In the most demanding and relentless race for the Premier League title, it is Liverpool who have blinked first. Jürgen Klopp’s side are back on top, but having seen their 12-game winning streak at Anfield cut short against a determined Tottenham, one point will be deemed insufficient to dethrone Manchester City.
Klopp cheered for the Kop after the final whistle (never give up, the message), but Trent Alexander-Arnold’s reaction was revealing. The Liverpool defender knelt after an enthralling match in which Son Heung-min put Antonio Conte’s men within sight of a coveted win in their quest for Champions League qualification before a deflected goal by Luis Diaz rescued a point for the locals. City can open a three-point gap if they get off the pitch to defeat Newcastle at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday.
On paper, Spurs’ visit to Anfield seemed like the most uncomfortable task left for Liverpool in their quest for the Premier League title. He played as such on the court. Klopp’s team started with an intensity and confidence that was also evident in the public after another momentous week for the club. Andy Robertson, stepping in to dispossess Rodrigo Bentancur and set up a half chance for Sadio Mané in the first minute, typified the ferocity with which the Champions League finalists worked to regain possession.
But Conte’s side weathered the initial storm and, as the Liverpool manager had predicted, the danger posed by “some of the best counterattacking players in the world” soon became apparent. From Spurs’ first attack in the sixth minute, a cross from Harry Kane that forced Alisson to stop at Son’s feet and Bentancur’s follow-up, although the South Korean international was offside. One caveat though. The visitors broke again moments later when Dejan Kulusevski released Pierre-Emile Højbjerg into too much space for Klopp’s liking down the right. Kane received a cross from the midfielder but, apparently escaping from Jordan Henderson inside the area, his shot was blocked by a perfectly timed challenge from the Liverpool captain.
Spurs’ threat was sporadic, however, and with Díaz all movement and threat down Liverpool’s left, Thiago Alcãntara finding space in a crowded midfield and Mohamed Salah connecting well with Mané, the visitors spent much of the first half camped out. deep in its midst. Hugo Lloris took the ball from the stalking Salah, making his 250th appearance for Liverpool, when Ryan Sessegnon headed Thiago’s cross into his own box under pressure from Henderson. Cristian Romero nearly gifted the hosts a chance with a sloppy clearance straight to Mané, but recovered to pinch the ball on Salah’s toes and Virgil van Dijk, over Ben Davies, headed in an Alexander corner. -Arnold against the crossbar. Lloris intervened again when Díaz combined with Mané before aiming for a low angle from 20 meters. The visitors responded immediately through Son, who found Højbjerg reaching into space 25 meters from goal. His low shot beat Alisson only to hit the base of the goalkeeper’s right hand post and rocket to safety.
It was an absorbing game with moments of individual excellence and unforced errors from both teams. Liverpool found themselves in several promising situations early in the second half but too often their last ball was missing. Lloris put his team in trouble by shooting straight at Salah and was indebted to Davies for avoiding a Henderson cut that found the Egypt international in front of goal.
The Spurs goalkeeper would start the play that produced the long-awaited and necessary breakthrough. Lloris has highlighted Emerson Royal with an accurate clearance that the defender has flown to Kane. The England captain controlled superbly and easily overcame a static Alexander-Arnold and Liverpool’s back line was suddenly exposed. Kane could have fired, but he saw the big picture and released Sessegnon running into space to the left. The winger crossed in the first half and there was Son, unmarked and six meters away, to score the first league goal against Liverpool since Gabriel Jesus with City on April 10.
With the title at stake, Klopp introduced Diogo Jota for Henderson and Kostas Tsimikas for the grueling Robertson. The visitors found Liverpool’s desperate search for a way to come back with impressive resilience. Romero, Eric Dier and Davies formed a formidable barrier, with the Wales international producing an excellent block to frustrate Salah after the striker had cut inside the Spurs box and lined up the equalizer. It came a minute later to a deafening roar and thanks to a fluke from Liverpool.
Diaz, who helped transform the Champions League semi-final at Villarreal on Tuesday, was the man of the hour once again. Picking up a pass from Thiago down the left, the Colombian international cut down two Spurs players and fired from 22 yards. Lloris could have had the shot blocked, but a Bentancur deflection left him flat-footed and Anfield in an uproar as Diaz’s effort sailed into the bottom corner.
Klopp hit his chest on the touchline. The comeback that Liverpool longed for was in sight but it was not going to be. Spurs could and should have won it in stoppage time, but Højbjerg tried to head Kane back with the goal at his mercy and Ibrahima Konaté intervened.