

Where would Liverpool be this season if they had enjoyed the services of Daniel Sturridge all season?

The England striker's astonishing contribution to Liverpool's cause was often eclipsed by the exceptional achievements of Luis Suarez last year, but Brendan Rodgers will have felt the loss of Sturridge to injury almost as much as the Uruguayan's to Barcelona.

Still, he looks in the mood to make up for lost time. An early chance gifted to him by Ryan Mason was fired straight at the legs of Hugo Lloris, while another present from the Tottenham defence a few minutes later was stolen away from him by Eric Dier's recovering tackle.

But things were getting better: just before half-time Sturridge found himself with his back to goal and brilliantly backheeled an effort towards the bottom corner.

Lloris could only watch as the ball kissed the post. And then he drew the penalty from Danny Rose early in the second half which Steven Gerrard dispatched - all in all, a good night's work.

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Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge (L) challengesTottenham Hotspur's Eric Dier during their English Premier League soccer match at Anfield in Liverpool, northern England, February 10, 2015. REUTERS/Phil Noble (BRITAIN - Tags: SOCCER SPORT) EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NO USE WITH UNAUTHORIZED AUDIO, VIDEO, DATA, FIXTURE LISTS, CLUB/LEAGUE LOGOS OR 'LIVE' SERVICES. ONLINE IN-MATCH USE LIMITED TO 45 IMAGES, NO VIDEO EMULATION. NO USE IN BETTING, GAMES OR SINGLE CLUB/LEAGUE/PLAYER PUBLICATIONS.FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.

 6. Mario is back! (for now...)

Why is it always him? Well, it hasn't been this season, of course, but it was tonight.

There was a sense of inevitability about Mario Balotelli being the man of the moment after he came on as a late substitute and his close-range finish from Adam Lallana's cross proved two things: 1) He can get in the box rather than wasting his energy in peripheral areas of the field; and (2) Brendan Rodgers should persist with him.

There was once a great striker lurking somewhere within that petulant, pouting form of his: with the right coaxing, it could yet be rediscovered. This was definitely a good start - and his subsequent post on Instagram even proved he can crack a smile...

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Mario Balotelli posted a smiling selife on Instagram after his first Premier League goal for Liverpool

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