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Liverpool, Tottenham and how two substitutes conjured a breathtaking finale

Diogo Jota buries Liverpool’s late winner at Anfield (PA)
Diogo Jota buries Liverpool’s late winner at Anfield (PA)

For Tottenham, the finish was as harrowing as the start, but for very different reasons. The humiliation came at the beginning, the sense this was a sorry sequel to their disastrous Sunday at Newcastle. The cruelty came at the last, the way the team who thought they had engineered a reverse Istanbul, coming from 3-0 down to peg Liverpool back, instead departed defeated. The majority at Anfield have savoured a famous 4-3 triumph or two over the years – one of the greatest of all Premier League games, against Newcastle, or the aggregate scoreline against Barcelona in a Champions League tie that took them to a final against Tottenham – and this became another.

It came down to two substitutes. Ryan Mason had conjured a second comeback in four days for Spurs, but went on the offensive by sending on wingers Arnaut Danjuma and Lucas Moura, telling wingers to masquerade as wing-backs. And so the Brazilian found himself in unfamiliar territory when Alisson punted the ball forward. If he was looking to find Cristian Romero, Moura instead only located Diogo Jota. The Liverpool substitute proved the coolest man in a febrile Anfield, slotting a shot under Fraser Forster.

Among other things, it meant that the Portuguese, after a year without a goal, had five in four matches. After a season of trailing Tottenham, Liverpool had beaten them and leapfrogged them. For the first time this season, Jurgen Klopp’s team have four consecutive victories in all competitions. Yet if they have timed their charge too late to have a realistic chance of reaching the Champions League, their revival remains endangered by defensive frailties.

They were a shared failing that made for an extraordinary afternoon even before Jota wrestled the limelight from Richarlison. There had seemed an inevitability that the former Everton player, after beginning his Spurs career by going 22 league games without a goal, should belatedly open his account on Merseyside, against Liverpool. There was an almost freakish element to his header, down into the ground and then up over Alisson, from Heung-Min Son’s free kick, but the South Korean had fuelled a fightback.

Mohamed Salah scores Liverpool’s third goal from the penalty spot (Reuters)
Mohamed Salah scores Liverpool’s third goal from the penalty spot (Reuters)

It was a second in four days under Mason, the interim to the interim. Three goals down after 15 minutes, he seemed to be doing a Stellini, to use a technical term, to be a hapless figure presiding over a farce. But Spurs came from 2-0 down to take a point against Manchester United on Thursday and drew level with Liverpool in the 93rd minute. Tottenham don’t linger in limbo as much as lurch, from the insipid to the inspired, the embarrassing to the excellent. Spurs are managerless but not rudderless and yet the Mason renaissance has yielded a solitary point.

If their torture on Tyneside suggested a team in meltdown, this time Tottenham need not refund the travelling fans, or set up a bank transfer to make the process simpler. Yet their start was so wretched that it raised the question if Spurs’ players don’t know the kick-off time to any game; they have conceded six times in the first 10 minutes of their last three fixtures alone. They went two down even quicker than at St James’ Park – in the sixth minute then, the fifth now – and this threatened to be the second shocking Sunday in a row. Liverpool didn’t do a Newcastle when, after a flying start with the kind of chemistry, intensity and energy Tottenham lacked, they didn’t carry on and add an early fourth and fifth. It took Richarlison’s goal to rouse them.

Meanwhile, even in a season of inconsistency, Liverpool have a propensity to run riot, as Bournemouth, Rangers, Manchester United and Leeds can testify, but never so soon from the start. Tottenham aided them: Porro left Curtis Jones to follow the already marked Luis Diaz as Trent Alexander-Arnold crossed to the far post. One Merseysider got his sixth assist in five games, the other a first goal since September 2021.

Then a fit-again Diaz marked his first start since October by tucking in Cody Gakpo’s cross; Spurs were being cut apart by triangles of play on their left flank, usually involving Mohamed Salah and Gakpo. When Cristian Romero, with a typically ludicrous lunge, upended Gakpo just inside his own box, Salah capped his 300th Liverpool game with an emphatic penalty. After missing his previous two spot kicks, it had an importance beyond taking him past Robbie Fowler to 184 goals for the club.

But others were bringing up landmarks. It seemed a sign of Spurs’ plight when, for the second successive week, Harry Kane, the man famously motivated by goals, did not celebrate his. He drew level with Wayne Rooney on 208 Premier League goals when volleying in Ivan Perisic’s cross. It came in a remarkable three minutes in which Virgil van Dijk cleared Son’s shot off line and Alisson saved from Dejan Kulusevski; as Liverpool lost their way, Tottenham showed the talent in their ranks.

Spurs ended up scoring three and being inches from three more. Son struck the post from distance twice, once when flagged offside. So did Romero, with an acrobatic volley from Kane’s cross. A World Cup-winning liability in defence, he materialised in the middle of midfield to play a defence-splitting pass when Son raced away to make it 3-2. When James Milner fouled Kane, his free kick made it 3-3. It was not the only misdemeanour from a senior figure at Liverpool: Klopp was booked for yelling in the face of fourth official John Brooks and may yet face further punishment.

For now, however, his side have another seminal victory. Tottenham had 99 seconds to savour parity before Moura, making his first appearance since a stupid sending off at Goodison Park cost his side, found another way to give a game away, and Spurs’ magnificent fightback was in vain.