Spurs and Liverpool played out the most entertaining Premier League match of the weekend on Sunday, drawing 2-2 at Anfield under highly contentious circumstances. The hosts were gifted an early lead by a misplaced Eric Dier back-pass. However, they couldn’t hold on in the second half as Spurs’ substitute Victor Wanyama smashed an absolute screamer past Karius to square things up at 1-1.
From there, it was 10 minutes of complete madness that saw Spurs benefit from not one, but two dubious penalty calls—either side of a magnificent solo goal from Salah. Harry Kane was denied his 100th league goal for Spurs on the first PK but made no mistake with the second. When the dust finally settled, it was honors-even for two teams who will both feel they should’ve taken all three points from this one.
Lots to unpack here, so let’s jump right in.
The fast start giveth, the fast start taketh away
In their previous match at home to United, Spurs got off to a flyer—scoring in a mere 11 seconds to take a shock early lead. Yet on Sunday, they became the victims of a quick-fire goal, as relentless Liverpool pressure led to an uncharacteristic mistake from Dier. The midfielder’s back-pass, following a rash of failed clearances from teammates, put Salah through one-on-one with Loris. The Egyptian wizard was never going to miss from there, and just-like-that, Spurs were under the gun mere minutes into the game.
For much of the first half, Liverpool were the far superior side. They effectively neutralized Spurs’ build-up play with a frantic pressing game and were also quick to break whenever their opponents carelessly conceded possession. Spoiler alert: that was quite a frequent occurrence in the first half hour or so, particularly with Davinson Sánchez struggling to understand which color shirt his team was wearing and playing some truly awful passes. In fact, Liverpool could have easily been two or three goals clear before halftime if they were more ruthless in converting the catalog of chances our back line insisted on giving them.
Pochettino learns to sub—a Super Bowl Sunday miracle
I have criticized Poch’s apparent lack of understanding around how and when to use his substitutes many, many times this season. Why? Well, because I’m an optimist, of course. I like to believe that somewhere lurking in my roughly 300 pageviews per article (c’mon guys, we can do better than that) is a learned, stoic Argentinian football coach, sitting on his toilet and educating himself on the fans’ perspective of his flaws. And this weekend, I finally broke through to the big man in the dugout. Poch, thanks in no small part to my constant questioning of his abilities, learned how to properly sub.
Not only did he remove a defender for an attacking player around the 70th-minute (we’re getting closer to the magic 60), he also brought on Wanyama to replace a tired Dembélé and even used our backup striker for a few minutes. If I was a proud papa watching Lamela buzz around the field like the little rascal he is, I was ecstatic when Big Vic Wanyama ripped a hole in the space-time continuum with his wonder-strike on 80 minutes. Say what you will about the PK nonsense that soon followed (and we’ll get to that, don’t worry), that goal was worthy of at least a point in itself.
This match showed that when the going gets tough, making a couple of substitutions can have a huge impact. I’m glad Poch is not only reading my column, but also heeding my sage advice when it comes to using our considerable sideline resources to affect the outcome of pivotal games.
Referees take center stage—place asterisk on result
There were several opportunities for Jon Moss and his officiating crew to influence this match, and unfortunately for both sets of players (and fans), they went about their work in a very controversial fashion. That said, I’m not so sure they got too many of the calls wrong. I’ll explain my point-of-view on each:
Correct decision from Moss all the way. Frankly, I’m getting rather sick of Dele’s diving. For one, it opens us up to a ton of criticism from opposing fans, which is annoying, and more importantly, it’s already cost us points this season because officials never want to give a penalty when Dele is involved. He has been legitimately fouled several times and not gotten the call because every ref knows his reputation for simulation. It’s stupid, juvenile behavior from a player who is far too talented to resort to such gamesmanship on a consistent basis. You’re welcome, Michael.
Virgil van Dijk has been whining about Kane “diving” for this one, and honestly, he may have a point. The contact between Karius and Kane was definitely minimal at best, as was the contact Lovren made with the ball to eliminate the possibility of Kane being offside. On that score, there’s been plenty of debate as to whether Kane was or wasn’t in an offside position. Most pundits are convinced he was, but ex-officials seem to side with Moss and his crew that Lovren’s touch played Kane on. In any case, this call didn’t matter all that much in the grand scheme of the match. Kane sent his penalty straight at Karius, spurning the chance to go ahead. As a Liverpool-supporting friend of mine put it, Ball don’t lie.
This is the one that has caused the most stir, post-match—likely because it was actually converted and effectively stole a point for Spurs with the last kick of the game. Here’s a decent video of the foul in question, showing it from a few angles. In the first, the contact between Van Dijk and Lamela is pretty clear to me: the defender kicks into the back of Lamela’s leg instead of the ball. The second angle, though, makes it look like Van Dijk pulled out of the challenge, showing how hard it is to judge these things in real-time.
Contact aside, the debate had in my group of footy-inclined friends was whether such a coming together truly warrants a penalty and if Lamela took a dive. On the second part of that equation, I believe that although Lamela made the most of the contact, he didn’t dive. The first angle in the video above shows Van Dijk making contact with his leg. No matter what an opposing fan says, they’d want their player doing exactly what Lamela did every time. Get your body between the man and ball, and give your opponent the chance to make a mistake.
On the first, more subjective part of this debate, I’m of the mind that a foul is a foul regardless of where it’s committed. I reffed for years, and when I was getting into the higher level matches (developmental leagues, pay-to-play club leagues), the more experienced referees were adamant that the penalty box shouldn’t be treated as different from the rest of the field. If a player suddenly has their leg kicked out while in position at, say, midfield, it will almost certainly warrant a free kick. So if it occurs in the box, a ref can’t balk at making the call just because he knows it’ll lead to a penalty (and most likely a goal).
Seeing the whole picture
I understand the sour grapes from Liverpool fans and players on this one, but Van Dijk has to be smarter in that situation. In the first angle, it looks like Van Dijk may have been able to see Lamela in his peripheral vision coming to make a play. In the 94th-minute in your own penalty box, you don’t need to swing a leg out for the Hollywood clearance. Even if Lamela gets to it, he has no angle at goal, is surrounded by three red shirts and is mere yards from the end line. At worst, you’re conceding a corner from that position; at best, Lamela crocks up a panicked pass and gives you the goal kick that ends the game.
Conclusion: points stolen for Spurs
Spurs really didn’t play well for most of the game. Wanyama’s goal was brilliant, but after missing the first penalty and conceding to Salah’s amazing run, they deserved to lose the game. As great as Salah’s individual effort was, the fact that no less than five Spurs players had a chance to stop him means it was as much a case of shite defending as it was technical prowess. Take nothing away from the strike—it was worthy of winning a match; but as with the first goal Spurs conceded, it was enabled by casual defending.
Bottom line, Liverpool had this result in the bag before Wanyama’s goal. Afterwards, they were noticeably shaken and started giving Spurs opportunities to win the game. Once Salah stuck the dagger into Spurs with that 92nd-minute goal, there was no reason to allow the visitors back into it. The Lamela pen was soft as hell, but Van Dijk still made contact when he didn’t need to. It’s unfortunate that the match became marred by controversial decisions, but from a Spurs’ perspective, it’s a valuable point earned from a game that looked hopeless for 80-odd minutes.
I just hope we can beat Arsenal this Saturday with a little less “excitement.” Not sure my heart can take another ten minutes of craziness like that.