Ultimate fighters! Klopp's Liverpool simply refuse to throw in the towel in title slugfest
The Reds returned to the top of the Premier League thanks to yet another dramatic 90th-minute winner at Anfield, in Sunday’s clash with Tottenham
Liverpool held a night of championship boxing on Saturday, but the most important blow of the weekend was struck on Sunday.
It came via the shin of Toby Alderweireld, just as Anfield seemed ready to throw in the towel. It came late, it came in dramatic circumstances – “a lucky punch” according to Jurgen Klopp – but it came.
There are wins and then there are wins. There are wins which thrill and excite, wins for the purists and the aesthetes and the artists.
Then, there are these kind, the kind that put you through the mill, drag you to rock bottom and back up again. The ones which test you, terrorise you, torment you. And when they’re over, these wins feel like the best kind, the ones you’ll remember all your life. Defining? It just might be.
The long and the short of it is that Liverpool are back on top of the Premier League, that they beat Tottenham 2-1 in a game they simply had to win.
That, though, doesn’t even begin to tell the story of what could turn out to be a huge, huge afternoon in this tightest of title races.
The roar which greeted the final blast of referee Martin Atkinson’s whistle said more than any match report or colour piece ever could. It was one of relief as much as joy, Liverpool somehow escaping with all three points after the most tortuous of second halves.
Alderweireld’s misfortune was their gain, the Belgian’s own goal breaking Spurs hearts in front of the Kop, just as the clock ticked past 90 minutes.
On the public address system, it was announced as a Mohamed Salah goal. It wasn’t, but nobody cared. It was the biggest Liverpool have scored this season.
It had looked like the day the dream would die. Klopp’s team had led through Roberto Firmino’s first-half header but had lost control of proceedings after the break. Lucas Moura’s equaliser, 20 minutes from time, was no more than Tottenham deserved.
The Londoners should have gone on and won it. How big was the moment, eight minutes from the end, when Moussa Sissoko ran at Virgil van Dijk. The Frenchman had Son Heung-Min to his right, Van Dijk blocking the pass.
He ran straight for goal, taking aim with his left foot. His shot was wild, over the bar. Liverpool, somehow, lived to fight another day. Van Dijk, who had marked Son and challenged Sissoko to score, deserves immense credit. Sissoko has not scored a goal in three years. Know your enemy.
Hearts were in mouths soon after, too, as Dele Alli curled for the top corner, missing by a matter of inches. Had either of those two chances gone in, it would surely have been Manchester City’s title. That’s how fine the margins are right now.
And then, and then.
A corner. Cleared. Trent Alexander-Arnold’s cross to the back post, Mohamed Salah finding space where there had hitherto been none. His header was firm, pushed out by Hugo Lloris into the retreating Alderweireld, the ball squirming across the line.
It was the third stoppage-time winner Liverpool, the Premier League’s ultimate fighters, have scored this season. Alderweireld will get an invite to their end of season party if the Reds can finish the job between now and May. So will Lloris, who should have done better with the initial header.
Liverpool will need to improve on this showing but, in theory, they have negotiated their toughest remaining test. Not many sides will play as well as Spurs did here. The Reds, surely, will not play as sloppily again. They had their warning here, and emerged unscathed. Sometimes, it just feels like your name is on a trophy.
At the end, Klopp headed for the Kop. His fist pumps had more meaning than usual, and no wonder.
He won’t get a bigger win as Liverpool manager. Well, until Friday at Southampton, at least. Liverpool fans will be getting ready to go through it all again, but the outcome here made it all feel worthwhile.
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