Sunday, August 16, 2009

Super Spurs Beat Lacklustre Liverpool, As The Reds Begin Life Without Alonso

A Benoit Assou-Ekotto screamer and a Sebastien Bassong header were enough to finish off Liverpool at White Hart Lane today. The win was fully deserved for a Spurs side who restricted Liverpool to few chances, and only a Steven Gerrard penalty denied Tottenham the clean sheet their play deserved.

The opening fixture for both sides started at a frantic pace as Liverpool looked to gain early control of the match, but Spurs are no longer the simple pushovers that Juande Ramos oversaw.

And they controlled the early proceedings. Liverpool began by trying to contol possession but the Spurs midfield, led by the excellent Wilson Palacios, snapped at the ball at every chance and soon enough Liverpool were forced into making errors.

Rafa had already set the ball rolling as far as defeatism and confidence is concerned by questioning the difficulty of the opening fixture, and by praising the abilities of Spurs and Harry Redknapp.

Soon enough the game settled into a pattern, Liverpool going back to their traditional counter-attacking game while Spurs controlled possession and threatened to probe the Liverpool rearguard.

The first shot of any substance came from Wilson Palacios, and without need, it was hacked behind by the undisciplined Martin Skrtel. Five minutes later and his poor concentration nearly claimed a victim as he clashed heads with Jamie Carragher, both players receiving bad cuts to their heads.

Jamie Carragher returned to the pitch with what can only be described as a towel wrapped around his head to protect his small cut.

By the end of the match we had learned that the small cut he was protecting was a two-inch gash with 12 metal staples holding it together.

Carragher was obviously worse for the wear but he battled on, while Gerrard and Torres were kept quiet by a Spurs team just beginning to gain the ascendancy.

At the half-hour mark, Spurs produced the game's first clear-cut chance. Luka Modric danced away from Glen Johnson and put a sublime cross from the left onto Robbie Keane's head. But the Spurs striker headed straight at Reina who still had some work to hack the ball clear, six inces either side and Spurs were in front.

The chance seemed to liven up Spurs, who created a hatful of chances over the next few minutes. Keane and Modric combined brilliantly again but the Irishman's chip was dealt with by another piece of superb 'keeping by Reina.

Moments later, Jermain Defoe flashed a header wide as Spurs exposed Liverpool's zonal defence from a corner.

Liverpool looked lacklustre with Xabi Alonso's creativity from midfield, and Gerrard and Torres were suffering more than any other player as Liverpool's midfield failed to supply them with any meaningful ball.

As half-time approached, Spurs won a free kick on the right side of Liverpool's box, Tom Huddlestone's probing free kick was blocked but it fell nicely for Benoit Assou-Ekotto, who unleashed a thunderbolt from 25 yards that gave Reina no chance as it nestled into the top corner of the far post.

It was the Cameroonian's first goal for Spurs, with the most improved player over the last year in a white shirt repaying some of the faith that Harry Redknapp had installed in him.

While Spurs were playing well and controlling the match, it should be pointed out that Liverpool were awful. Without Alonso their midfield looked rudderless, and as you looked to the bench for options you were hit with the realisation that Liverpool has a very thin squad.

The second half kicked off and Liverpool pushed to gain the upper hand. But whatever avenue of attack they used, Spurs had an answer.

Sebastien Bassong and Ledley King were imperious at centre half while Wilson Palacios did his growing reputation no harm with another man of the match display. He was denied a certain goal by Pepe Reina, who seemed Liverpool's only player at the races.

As Spurs were beginning to grow in confidence and feel that this could be their day, Glen Johnson made his only worthwhile contribution with a superb run that eluded three defenders before he was unceremoniously bundled over by Heurelho Gomes for a penalty.

Steven Gerrard tucked the resulting penalty away, and Liverpool were back in a match they scarcely deserved.

Three minutes later and they were behind again, as Bassong powered a header past Reina from 10 yards as Spurs once again asked questions about Rafael Benitez's zonal marking system.

Liverpool began to make changes to try and get back into the game. Yossi Benayoun came on for the invisible Ryan Babel, who must surely have played one of his last games in a red shirt.

Spurs in answer, brought on Peter Crouch, as they looked to catch Liverpool on the break.

Fernando Torres had a torrid time today—he was easily forced off the ball time and time again as Ledley King dominated him throughout. The fact that King was so dominant is made all the more special by the realisation that he has only trained for 90 minutes throughout the entire summer.

As the game was slipping out of Liverpool's hands, Benitez was forced to make one last throw of the dice by bringing on the forgotten man Andrei Voronin.

Liverpool began to get on top, mainly through Benayoun's industrious running and clever play, and it was he who slipped a clever pass through to Voronin as the game counted down.

But Assou-Ekotto easily forced the Liverpool forward off the ball, and Gomes ran out to collect as the Liverpool faithful called for a penalty.

In the end it was Liverpool's last chance of the game, and Spurs went on to claim their first opening day victory in four years.

Spurs fully deserved their win. They had greater passion, greater attacking ambition and better cohesion. Liverpool was irritable, out of sorts, and lacking ideas. They will get better, and they will need to if they are to claw the title from Manchester United's grasp.

Liverpool only lost two games all last season, and an opening day defeat is not what they wanted. It does add a little extra pressure into a league campaign that their manager has already said they need to win.

On a quick analysis of the game and the two squads, you would have to say that Spurs should be finishing the league around 6th or 7th while Liverpool will still finish in the top four, but on this display and with the squad on show, a title win might be just out of grasp.

They will get better, though, and a good run of fixtures over the next month should really see Liverpool claim full points. Do that and today is just a blip, lose a few more and the doubters will come calling.

Player Ratings:


Gomes (6), Corluka (7), Assou-Ekotto (8), Bassong (8), King (8), Palacios (8), Huddlestone (7), Lennon (7), Modric (7), Keane (7), Defoe (6). Subs: Crouch (5), O'Hara (5), Pavlyuchenko (n/a)


Reina (8), Johnson (6), Insua (5), Carragher (6), Skrtel (5), Lucas (4), Mascherano (4), Gerrard (4), Kuyt (4), Babel (3), Torres (4). Subs: Benayoun (7), Ayala (5), Voronin (4)

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