Liverpool and Tottenham surprise with a standoff at Anfield
Liverpool 0-0 Tottenham
The fog might have lifted just before kick-off, but the pressure enveloping both Liverpool and Tottenham’s prospects certainly remained as overbearing and stifling as ever.
Sunday’s heavyweight bout at Stamford Bridge could very well be described as a Liverpool-Tottenham 3-3. Both the Reds and Lily Whites have a proud – and sometimes not so proud – history of high scoring games that set the heart racing, often to the benefit of the neutral, and the detriment of the partisan.
Games between equally matched sides tend to provide close, well-battled affairs; some might point to the Chelsea – Man. United game as vindication of the contrary, but few will be able to make a convincing argument to suggest the Blues and the Red Devils stand side by side in terms of quality, regardless of last night’s result. The point is this: tonight’s stalemate at Anfield came as little surprise.
Going into the game, both sides would have happily swapped the hustle-bustle, helter-skelter of high-octane drama for the normalcy of a more conservative 1-0 win.
As is the case with such match-ups, the game grew into a footballing equivalent of chess: a territorial game of moves and countermoves. Kenny Dalglish opted for his increasingly familiar use of wingbacks – a successful tactical ploy with the benefit of nullifying the threat posed by the opposition’s quicksilver wingers, all the while serving as an attacking outlet on the counter.
In practice, it worked to a tee. However, it should have worked even better than it did on the night, with Liverpool dominating possession. The home side had plenty of the ball and much of the momentum, but were slowed down by the barricade of Tottenham’s midfield, quick pressing and compact shape. Intriguingly, the home team’s wingbacks were often at fault for disrupting the flow of Liverpool’s more promising moves. Both Glen Johnson and Martin Kelly could and should have provided more going forward in terms of end product. They attacked admirably and supplemented offensive forays manfully; however, with both playing out of position, their lack of familiarity with their match-day roles meant they were unable to utilise their rich talents as effectively as possible.
Nevertheless, the Anfield faithful would have felt they merited a first half lead. They bayed for a red card when Spurs centre-back Michael Dawson appeared to be the last man as he took Andy Carroll out. Replays showed Dawson was lucky not to be sent off.
For all their possession, Liverpool created little in the way of goalmouth action. Both Steven Gerrard and Craig Bellamy blazed free kicks at well-constructed walls. Glen Johnson’s shot-cum-cross proved awkward but was dealt with, and Jay Spearing’s long-distance shot just bent wide of Brad Friedel’s goal.
As the referee blew for half-time, camera shots of the Kop showed Liverpool fans were eager for the return of their Uruguayan prodigal son. With the game finely balanced, it did indeed look as though it might be down to Luis Suárez to pick the deadlock.
The second half largely mirrored the first, only with a slight increase in tempo and tension, as a fiery spat between Gareth Bale and Daniel Agger set the game alight.
More chances flowed as a result: Kyle Walker sliced in between the Liverpool defence with some nice footwork, shooting wide. Dirk Kuyt fired a powerful shot straight at Friedel, and Andy Carroll nodded a free header off-target, obscured by his teammate Agger.
The game looked to petering out energetically but uneventfully until Bale raced goal-wards, one-on-one with Reina, only to be foiled by the Spaniard’s frame. Luis Suárez, having made a dramatic return with plenty of theatricality (facilitating an attack on goal and then going into the referee’s book for a high boot to Scott Parker’s stomach) should have provided the postcard finish to the game, somehow missing from close range.
Following the high-scoring antics of the past few days, Monday, as usual, provided the sobering hangover to successive nights of excitement; the draw at Anfied the come-down from the weekend’s festivities.