Saturday 15 December 2018

Reds foiled in farcical finish as Kane has last laugh

Liverpool 2 Tottenham 2

Virgil van Kijk fouls Erik Lamela to gift Tottenham a last-minute penalty at Anfield. Photo: Getty Images
Virgil van Kijk fouls Erik Lamela to gift Tottenham a last-minute penalty at Anfield. Photo: Getty Images

Jonathan Liew

A frankly ridiculous game from start to finish: one that Liverpool led after three minutes, and 93 minutes, and most of the time in between, and somehow failed to win.

Harry Kane's penalty in the fifth minute of injury-time salvaged an unlikely point for Tottenham in a game that had it all - drama and skulduggery, sublime skill and egregious errors, controversial refereeing and a farcical finish. Everything, in fact, but a winner.

Harry Kane reacts after the final whistle. Photo credit: Peter Byrne/PA Wire
Harry Kane reacts after the final whistle. Photo credit: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

Victor Wanyama's long-range screamer 10 minutes from time, cancelling out Mo Salah's early opener, was in fact just the first act of a spectacular climax, in which Kane missed a penalty to put Tottenham ahead.

Salah looked to have won the game for Liverpool in the 91st minute, before Kane - with the help of the assistant referee - levelled things up with virtually the last kick of the game.

In a sense, it was a game that neatly summed up why neither side is challenging for the title this season, as Liverpool's lack of killer instinct and soft underbelly ran headlong into Tottenham's brittle composure and tactical naivete.

Mauricio Pochettino set Tottenham up in a 4-4-2 diamond, with Son Heung-Min alongside Kane (left) up front, expecting to dominate against one of the best pressing teams in Europe.

Tottenham's Ben Davies in action with Liverpool's Mohamed Salah. Photo: Reuters/Carl Recine
Tottenham's Ben Davies in action with Liverpool's Mohamed Salah. Photo: Reuters/Carl Recine

It was hubris writ large, and perhaps the biggest surprise of the afternoon was that ultimately, it sort of worked.

Fittingly for the start of Six Nations weekend, this had the feel of a rugby game for large parts - defined as much by territory as by possession, as much by the breakdown as the flowing move.

Bathed in a molten winter sunset, Liverpool simply did what they do, what they have been doing against teams all season.

They put the squeeze on Tottenham, rushing their decisions, engineering one-on-ones, forcing them back or forcing them long.

Liverpool's Mohamed Salah scores his side's second goal of the game. Photo credit: Peter Byrne/PA Wire
Liverpool's Mohamed Salah scores his side's second goal of the game. Photo credit: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

Just two minutes were on the clock when Davinson Sanchez failed to clear a long ball, Eric Dier underhit his back pass, and in an instant Salah was running in behind to slot the loose ball past Hugo Lloris.

And in hindsight, that early goal changed the complexion of the game - just as Tottenham's early goal against Manchester United did in midweek.

Wary of playing the ball wide and scared of working it through the centre, Tottenham were unable to get into any sort of rhythm.

Liverpool were dominating the flanks, helped by the magnificent Trent Alexander-Arnold on the right, and James Milner storming out of midfield like a berserker to join the press.

Tottenham's Victor Wanyama in action with Liverpool's Roberto Firmino. Photo: Reuters/Andrew Yates
Tottenham's Victor Wanyama in action with Liverpool's Roberto Firmino. Photo: Reuters/Andrew Yates

At the back, Virgil Van Dijk and Dejan Lovren were sturdy enough in their first game together, barely allowing Kane a sniff of goal until the climax.

But as Liverpool's press dropped in intensity as the game wore on, Tottenham came into it.

As the tempo of the game began to take its toll on both sides, fresh legs arrived for Liverpool in the shape of Gini Wijnaldum and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, for Tottenham in the shape of Erik Lamela and Wanyama.

Lorus Karius made a good save from Christian Eriksen, who as it turned out was offside, and from Son, who it turned out was not. Dele Alli was booked for a frankly risible dive in the penalty area.

Still, the final flourish was yet to come.

As Eriksen's cross from the left was punched away by Karius, Emre Can flapped at thin air, and the advancing Wanyama simply leathered the ball vaguely in the direction of goal.

The shot actually began outside the line of the left post, only to swerve wickedly - deliciously, if you were a Tottenham fan - back inside. Unstoppable. Improbable.

On the touchline, Pochettino looked like a man who had just found a £20 note in his pocket.

It got better. For the first time all afternoon, Lovren failed to clear a through ball, Kane got the touch, Karius brought him down and, after a protracted deliberation with his assistant over whether Lovren had touched the ball on its way through to Kane, referee Moss finally gave a penalty.

Howls of derision greeted the decision and may still have been ringing in Kane's ears as he hit the penalty hard and straight. Straight at Karius.

Reprieved, Liverpool surged forward once more.

In the first minute of injury time, shortly after Lloris had headed a long ball out for a throw in, Salah gathered the ball near the right byline.

He took a couple of touches - more out of curiosity than anything else - before sending Alli and Ben Davies sprawling with a superb feint and bundling the ball past Lloris from a tight angle.

But there was still time for a final twist. In the dying seconds, Lamela went down under Van Dijk's swipe and Moss waved away the penalty appeals, only to be alerted to his assistant's waving flag.

Another penalty. And this time, in a game full of them, Kane made no mistake. (© Independent News Service)

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