x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Spurs on song as injury problems mount for Rafa

Sebastien Bassong headed home on his Tottenham debut to seal victory over Liverpool in an enthralling season opener.

LONDON // Sebastien Bassong headed home on his Tottenham debut to seal victory over Liverpool in an enthralling season opener. The French defender, an £8 million (Dh48.4m) signing from Newcastle, scored from a 59th-minute Luka Modric free-kick to give Harry Redknapp's men a rare winning start to a season. Steven Gerrard had brought a lacklustre Liverpool side level on 56 minutes with a penalty, after Cameroon full-back Benoit Assou-Ekotto's screamer before half-time had White Hart Lane rocking.

Rafa Benitez left White Hart Lane empty handed back in November as Spurs inflicted their first defeat last season. Roman Pavlyuchenko's last-minute winner proved decisive and took Redknapp's side off the bottom of the table after their worst-ever start to the season. Redknapp is aiming a lot higher this time and his side have been perceived as dark horses for a top-four spot. This was an early test of their credentials. Ditto Liverpool and Benitez gambled on Gerrard, who was struggling with a groin injury. Martin Skrtel and Jamie Carragher were other doubts, but lined up in a defence featuring summer signing Glen Johnson.

That defence was kept busy as Spurs hogged early possession. Liverpool have been looking to strengthen their backline in the transfer window and there was a concern for Benitez in the 15th minute when Skrtel and Carragher had a sickening collision as the pair went for the same high ball. Both were able to continue with Carragher donning a bandage to cover up a cut to his head, thought Skrtel went off midway through the second half, replaced by 18-year-old Spaniard Daniel Ayala, leaving Benitez with worries for Wednesday's home game against Stoke.

Gerrard fired a low shot wide of Heurelho Gomes' right-hand post on the half hour, but Modric provided the greater threat and dynamism with only Pepe Reina's brilliance keeping Spurs, and particularly Robbie Keane, at bay. Modric lofted a ball into the six-yard box, where Keane arrived with a diving header - only for Reina to make a remarkable save. But Reina could do little about Assou-Ekotto's opener, though, as it rocketed into the top corner. Tom Huddlestone's free-kick on the edge of the box came back to the left back and he took a couple of touches before unleashing his powerful shot. There was more determination in Liverpool's play after the break, emphasised by their equaliser when a forceful run into the box by Johnson was ended by Gomes, who did not need to commit himself to the challenge.

Gerrard crashed home the spot-kick, yet Spurs still possessed danger through the artistry of Modric and pace of Aaron Lennon, whose mesmerising 60-yard dribble was halted by a crucial tackle from Lucas. Wilson Palacios was another driving force in midfield and was denied a goal by the magnificence of Reina, who tipped over his 20-yard strike. The Spanish keeper deserved better for his efforts, but was picking the ball out of the net again in the 59th minute.

Modric floated a free-kick over and Bassong rose well above Carragher to head home. Liverpool desperately tried to rally, but were denied two clear penalty claims. Andriy Voronin was barged over in the box before Assou-Ekotto handled. Benitez fumed and his assistant Sammy Lee was sent off. It summed up their disappointing day. akhan@thenational.ae