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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 April 2019

Liverpool win 'ugly' to clear Tottenham hurdle and keep pace with Manchester City

Jurgen Klopp's side needed a lucky own goal in the final stages to claim all three points at Anfield

Mohamed Salah, right, celebrates with Roberto Firmino after his header sets up Toby Alderweireld's decisive own goal. EPA
Mohamed Salah, right, celebrates with Roberto Firmino after his header sets up Toby Alderweireld's decisive own goal. EPA

Sometimes the ugliest of goals can be the most beautiful. Should Liverpool win the title, they will savour the thought of two freakish late Anfield winners delivered by Belgians.

After Divock Origi’s strange decider in the Merseyside derby came Toby Alderweireld’s unwitting winner against Tottenham Hotspur, an own goal that the Kop greeted as though it were a scorcher.

The final whistle brought raucous, rumbustious celebrations. Jurgen Klopp was still more animated than usual in his exaggerated fist pumps, the crowd’s response still louder than normal. Tottenham represented the biggest obstacle on their path to glory and Liverpool cleared it: not convincingly, but crucially.

They still require Manchester City to drop points but they are top again. Another test was passed, another game ticked off. Just as they had done at Fulham before the international break, Liverpool summoned a late winner. It is a happy habit.

“We have to fight like crazy,” said Klopp. “"It is only positive. I said there are 500 ways to win a football game and today was slightly ugly. Who cares?”

Liverpool did not. A damaging draw had beckoned. Just as they did at Craven Cottage, they had lost a lead. Much as Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino tend to share the points in their meetings, two Brazilians had cancelled each other out, Roberto Firmino and Lucas Moura scoring.

Mohamed Salah did not, much as the Anfield tannoy announcer tried to credit him with the winner. Yet as his drought stretched into an eighth game, he found another way to exert an influence. He met Andrew Robertson’s cross with a header that Hugo Lloris spilled.

If not an error to rival Jordan Pickford’s in the Merseyside derby, he was still culpable as the ball bounced in off Alderweireld. “I had no clue how the ball went in,” admitted Klopp.

“You need fortune to win these types of games,” Trent Alexander-Arnold said. Liverpool got it. Alderweireld, who had denied Salah a goal earlier with a fine block, scarcely deserved his bad luck. Nor, arguably, did Spurs, who had showed resolve and versatility.

“It is very hard to lose like this,” said Lucas. “We played very well.” Yet the reality is their last five games have produced a solitary point. Their top-four status is imperilled.

“Now we start from zero and we can achieve what we want,” said Pochettino. “No one wants to lose but it's a different defeat than the ones we suffered against Southampton or Burnley.”

He acquitted himself well. He changed tactics mid-match. He sprang a surprise beforehand with the selection of Lucas. It was justified by the forward’s pace and persistence.

Harry Kane drew a blank on his 250th Spurs game, with Alisson thwarting him with an excellent stop, but nevertheless played a part in the Brazilian’s strike. He took a quick free kick with inch-perfect precision to find Kieran Trippier, 50 yards away. Christian Eriksen’s miscued shot proved a low centre for Lucas to become the first man other than Kane to score for Spurs since February 13.

Spurs had begun the brighter, only for Liverpool to lead. Once again, Robertson helped to compensate for the lack of invention in Klopp’s industrious midfield. His ninth assist of the season came from an enticing cross, Firmino got between Davinson Sanchez and Jan Vertonghen to head in.

Firmino was irrepressible, both leading the line and dropping deep to create. He could be elusive when Liverpool were in possession and persistent in his closing down when Spurs had the ball. He set the tone for a frenetic game in which both sides coughed up possession too often.

Sadio Mane came closest to providing a second goal, twice curling shots past the far post. Dele Alli almost levelled with a dipping volley. He curled an effort wide as Spurs almost won it.

The glaring miss, though, came from Moussa Sissoko, surging through and then lashing wildly over. Instead, the decisive touch did come from a Tottenham player, but it was Alderweireld and at the other end.

Updated: March 31, 2019 10:09 PM

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