Spurs leave Liverpool battered, bruised and with little cause for complaint
When Liverpool's travelling support drifted away from White Hart Lane after last season's Premier League fixture in November, they did so in a daze. "They battered us, absolutely slaughtered us," Harry Redknapp, the Tottenham Hotspur manager, would reflect. It was one of the season's mysteries as to how Tottenham had emerged with a 2-1 victory. How Liverpool would rue the points dropped in the final reckoning.
Those same Liverpool fans floated home here after the same scoreline in a similar trance-like state but for wildly different reasons. This time, there was no robbery. In fact, there was no real performance to speak about from their team.
For a brief spell, it appeared that they might wriggle away with a scarcely deserved point. Glen Johnson's major contribution on his Liverpool debut was to dart in between Tom Huddlestone and Benoît Assou-Ekotto and draw Heurelho Gomes into a rash challenge. The referee Phil Dowd had no option but to point to the penalty spot and Steven Gerrard, heckled mercilessly for his recent not guilty court verdict, converted nervelessly.
But Tottenham's winning goal duly arrived, through the debutant Sébastien Bassong, and Rafael Benítez was left with plenty to ponder. His players departed battered and bruised; Jamie Carragher required stitches after a clash of heads with his central defensive partner Martin Skrtel, which eventually forced the Slovakian international off with a damaged jaw, and Javier Mascherano appeared to be among those to have taken a knock. The Argentinian clutched at his ribs in the first half.
Benítez had worked himself up into a frenzy by full time. He raged at the non-award of a late penalty for an alleged barge by Assou-Ekotto on the substitute Andriy Voronin (yes, Voronin is still at the club and no, it was not a penalty) while Benítez's assistant Sammy Lee went even further after he felt that a Fernando Torres shot had struck Assou-Ekotto's hand. (It would have been a very harsh penalty award). Lee was sent from the dug-out for his persistent arguing. At one point, Benítez had to pull him away from the fourth official, Stuart Attwell.
Benítez would have been better advised to look closer to home and consider how and why his team created so little. Rarely can Torres have had such a disappointing 90 minutes. The three players in support of him, including Gerrard, offered little more; Ryan Babel was particularly peripheral and one of the damning indictments on Liverpool was that Gomes barely had a save to make.
In midfield, Mascherano and Lucas Leiva snapped and snarled but they could do nothing to prise Tottenham apart and, at the back, Benítez would have winced at how Bassong out-jumped Carragher for the decisive header. After a pre-season pockmarked by indifferent results and performances, Liverpool have stumbled at the starter's gun.
For Tottenham, Redknapp sprung a surprise by omitting Peter Crouch, the £9m summer signing from Portsmouth, from his starting line-up and preferring Robbie Keane, another former Liverpool striker, alongside Jermain Defoe. Crouch was afforded a warm reception from supporters of both clubs.
Keane and Defoe did not gel during their first spell together at White Hart Lane, under either Martin Jol or Juande Ramos, and there was little evidence of any link-up between the pair here. Keane likes to drift wide and deep in search of possession while Defoe does his damage in the penalty area. They often looked a long way apart.
Following his heroics for England against the Netherlands last Wednesday, Defoe was quiet while Keane could not find a finish when well placed. Keane should be lauded for his intelligence in repeatedly crafting dangerous spaces for himself but his composure deserted him. His most gilt-edged opportunity was on the half hour when he headed too close to Pepe Reina from point-blank range. Reina's save was nevertheless outstanding. Keane felt that Benítez failed to give him a fair chance at Liverpool. When he was substituted, Benítez made a point of going over to embrace him.
Assou-Ekotto is one of those players who doesn't particularly like football; he just happens to be very good at it, good enough to make a career out of the game. The France-born Cameroon international gives the impression that he would much rather be a DJ or a music producer. But the reluctant hero has never scored a better goal. Actually, he has never scored a goal at all in his 152 career matches for Lens and Tottenham. His left-footed shot that fizzed into the top corner from 25 yards gave Reina no chance.
It was a glorious afternoon for Tottenham and not only because, for the first time in four seasons, they have hit the ground running. Bassong, the £10m signing from Newcastle United, crowned an imposing debut alongside Ledley King with his first goal in English football, but the star of the show, just in front of Luka Modric, was Wilson Palacios, who is fast emerging as a cult hero to the Tottenham crowd. The midfielder drove his team from the off and he also offered reassurance in front of his back four.
Liverpool find themselves on the back foot.
Tottenham Hotspur 2 – 1 (HT 1 – 0) Liverpool
1. Assou-Ekotto 44
2. Bassong 59
1. Gerrard (pen) 56
1. Lennon 25
2. Gomes 55
3. Assou-Ekotto 67
1. Mascherano 32
2. Skrtel 51
3. Carragher 59
Tottenham Hotspur's Percentage Liverpool's Percentage
Corners 6 54% 5 46%
Goal attempts 17 70% 7 30%
On target 11 73% 4 27%
Fouls 14 46% 16 54%
Offside 0 0% 2 100%
* Heurelho Gomes,
* Benoit Assou-Ekotto,
* Vedran Corluka,
* Sebastien Bassong,
* Ledley King,
* Aaron Lennon,
* Wilson Palacios,
* Tom Huddlestone,
* Luka Modric (Jamie O'Hara, 83),
* Jermain Defoe (Roman Pavlyuchenko, 90),
* Robbie Keane (Peter Crouch, 68)
* Jose Manuel Reina,
* Emiliano Insua,
* Glen Johnson,
* Martin Skrtel (Daniel Sanchez Ayala, 75),
* Jamie Carragher,
* Steven Gerrard,
* Lucas Leiva,
* Javier Mascherano,
* Ryan Babel (Yossi Benayoun, 67),
* Dirk Kuyt (Andriy Voronin, 79),
* Fernando Torres
Referee Dowd, P
Venue White Hart Lane
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