It can be simplistic to reduce matches to battles between their two most potent players. Liverpool against Tottenham Hotspur was played at captivating speed in a game laced with controversy but the reality was that Mohamed Salah scored twice, Harry Kane struck once and the points were shared.
While Salah was simply superb, Kane’s afternoon was more mixed. He missed one penalty and scored another, deep in added time. Liverpool supporters departed accusing Erik Lamela of cheating when he went to ground under Virgil van Dijk’s challenge. Loris Karius had saved from Kane minutes earlier, reading a chip. This time Kane picked his corner, found it and nudged back ahead of Salah in the race for the Golden Boot.
Spurs have still only won one of 19 away games at top-six opponents, but a precious draw represented an exercise in damage limitation. The gap to Liverpool remains two points. These sides and Chelsea are still locked in a three-way battle for two Uefa Champions League spots; a match with this number of flashpoints suggests the drama will go to the end.
The last 15 minutes overflowed with incidents. Victor Wanyama had only been on the pitch for a matter of seconds. He appeared an unlike man to summon when Tottenham were trailing but on he came, replacing the more attack-minded Mousa Dembele. Or so it seemed because, when Karius punched Christian Eriksen’s cross clear, it fell to the Kenyan.
He was fully 25 yards out, but he connected with blistering power and unerring accuracy. His shot flew past the goalkeeper. If it is harsh to blame Karius then, he justified Jurgen Klopp’s decision to select him ahead of Simon Mignolet, both with an earlier save from Son Heung-min and by repelling Kane’s first penalty, which he conceded himself.
That seemed a chance to score a winner for Tottenham. Then it appeared Salah had clinched victory for Liverpool, slaloming through on a stunning solo run before lofting the ball over Hugo Lloris.
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If the game was shaped by two scorers, it was fashioned by shared philosophies. Klopp and Pochettino are the Premier League’s two greatest advocates of high-tempo football. This was fast and frenetic, each looking to harry the other into mistakes. Liverpool succeeded. They hustled Dembele. They made Davinson Sanchez anxious at times. The first error, however, came from Eric Dier.
These are sides who are strangers to the idea of taking time to settle into games. Liverpool are no strangers to explosive starts. Tottenham, ahead after 11 seconds against Manchester United, were behind after 140 against Liverpool.
Salah latched on to Dier’s under-hit back-pass to finish in assured fashion. It was a goal to sum him up: the speed of his impact, the sense of unstoppable momentum, the way he can score in significant matches. There have been various measures of the Egyptian’s excellence. Salah had already reached 25 goals quicker than any Liverpool player in 102 years. Now he became the fastest to 20 in the Premier League, stripping Daniel Sturridge and Fernando Torres of that distinction.
Liverpool had the chances to double their lead and, perhaps, kill off Tottenham. Roberto Firmino came close with a glancing header and James Milner almost scored.
Yet Spurs rallied in the second half, getting their full-backs forward whereas Trent Alexander-Arnold had raided well for Liverpool before the break. The benched Joel Matip was summoned for the final 15 minutes as Liverpool, unusually, switched to five at the back.
It did not work: Spurs scored twice in that period, were awarded two penalties, converted one and Liverpool found themselves frustrated. Spurs departed the happier and have taken four points from the Merseysiders and Manchester United this week.