02 April 2016

Liverpool 1-1 Tottenham

Coutinho 51'
Kane 63'

That was a surprisingly decent game of football.

Usually when you see two Premier League sides cancel each other out, it's high on energy but low on quality. The Allardyce vs Pulis matches, the 0-0 when Sunderland and West Brom earlier today.

This was high on energy, but also reasonably high on quality. Liverpool (and Tottenham, to a lesser extent) could have done better with their chances. Both sides struggled to cope with the opposition's pressing, especially Liverpool and especially Sakho. Both midfields battled excellently, neither side keeping possession especially well but both keeping the other from asserting extended control. Both sides responded to the opposition's threats: Tottenham's patient improvement to start the second half followed by Liverpool's excellent counter-attack opener; Liverpool's switch to 4-3-3 after the equalizer to reinforce the midfield and reestablish some semblance of control (something Liverpool notably failed to do in the loss at Southampton).

And both sides scored an outstanding goal: Coutinho and Sturridge's one-two (also featuring Lallana's necessary run to take away Wimmer); Eriksen somehow keeping the ball in play to set up Kane, wonderfully turning the otherwise-excellent Lovren before an unerring shot just inside the far post. Just one outstanding goal though, despite Kane and Son's misses from good positions, Sturridge and Lallana's efforts saved, Dembele and Eriksen denied from distance, Alderweireld's last minute header just wide.

But, yeah, it was also a surprisingly decent game of football which Liverpool probably should have won, edging Tottenham on the better chances. And it's not the first time that Liverpool drew when when Liverpool 'should have won.'

Still, I'm surprisingly okay with the fact that it ended level. Tottenham are a good football team who did good things and scored a good goal. Maybe the season's beaten me down to this, an inability to get angry when Liverpool again drop points from a winning position. After similar happened against Bordeaux, Norwich, Sion, Everton, Southampton, West Brom, Arsenal, Sunderland, and Southampton. At least it's becoming less frequent?

But Tottenham needed the points a lot more than Liverpool; if Leicester win tomorrow, it's a seven-point gap with six to play and reasonably likely to be the end of the title race. Liverpool remain mired in the fifth-to-tenth upper mid-table shuffle, and would be there no matter today's result because of all that came before. Tottenham hadn't beaten Liverpool since November 2012, and hadn't won at Anfield since May 2011, a match that Liverpool basically threw away in trying to avoid the Europa League. Tottenham are 17 points ahead of Liverpool in the table, and at the moment, a much better and more settled side.

Regardless of Tottenham's inability to beat Liverpool for nearly four years, this was a match that Tottenham should have been favored in given each side's respective form and position in the table. But Liverpool matched and nearly surpassed a Tottenham side that plays like Liverpool want to play, but with more experience doing so. Even considering Liverpool's failure to win, Liverpool's flaws at the back (giving the ball away when under pressure, especially Sakho), Liverpool's recurring inability to consistently convert chances, and the fact that Liverpool did absolutely nothing with 12 (!!!) corners, there were a lot more positives than negatives.

And Philippe Coutinho was the biggest positive, an absolute revelation, the epicenter of everything good in attack. The goal. The clear-cut chance created for Sturridge in the first half, the clear-cut chance cross for a Sturridge header six minutes after the opener. Setting up both of Lallana's first half chances which were saved by Lloris. Centering across the face of goal for an almost own goal in the 70th, an effort just wide in the 85th. Five chances created (two clear-cut) and five shots, including Liverpool's lone goal.

There has been a fair amount of individual improvement since Klopp became manager: Lallana, Lovren, Can, Sakho, Allen, etc. All players signed by the previous manager, incidentally. Coutinho's increasing consistency from the inside left position – a position we often argued about under the previous manager – might be the most impressive.

Nonetheless, this match still reinforces the overriding narrative. Almost, better, but not quite good enough. There have been highs, and there have been lower lows, but this has been the main story of the season. Still, in almost every case, my takeaway has been that this is going to be a really, really good Liverpool side when they get their act together. When, not if.

Infrequently, we've already seen it, including at times today. But I assume it really starts next season.

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