Friday 30 September 2016

Weary Spurs give Leicester extra incentive

Liverpool 1-1 Tottenham

Paul Wilson

Published 03/04/2016 | 02:30

Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino looks on. Photo: Reuters
Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino looks on. Photo: Reuters
Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho celebrates scoring their first goal. Photo: Reuters / Phil Noble
Tottenham's Dele Alli has a shot at goal. Photo: Reuters / Phil Noble
Tottenham's Harry Kane celebrates scoring. Photo: Reuters / Phil Noble

Tottenham's title challenge faltered at a ground where they rarely manage to win, a comeback from a goal down allowing them to share the points but not put as much pressure on Leicester as they would have liked. The gap between first and second is now four points instead of two, and Claudio Ranieri and his players can increase that to an improbable seven if they manage to beat Southampton at home today.

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This was not a bad Spurs performance, just a slightly tired, heavy-legged one, epitomised by Dele Alli's miss near the end. The England international had a chance to secure three points when Christian Eriksen played him in and Alli read the pass perfectly, yet his first touch showed Simon Mignolet too much of the ball and the opportunity was lost.

Spurs began in a hurry, with Hugo Lloris launching quick balls forward from the back to find willing runners up front. They succeeded in pinning Liverpool back in the opening exchanges and could have taken the lead after nine minutes when Mignolet made the first save of the game. Neat work on the right by Kyle Walker and Son Heung-Min produced a shooting opportunity for Eriksen, who went for a first-time shot rather than taking care over direction and put the ball a little too close to the goalkeeper.

Emre Can and Adam Lallana worked an opening for James Milner at the other end, only for the midfielder to take a fraction too long in getting a shot away and allow Kevin Wimmer to block. Liverpool had a scare when Mignolet's attempted clearance struck Harry Kane and rebounded back over his bar, then Spurs too had a let-off when Lloris had to make a good save to keep out a shot that deflected off Son.

The contest was as evenly matched as expected, though the visitors were noticeably more adventurous in their passing. Philippe Coutinho was booked for a dive midway through the first half in a sign of Liverpool's frustration, choosing to go to ground when confronted by Toby Alderweireld when he seemed to have the opportunity to simply knock the ball past the last defender into unguarded space.

Spurs had another good chance to open the scoring shortly after that, when the Liverpool defence backed off to allow Kane to advance into the area. He had Eriksen up in support for a cross to the far post but forgivably decided he might as well have a go himself on he got within range. At least it would have been forgivable had he managed to hit the target, instead of scuffing a tame effort wide of the post.

Nevertheless, Liverpool should have turned round in front, for a couple of chances arrived in quick succession just before the interval and neither Daniel Sturridge nor Lallana was able to beat Lloris when the opportunity presented itself. The first miss was the most glaring.

Sturridge had all the time in the world to beat the Spurs goalkeeper after being played clean through by Coutinho, but failed to come up with the decisive finish one would have expected and Lloris was able to stop an unconvincing shot with his knees. Lloris also kept out a shot on the turn from Lallana on the edge of the area, this time with a full-length diving save, though that was a case of the Liverpool player doing well to produce something out of nothing. Sturridge's opportunity was much more clear-cut, and it was tempting to wonder whether a fully fit player would have stuck it away.

That said, Kane too was guilty of similar hesitation in the closing minutes of the first half. With the target clearly in sight and Jurgen Klopp remonstrating furiously with the fourth official because he believed the ball had gone out of play earlier in the move, Tottenham's leading scorer delayed his shot far too long and practically invited Dejan Lovren to stick a foot in the way.

It appeared all Spurs had to do in the second half was to produce a little more dynamism up front to expose Liverpool's suspect defending, but Alli was not quite the livewire we have come to expect, and when Kane picked him out in front of goal soon after the restart he actually produced a headed clearance. That suggestion of carelessness was punished immediately when Liverpool took the lead on their next attack with a goal of the highest quality.

Coutinho began and ended the move, finding Sturridge just inside the area then moving smartly forward to accept a perfectly weighted return pass, before finding Lloris's bottom corner with the neatest of right-foot finishes.

Spurs almost found an even better-looking response when Eric Dier's elegant chipped pass into the area was read by Son and taken on the volley. Unfortunately for the visiting support, the shot flashed narrowly wide. Liverpool's lead only lasted a few minutes longer, however, for when Eriksen did well not only to keep the ball in play on the left but to find Kane with a flick into the area, the striker did what he had failed to do earlier and came up with a shot swift and accurate enough to surprise Lovren and beat the goalkeeper.

Spurs raised their tempo for a while after that, but getting back on level terms was as good as their evening got. A draw was all they deserved, particularly as the excellent Coutinho twice went close to putting Liverpool in front again. On one occasion, as the ball flashed across the goalline without going in, the Brazilian kicked out at an electronic advertising board in frustration. It was a frustrating day for both sides, but after two draws this term the truth might simply be that they are evenly matched.

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