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Tottenham Hotspur 0-1 Liverpool
JOSE MOURINHO oversaw an improved performance from his Spurs charges, but ultimately the North Londoners were unable to prevent runaway leaders, Liverpool, taking another step towards their first top-flight title since 1990.
Tottenham again found themselves sailing choppy waters. Having undergone surgery on his damaged hamstring, Harry Kane – described recently by Jose Mourinho as ‘irreplaceable’ – joined Hugo Lloris, Ben Davies, Moussa Sissoko and Tanguy Ndombele on a lengthy injury list.
Meanwhile, one win in four league outings had overseen the conclusion of the managers ‘honeymoon period’ – supporters were agitated, inquisitive and demanding answers.
As expected, the Portuguese chief remained upbeat, although cautious of the threat possessed by a Reds team unbeaten in the league and having claimed the crown of World Champions just before the festive period: “We know we’re missing some important players. We know at this moment everything is going amazingly well for Liverpool,” Mourinho explained.
“We know, especially people who have been in that position, that sometimes you are in a situation that even when you miss a shot, you score a goal.
“They are in this phenomenal moment. But we believe in us. We believe in our work. We believe that missing important players opens an opportunity for other people.”
One of those to be handed an opportunity was Japhet Tanganga – the 20-year-old defender given a debut in the toughest of circumstances. The new boy was called into immediate action, blocking Roberto Firmino’s effort on the line, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s follow-up cannoned off the foot of an upright. Spurs swiftly responded – Both Lucas Moura and Heung-Min Son dancing in and out but firing wide of the target in what was a frenetic start.
Dele bustled through but sent his attempt over, while Christian Eriksen fired tamely at Reds stopper, Alisson, as Tottenham continued to give as good as they got. Meanwhile, Paulo Gazzaniga saved a point-blank range header from Virgil van Dijk as the powerful Dutchman looked certain to break the deadlock.
The game continued to ebb and flow – Sadio Mane’s volley bounced over following a crisp Reds break, but with their next foray forward, the Merseysiders were altogether more ruthless. Firmino showing good feet and an explosive finish after Salah had expertly teed him up.
Moura fired wide immediately after the restart, while Serge Aurier tested Alisson as Spurs searched for a foothold. Son’s deflected attempt drifted agonisingly wide as the home side got even closer on the hour mark.
Tottenham’s frustrations grew when Son lifted over after Moura had played him in – the South Korean – with a clear sight of goal – should have at least tested Alisson. Meanwhile, Giovani Lo Celso – perhaps caught in two minds – fizzed across the face of goal when perhaps picking out the unmarked Erik Lamela would have been a better option.
Lo Celso was again in the thick of it but was unable to direct Aurier’s centre past Alisson, and Lamela became the latest Spurs players to be denied – the Reds keeper skipping to his left for a routine save.
Divock Origi and Son exchanged late opportunities, but the thing about Liverpool at the moment is that they simply don’t lose – and this was to be no exception. Firmino’s strike proved ultimately to be decisive. This was a far better display from Spurs, but a lack of quality in the final third – highlighted further by the absence of their talismanic skipper, Kane – suggested that a dip into the January transfer market isn’t too far away as a top-four place begins to look an increasingly tall order.
Spurs now turn their attention to the Emirates FA Cup, facing Middlesbrough in a third-round replay at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Tuesday, January 14 (8:05pm). The Lilywhites return to Premier League action on Saturday 18 when they take on Watford at Vicarage Road (12:30pm).
Tottenham Hotspur: Paulo Gazzaniga, Davinson Sánchez, Toby Alderweireld (Capt), Japhet Tanganga, Serge Aurier, Harry Winks, Christian Eriksen (Giovani Lo Celso 69’), Danny Rose (Erik Lamela 69’), Lucas Moura, Dele Alli, Heung-Min Son Subs not used: Jan Vertonghen, Michel Vorm (GK), Eric Dier, Ryan Sessegnon, Oliver Skipp
Liverpool: Alisson Becker, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Joe Gomez, Virgil van Dijk, Andy Robertson, Georgino Wijnaldum, Jordan Henderson (Capt), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Adam Lallana 61’), Mohamed Salah (Xherdan Shaqiri 90+1’), Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mané (Divock Origi 81’)
Subs not used: Adrián (GK), Takumi Minamino, Nathaniel Phillips, Neco Williams
Booked: Joe Gomes (foul), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (foul)
Goals: Roberto Firmino 37’
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Assistants: Lee Betts and Constantine Hatzidakis
Fourth Official: Andre Marriner
Reaction to follow…