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In their 3-1 victory over Tottenham on Thursday, Jurgen Klopp said Liverpool “showed who we are.”
Liverpool climbed back to the top four, narrowing the Manchester City leadership gap to four points, though City maintained a game in hand.
As Klopp’s side scored their first league goals of 2021, Roberto Firmino, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Sadio Mane scored and recovered in style from back-to-back defeats against Burnley and Manchester United – although there were still more injury problems in defense.
“We scored goals in the right moments, wonderful goals,” Klopp toldBT Sport. “The right people scored the goals. All good, apart from obviously Joel Matip had to go off.
“What I saw today was not about form, it’s… who we are. That’s us. Today, the second half especially, was us. It was a massive fight and football on top of that.
“I don’t know the numbers but I think apart from a few minutes in the first half, I don’t remember them having a lot of the ball. It was always pretty quick and counter-attacking and we defender really well. It was just a good performance and I saw a lot of things I wanted to see.
“Offensively, the way we played, I thought we coped really well with their formation. Played around, played in between, so we were so often in and around the box which is really important. The counter-press was really good. The last line defended really well; high enough but not crazy high.”
The game began in frantic fashion as Mane missed an early chance before a similar opportunity was tucked away by Son Heung-min, only to see VAR rule the goal out for offside.
With the last kick of the half from Mane’s assist, Firmino opened the scoring. Almost immediately after the restart, Alexander-Arnold doubled the lead with a strong finish, but Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg pulled a goal back within two minutes with a spectacular half-volley.
The result offers a welcome boost ahead of a big run of fixtures and after a double injury setback, as well as putting Liverpool four points away from Spurs – while Jose Mourinho’s side still have a game in hand.
What a win this was, both in terms of its importance and its execution. The Reds’ first in six Premier League matches was a dominant one, a deserved 3-1 triumph over Tottenham which fires Jurgen Klopp’s men back into the top four and, maybe, back into the title race too.
So much has faltered for the champions of late, but it all worked fine here. Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane scored, Gini Wijnaldum and Thiago Alcantara ran the show in midfield, where James Milner, 35 years old, put in the performance of a young pup.
And then there was Trent Alexander-Arnold, the beacon of Liverpool’s recovery. A goal and an assist for the Scouse full-back, who was very much back to his best after a winter dip.
Liverpool lost Fabinho before a ball was even kicked. “Minor muscle issue,” said the club. Major selection headache, more like.
At least Joel Matip was back, though, selected again after missing the FA Cup loss to Manchester United last week. Matip looked like a Rolls Royce in the first half, first to everything, but he lasted just 45 minutes, replaced at half-time by Nathaniel Phillips, who slotted in alongside captain Jordan Henderson at the back. “Ankle ligaments,” said Klopp. It looks and sounds like a serious one.
That, incredibly, means Liverpool have now used 16 different centre-back partnerships this season – Matip and Henderson was the 15th. They have played 20 Premier League games, and started with 11 different combinations.
At least they looked like themselves otherwise, though. Spurs’ performance was curious, lacking in ambition once Harry Kane, their talisman, had departed with an injury of his own at half-time. Mourinho has now lost each of his last four games against Klopp, a statistic that will trouble the Portuguese as much as his team’s display.
Liverpool led at the break, Henderson picking a gem of a pass from deep for Mane, whose cross gave Firmino the simplest of tap-ins. It was the Reds’ first goal in the league in 486 minutes, and Firmino’s fifth in six games against Spurs. The Brazilian, like Alexander-Arnold, was his old self on the night.
Spurs had seen an early goal, scored by Son Heung-min, disallowed after a wafer-thin offside call by the VAR, but they were second best for the most part. Alexander-Arnold got Liverpool’s second, rifling home after Hugo Lloris made a meal of Mane’s low shot. It was the 22-year-old’s first goal of the campaign, and taken clinically.
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s rasper gave Spurs hope, as did another VAR call which denied Mohamed Salah a third for Liverpool.
Thankfully, the officials would not decide this contest, the players would. Alexander-Arnold was the provider, his superb cross causing problems for Joe Rodon and allowing Mane to ram home for 3-1.
That was enough, Liverpool closing the game out with focus and determination, epitomised by Milner’s relentless hustling and Henderson’s constant instruction from the back. They’ve had their critics, deservedly so, but here they were stars dressed in red, every last one of them.
For the first time in weeks, they looked like Liverpool. After a month of darkness, has the dawn arrived?
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