In a baffling night of football, Liverpool held off Spurs, winning 1-0 at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
The win gives Liverpool the best-ever start to a top-flight season in England with 20 wins and 1 draw after 21 games. The Reds’ Invincibles train rolls on. What did we learn?
1. Bobby Digital
Performing away from home is always harder than doing the business in your own back yard. That goes double for a team like Liverpool, whose home support is one of the most vocal and ferocious around. Playing away from Anfield must be a true culture shock, but in general Liverpool haven’t suffered much for it this season. Part of the reason for that? Bobby Firmino.
The Brazilian has been something of a road warrior for the Reds this year. Massive goals away to Chelsea, Leicester, Monterrey and Flamengo have been massive for Liverpool. Hell, the last two made them world champions! On Saturday he added to that collection with a sharp left-footed finish.
An unremarkable goal if you only look at the shot. But if you see the touch he took first? The way he stepped away from Japhet Tanganga? It was something special. He was so fluid and effortless in the way he caressed the ball into space and left it waiting perfectly to be struck. Sometimes it’s like the rest of the Premier League are running on analogue whilst he is the one and only Bobby Digital, doing things the rest of us can only dream of.
2. Spurs miss their chance(s)
In the first half, Spurs were out-shot eight to six. In the second half? They out-shot Liverpool eight to five. They peppered Liverpool with shots, chances and half-chances. Watching it unfold was kind of bizarre, really. Liverpool were utterly superior for the vast majority of the match but they didn’t put the clamps on Spurs, José Mourinho’s men had their chances.
And they wasted them.
All of them.
It’s rare for a side like Liverpool to give you many looks at their goal, especially of late. But they let Spurs waltz through their defence on multiple occasions to get great looks at goal. Yet Spurs never once really even tested Alisson. The Brazilian made saves, sure, but none of them were spectacular. Spurs either shot straight at him or didn’t even hit the target. Son Heung-min and Giovani Lo Celso were guilty of the worst misses, blazing their shots off-target when they looked odds-on to score.
Mourinho was incredibly animated on the touchline and you can see why, because for all his side’s problems and how they were dominated for so much of the match, the way that last 20 minutes went Spurs should have left tonight as the winning side with a smash-and-grab to rival their 2-2 result against Manchester City earlier in the season.
3. Liverpool’s middling midfield
The Reds haven’t often missed Fabinho during his injury but his absence was palpable on Saturday. Spurs pressed Liverpool’s midfielders so well and when they had to advance they found space ahead of the Reds back-line as well. Even when Fabinho was there, Liverpool’s midfield was the easiest space to attack in their side. Without him? It’s wide-open countryside in there.
If Liverpool are ever going to lose in the league, it’s likely to be against a side that knows how to exploit that space. And if someone can stop them in the Champions League, it once again is probably going to end up being one of the continental sides that know how to play between the lines (provided they can keep their own houses in order and stop Liverpool scoring).
They don’t have many weaknesses, but Liverpool’s midfield is definitely their major weak point.
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4. Mourinho struggles to Mourinho these days
José Mourinho is definitely not the manager he was. His ability to shut opponents down with absurdly disciplined defensive displays is mostly gone. Oh, sure, his teams may try and pull off that approach but mostly all that happens is there are men playing deep. They aren’t there with any kind of structure or idea, as they used to be.
Mourinho’s teams were ferociously organised in defence. They controlled space superbly well and refused to give their opponents a look. Spurs had men back in defence but they weren’t controlling diddly squat. The Reds moved the ball around them at pace and with a degree of ease. That they only scored once was down to their own profligacy more than anything else. They should have been miles out of sight of Spurs by the time Mourinho made his second-half subs.
That is the one skill Mourinho has retained; his ability to read games and make adjustments with his subs. He diagnosed the way the game was going, where the weaknesses were, and introduced Lamela and Lo Celso. Immediately Lamela added thrust to the side and Lo Celso should have equalised for Spurs with a nice back-post run. So even though Mourinho has lost his most potent power, he hasn’t lost everything.
5. Liverpool the unbeatable
Manchester City dominated the Premier League because their best was so much better than everyone else’s and they were basically nearly always at their best. That kind of dominance is nearly impossible to replicate so Liverpool went for the alternate approach: they made it so that their worst would be such a high level of football that it would be nearly impossible to actually exploit them.
Liverpool this season have been a perfect example of a side who simply never plays bad enough to be beaten. They’ve rarely pulled out all the stops and really flexed their muscles (their dismantling of Leicester and Man City being notable exceptions) but have instead played at such a relentless 7/10 level that even when they’re caught on a bad day, they’re still too good for the Premier League.
That’s why they’re going to win the Premier League, that’s why no one’s beaten them, and why it’s easy to imagine an entire season where no one beats them.