'Lighthouse' Fabinho shows way for Liverpool
LIVERPOOL 2-1 TOTTENHAM
In the panoply of Anfield chants a reprised number this season has been "we are the champions, champions of Europe". During this raw contest it rang around as a reminder of Liverpool's victory the last time they met Tottenham Hotspur in June.
With this win, though, they re-established their lead at the top of the Premier League to six points and took another step towards their holy grail of finally being the champions of England after a painful wait of 30 years.
We are only 10 games into the league season and there is the formidable task of holding off Pep Guardiola's Manchester City but the manner of this triumph, a far better game than that Champions League final, will further fuel belief at Anfield.
It felt like a big, big win for Liverpool and a tough defeat for Tottenham.
It was a win born of drive and holding their nerve and a win in which the outstanding performer was not, for once, any of the attacking triumvirate but Fabinho. The 'Lighthouse', as the Brazilian midfielder is known, showed the way.
For Spurs it was a fourth league defeat of the campaign and one that leaves them in 11th place. Once again for Mauricio Pochettino there was frustration - not least, surely, at the poor performances of Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli - and a sliding doors moment when Son Heung-min broke away and rounded goalkeeper Alisson only for his shot to cannon back off the crossbar.
At that point Spurs were still one goal up. Doubling that advantage would surely have led to a famous victory although, in fairness, they should not point the finger at Son, who along with goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga and captain Harry Kane was among their best performers, but instead ask why some of the others did not step up.
"Whenever you lose a game, it is never a step forward," Kane said. "Our league form has not been good enough."
The frustration of the Spurs fans will focus on Serge Aurier who - again - rashly conceded the crucial penalty as Liverpool finally earned their reward. It means they have 28 points - 16 more than Spurs - and are only the fourth team in Premier League history to reach that mark at this stage. Suffice to say the other three were all crowned champions.
"You only have to think if we had lost today what the questions would have been," said Jurgen Klopp.
There was a great line from the Liverpool boss as he summed up his reaction to the shock of Kane scoring after just 47 seconds. "Early goal makes one thing clear," Klopp said. "Game on."
That positivity is infectious. But first Liverpool had to regroup following the concession, which came after the ball was lost and Moussa Sissoko barrelled forward, evading three challenges before off-loading to Son, who ran forward down the left, cut inside and shot. It deflected off Dejan Lovren's head, struck the top of the post and rebounded to Kane, who adjusted smartly to stoop and head home.
The ball had been lost by Jordan Henderson and it seemed the Liverpool captain might be facing one of those days when questions are asked of him and his future in the team.
The danger of that happening increased as Gazzaniga pulled off a string of superb saves - denying Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino, Virgil van Dijk, Trent Alexander-Arnold and, into the second half, Firmino again.
Spurs had clearly targeted the Liverpool right with Son pushing up against Alexander-Arnold and Kane moving across to take Lovren. And it was from a Gazzaniga goal-kick that Son outstripped Lovren and struck the bar.
It proved pivotal. As Liverpool claimed a penalty, with Danny Rose challenging Firmino to reach Fabinho's chipped pass into the area, it ran to Henderson who guided a cross-shot that swung beyond the grasp of Gazzaniga and into the net. It was Henderson's first league goal at Anfield for nearly four years.
Anfield was up. Klopp was up. The manager celebrated a crashing tackle soon after even more so than the Henderson goal and there was almost something inevitable, something primal about the sense that they would strike again. It came as Sadio Mane was needlessly kicked by a panicky Aurier and the penalty was given. Up stepped Salah and he drove the ball low to Gazzaniga's left.
Spurs had to react and did. Rose had the chance to redeem himself for a poor performance when he switched in from the left and created the space... only to drive a right-footed shot wildly over. In injury time there was one last chance. One more Kane header. But this time Alisson patted it down and the points were Liverpool's. "It was a super game," Klopp said. "That's how football should look."
He was, of course, right.