Jose Mourinho came to Anfield with the intent to halt Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool and he was very close to fulfilling his plans. Throughout the match, Mourinho only focused on keeping their opponents at bay rather than beating them – a draw at Anfield would be equivalent to victory and then bag full points against the lower-ranked opponents would benefit the Spurs. Again, Mourinho was very close until Roberto Firmino stepped up to dash his plans.
Mourinho positioned his players in a 4-4-2 formation – the midfield looked like it was playing with the intention to midblock. As usual, Hojbjerg and Giovani Lo Celso formed the pivots, Mousa Sissoko and Bergwijn stayed wide and Harry Kane and Heung-min Son were the strikers against the two center-backs of Liverpool: Fabinho and Rhys Williams.
The pressing was not up to the mark by the Spurs like the previous counters and it led the wing-backs progress with Jordan Henderson dropping down and formed the three-man defence by placing himself as the right center-back to outnumber the two strikers of the Spurs. Also, it allowed Henderson to execute his wide passing range from the deep to the players in the midfield, flanks, and upfront.
Henderson attempted 12 long balls with Fabinho attempting 10 and Hugo Lloris of the Spurs attempting the highest – 20.
The position of Henderson allowed Liverpool to shape-up in a 3-2-5 formation with the full-backs along with Sadio mane and Mohamed Salah pressing more and exploiting the half-spaces inside the area of the Spurs more and more.
The great intensity of the Reds after an emotional minute’s applause for late former boss Gerard Houllier paid off and an unmarked Firmino’s downward header was saved by Hugo Lloris.
Salah shot straight at Lloris after the ball struck Eric Dier on the arm in the penalty area but no spot-kick was awarded before Salah opened the scoring with a shot that deflected in off Toby Alderweireld after 26 minutes.
Mourinho looked for compactness and then counter.
Bergwijn and Ben Davies formed a partnership to cut-off the threat posed by Trent Alexander-Arnold. Both of them were disciplined enough and thus Trent failed to script more crosses from the flanks.
Roberto Firmino dropped to the midfield and allowed Curtis Jones to press and break the discipline of Davies and Bergwijn. Firmino kept one of the pivots of the Spurs occupied.
Well, the spaces were created for a typical Mourinho counter and they rushed in to exploit the space behind Trent.
The Reds were dominant but Spurs leveled against the run of play seven minutes later, Son taking Lo Celso’s pass and finishing clinically, then breathing a sigh of relief after the goal was awarded following a VAR check.
Bergwijn missed a great chance to put Spurs in front just after the break, shooting wide of the far post following a lapse from teenage defender Rhys Williams – making his Premier League debut.
Alisson tipped away Harry Kane’s attempted lob after the Spurs captain intercepted his sloppy pass in a bright start to the second half from the London club.
Bergwijn’s measured shot struck the post after Son nodded on to put the Netherlands international clear and Kane headed over the crossbar when he ought to have scored from close range.
Spurs missed three glorious chances to take the lead –such misses gave Liverpool confidence, and the Reds with confidence can be terrifying.
With the right flank being checked, Jones dropped as the left center-back and Andrew Robertson pushed higher to utilize the left flank as much as possible: 44% of Liverpool’s attack came from the left-hand side.
Henderson and Gini Winjaldum attracted the pivots of the Spurs – Salah and Mane dropped in between the lines occupied the spaces and if the right of the Spurs chased Mane, Robertson was left with spaces to exploit. Lo Celso tried to play as the right-back but with limited success and if Aurier moved to his usual position, Jones combined with Mane by breaking the lines.
Aurier and Mane had a great battle throughout the 90 minutes – each of them trying hard to outclass the other. The battle allowed Jones to push high up and beat the resistance of Sissoko, who transformed into a right back.
Jurgen Klopp outsmarted Mourinho tactically on the pitch despite the resistance put up by the Portuguese.
Kane and Son dropped deeper to outnumber the midfield, but the wingers and flu-backs of the Reds consistently kept wider enough to create spaces in the middle, where Firmino was wandering around.
The Liverpool backline was playing highline and it could have been utilized only if the Spurs had more possession on the ball. There were situations for Kane to orchestrate the counter by allowing Bergwjin and Son ran behind the spaces, but with so little possession (24% to Liverpool’s 76%), one cannot expect much.
Mourinho’s fatal misstep, however, was when he took Heung-min Son off for Dele Alli. The Korean’s pace and movement clearly worried the Reds, while Dele just didn’t carry the same level of threat.
Still, Mourinho frustrated Liverpool. Punished them by blunting their press – sadly the ending was not satisfactory.
Firmino rose to head home Andy Robertson’s corner in the 90th minute to dramatically win it, though and helped Liverpool go on top.
Firmino, Liverpool, and Klopp celebrated the goal as if their life depended on this match.
Mourinho was left stunned, but at least, he could leave Anfield with his head high.