Flanagan Carragher Skrtel Johnson
Kuyt Lucas Spearing Maxi
van der Vaart 9'
Modric 56' (pen)
Well that wasn't supposed to happen.
Pick your scapegoat. Most conspicuously, goals win games, and Liverpool rarely looked like scoring one. Carroll's going to get a lot of stick – he was the lone change, after all – but Suarez and Kuyt perpetually misfiring was just as culpable, if not more so.
But giving Spurs credit where due is also a sad necessity. They took the game to Liverpool at the start, bossing the midfield through Modric and Sandro, and got the early goal, albeit with help from a wicked deflection.
Liverpool were slow to establish a foothold, but were arguably the more threatening side after the first 20 minutes. Spearing pushed an excellent chance wide from 15 yards out in the 35th, Carroll mistimed a close-range header over the bar four minutes later, and Suarez sent a free kick whizzing narrowly wide in first half injury time.
But soon after the restart, Liverpool's favorite scapegoat made his presence felt. On a 50-50 shoulder barge just outside the box – the type of collision which had gone unnoticed when done to Suarez multiple times – Webb immediately pointed to the spot after both Flanagan and Pienaar hit the turf. Modric made no mistake from the spot, and a second goal killed off any hope of a comeback.
The final 35 minutes saw Spurs stifle the life out of the game. The excellent Dawson and King (brought out of cryogenic hibernation for the first time since October) gave Suarez and Carroll few chances, defending deep and spectacularly clearing their lines whenever necessary. Bringing on Shelvey for Spearing gave Liverpool a boost, and it didn't take long for the 19-year-old to send a thunderbolt just wide, but chances were few and far between from there as the game lifelessly ebbed away. Neither Ngog nor Cole, on for Maxi and Carroll respectively, made any difference.
Meireles' absence was a bigger set-back than expected; not only did Liverpool dearly miss his non-stop movement and cool head, but the change forced Kuyt out wide on the right of a 4-2-2-2, where he made little impact. Liverpool's two best candidates for player of the season – Lucas and Kuyt – were Liverpool most disappointing. Lucas simply lost the midfield battle with Modric and Sandro – archetypal creator and destroyer – while Spearing offered little support.
Flanagan and Shelvey are the only two who can be happy with today's performance, and that includes the "penalty" concession. That those were Liverpool's two youngest players on the pitch is a slight consolation, but the big names were out-played and out-worked. Liverpool won't win many games when that's the case.
This result will do little to dissuade the fear about where Carroll fits into the current style of play. But he's not the reason Liverpool lost today. He's just returned from injury, has started few games, and Dawson and King gave no quarter. Liverpool's set plays – his biggest weapon – were atrocious with Meireles missing, and it's no coincidence that player was at the heart of both goals Carroll scored against City. It'll be a far different story come next season, and judgment needs to be reserved until then.
Games like today's happen. It's an absolute shame it happened in the last home match of the season, the match after Dalglish signed a long-term deal. Tottenham's now in pole position for the Europa League, although next week's match against relegation-threatened Birmingham is no formality.
Despite the depressing performance and impotent attack, Liverpool lost to a deflected goal and an incorrectly-given penalty. This result, even if it means Liverpool finish sixth and miss out on Europe, can't cancel out all the good that's come before it.