Kaboul OG 2'
So, December's 5-0 win at White Hart Lane wasn't a fluke. But, then again, after 4-0 Everton, 5-1 Arsenal, and 3-0 United, maybe that shouldn't have been a concern.
Once again, Liverpool reverted to the 4-3-3, with Sterling in place of Allen, a fluid front three looking to annihilate Spurs' high line, mistake prone defense. And once again, Liverpool ruthlessly demolished an opponent at Anfield straight from the opening whistle. Yes, a bit of good fortune, and a bit of help from the opposition's tactics, but Liverpool taking full advantage, and not for the first time.
They were ahead within two minutes thanks to patient buildup to draw Spurs out of position, a brilliant cross-field ball from Coutinho to Sterling into open space, Johnson on the overlap crossing into the six-yard box, the pass haplessly fumbled by Kaboul into his own net with Sturridge threatening to cause havoc behind him.
All those memories of December's mauling rekindled within 100 seconds, for both sides. Liverpool heartened, Tottenham crushed. 100 seconds played, and it looked as if it'd finish with whatever scoreline Liverpool desired. Now you're gonna believe us.
It took Liverpool 15 fewer minutes to get the second than it did in the reverse fixture, Suarez mercilessly seizing on yet another Tottenham mistake. Dawson had just come on for Vertonghen, Spurs' best defender laid low through injury, and it was Dawson's inane back pass that released Suarez on goal, out-muscling the massive Kaboul, racing onto Lloris, and finishing from a narrow angle with his supposedly weaker foot.
Today's first two goals of the season were Tottenham's 16 and 17 errors leading to a goal this season. Liverpool had to take advantage, Liverpool are more than good enough to take advantage, but Tottenham certainly helped.
Despite their bumbling, Tottenham had a chance to close the gap, as any remotely decent side will. Even United had a chance before halftime at Old Trafford, Rooney denied by Mignolet. Today's heart-stopping moment came through Eriksen, just after Suarez struck, fed by Naughton's center, but Skrtel somehow recovered to block his goal-bound shot. The commentators yelped that the block was a good as a goal, and that was no exaggeration.
Last week against Sunderland swung back into the memories. 2-0 is great and all, but just one from the opposition, no matter how poor they'd been, can change everything. Liverpool needed the third. And it appeared Liverpool had that third just before halftime: pressing Tottenham into yet another mistake, Sterling's cross finding a wide open Suarez at the back post, a bullet header from the league's top scorer. Somehow, Lloris pushed the effort onto the crossbar, bouncing just in front of the goal line rather than beyond it. Cue woodwork complaints. But this isn't last season, or the season before. Liverpool won't be stopped by an unforgiving goal frame.
But Liverpool still had work to do after the interval. And, in this season's fashion, they went about doing so, despite Spurs making two minor, but needed changes: putting Eriksen in the center and Chadli wide (why Sherwood started with the opposite is beyond me), and much more furious, if out-of-shape, pressing from the front four. In previous matches, we'd seen Liverpool play their way into trouble when building from the back despite opposition pressure, some breakdown between the four defenders or Mignolet. Not today. Passes between Agger, Skrtel, and Mignolet despite forwards closing down, an indescribably sumptuous turn from Flanagan to shift to attack, then a blistering run and center for Coutinho, charging at the defense before unleashing a worm-burning shot from the top of the box. I'm still not sure whether the play out of defense or Coutinho's shooting accuracy made me happier.
At 2-0, despite all that'd come before it, Spurs still had a chance. At 3-0, it's game over. Liverpool settled into the usual routine of soaking up pressure then countering at pace, bringing on Allen and Lucas for Coutinho and Gerrard, with both Suarez and Sturridge threatening a fourth. Which finally came from a free kick, a carbon copy of Henderson's goal in the 6-0 win over Newcastle last season: a dangerous set play from the left channel, whipped in for someone to get a touch, but on frame in case no one got that touch. No one got that touch. That Suarez, rather than trying to claim it, immediately pointed and ran to Henderson, aptly demonstrates how much of a team this is.
Liverpool sat back for the final 15 minutes, conserving energy, killing the game, still keeping half an eye on potential counter-attacks. Tottenham took eight shots in those final 15 minutes, more than half of their total. Liverpool continued to defend well – three more crucial blocks, one outstanding save from Mignolet – but the story remained as much about Tottenham's continuing ineptitude, off-target with four of those efforts. It ended as Liverpool's third clean sheet in the last five games. They had just eight in the first 27 of the season. I'm sure it's only coincidence that Liverpool's had the same back four in all five of those matches.
Liverpool's front three were a swarm of bees: Suarez, Sturridge, and Sterling constantly switching position, causing confusion, drawing defenders out of position, pressing furiously. Liverpool's midfield, as in the best performances this season, was perfectly balanced: aiding the pressing but keeping the shape, supporting the attack and bolstering the defense. Johnson and Flanagan both got involved in attacks but got back to defend, Agger and Skrtel imperiously cleared or blocked everything.
Sterling wasn't especially involved in Liverpool's goals – although he made an intelligent move into space in the buildup for the first – but was, by far, today's man of the match. It's amazing to think he's still only 19. Enough of "he'll be a hell of a player in a few years." He's already a hell of player: strong, speedy, and smart. We saw it when he ran at Tottenham defenders, we saw it in his pressing and off-the-ball movement, we saw it when he held off the much-bigger Dembele when defending near his own corner flag, we saw it when he shifted to the point of the diamond after Allen replaced Coutinho. Sterling's potential has no ceiling, and we're already seeing the fruits of it.
But, as in the previously mentioned best matches of the season, every player did his part, as did the manager, as did the fans. Liverpool entered the pitch to a cacophony of noise. In recent seasons, that'd unsettle the team, the pressure crushing rather than encouraging. In recent seasons, Liverpool would drop points when their rivals dropped points, unable to fully perform with all eyes on them. Not today. Not this team.
And so, after 90 minutes, Liverpool left the pitch to a cacophony of noise, a cacophony of hopeful cheers, with six games remaining in this unbelievable season.