Mané 16' 18'
That was exactly what we wanted to see. What we needed to see. Finally, a first league win in 2017, a first clean sheet against someone other than Plymouth Argyle. And with 16 days until Liverpool's next match, we needed this for our sanity. More importantly, Liverpool's players needed it for their confidence.
But it also ain't where Liverpool's problems lie.
Liverpool are good in matches against the rest of the top six, still unbeaten this season, and unlucky not to get wins against Chelsea or United in the last few weeks. Liverpool are even better in matches against top six sides who want to play out from the back and play a high defensive line. There's a reason most sides don't do that against Liverpool, no matter Liverpool's form.
Both goals came early in the first half, before Liverpool could get frustrated or the opposition could create chances. Both goals came from pressing Tottenham players into giveaways in the middle third. Both goals saw acres of space for Liverpool players to run into. And yes, both Liverpool goals came from Sadio Mané, a player that Liverpool desperately missed over the last month.
For the first, Lallana and Firmino steal in against Tottenham players to set up Wijnaldum's outstanding throughball for Mané, in behind the often-beaten back-up Ben Davies, his shot perfectly placed over Lloris. Two minutes later, Mané robs a dallying Dier and races on goal before centering to Lallana. His shot's saved. Firmino's rebound's saved. Mané's rebound isn't – three high-value chances because a defense is disjointed and out-of-position, because an attacker's stolen possession high up the pitch.
Two quick fire goals, setting the tone in the 16th and 18th minutes in front of a roaring Anfield. This is the timeframe where Liverpool blew sides away earlier in the season – the blitzkriegs we saw against Leicester, Hull, Palace, and Watford. Liverpool actually taking advantage of their frequent fast starts.
Liverpool have now scored 15 PL goals between 16-30 mins this season. Nobody else has more than 7.— Andrew Beasley (@BassTunedToRed) February 11, 2017
And Mané had two chances for a hat-trick within the next five minutes: first, Walker pressed into an insane cross-field back pass which Mané picked up ahead of Davies, then a hammered effort from wide in the box after Tottenham failed to fully clear a corner, both efforts well-saved by Lloris.
Liverpool were on-fire. So, of course, Tottenham nearly got back into the game immediately after, their first real attack since Liverpool's opener, Son wonderfully denied by Mignolet when put in behind by Davies' throughball. It only takes one moment. Mignolet made sure the moment stayed with Liverpool. Even in results which end as throughly as this ended, there are very fine margins. Liverpool have been on the wrong end of those margins lately.
From there, strangulation. The side of Liverpool we so rarely see, but one they've previously proven capable of, most recently against City before this 2017 freefall. A couple of Liverpool chances – Matip shouldering a set play header at Lloris, Coutinho pulling his shot wide on a counter-attack – but nothing like that first-half flurry. Because Liverpool didn't need it.
They needed to play defense. And did. Tottenham took just two shots after the 35th minute: Alderweireld's 69th-minute set play header which was immediately blocked and Alderweireld's 92nd-minute blast from absolutely nowhere that was nowhere close to Liverpool's goal. Despite a two-goal deficit against a top-four competitor in a race that's going down to the barest of wires. Despite changing the formation at halftime, switching to a diamond midfield. Despite having players like Kane, Alli, Eriksen, Son, Dembele, etc.
This is just the fourth time Tottenham have been held scoreless in a league match this season. 0-0 at Bournemouth, 0-1 at United, and 0-0 at Sunderland. Liverpool are the only side to not only keep a clean sheet against Tottenham but also score more than once.
Do not misunderstand me. Any win is an awesome win given the last month and Liverpool did a lot of things very well, in every phase of play. Players who've struggled, players we've scapegoated. Mignolet's wonderful save and strong claims on a couple of Tottenham set plays. Lucas of all people pocketing Harry Kane of all people. Firmino, who's had an awful month, absolutely everywhere – leading the press, holding up play, winning aerial duels, creating chances, charging opponents down in the 92nd minute when already ahead by two goals.
This was a vital, necessary step. An exhilarating, wonderful, welcomed win. But, yes, it also doesn't answer our concerns against the Swanseas and Hulls of the world.
Liverpool will have the chance to do just that in their next match. Away, against a relegation-threatened side in horrific form, who love to sit deep and counter, who also happen to be defending champions.
This nightmare run is over. And this test is over. On to the next.