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Friday, May 24, 2024

If this was Liverpool’s last great game under Jurgen Klopp, it told the story of his thrilling era

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Eight and a half years after Jurgen Klopp’s reign began against Tottenham, five years after it peaked in a Champions League final against them, Spurs may prove a final example of what made it great and why Anfield will mourn the German. An action-packed affair – like many a game this season, some of the drama stemmed from Liverpool’s defensive frailties – contained irrepressible pressing, irresistible attacking football, a goal and two assists from a rampant and recalled Mohamed Salah: Liverpool’s only regret could be that it came now and not a few weeks earlier. If it was too late for the title race, it was too good for Tottenham.

Klopp probably didn’t borrow one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s more infamous team talks – “lads, it’s Tottenham” – but he could have done. Wretched and regressing, they were execrable for 70 minutes and conceded four goals in suffering a fourth consecutive defeat. This is their worst run for 20 years and a side who faced Liverpool in a Champions League final almost certainly won’t be in the same European competition next season. If Aston Villa’s defeat at Brighton opened the door for Spurs, they shut it themselves. Their two-goal comeback became a postscript and was an indictment of their earlier efforts.

Or lack of them. Destined to finish third, Liverpool had less to play for but showed more motivation, Klopp’s vow to enjoy his last three games facilitated by the enthusiasm of his players. With Anfield chorusing about Klopp and shots raining in, it offered a snapshot of his tenure.

Mohamed Salah heads Liverpool in front (Liverpool FC/Getty)

And the greatest player of the Klopp years provided more nostalgia, especially if it proves Salah’s penultimate match at Anfield, as well as Klopp’s. The touchline tiff at West Ham was consigned to the past, the bickering pair of manager and forward patching up a profitable alliance. Salah duly scored his 211th goal for Klopp; no one has got more and, presumably, no one ever will. If he had spoken, he said at West Ham, there would be fire. When he played, he had an incendiary effect. Salah was fired up and fantastic. In the second half, he was upstaged by a younger left-footer, as Harvey Elliott first set up a goal and then scored one; when Liverpool allowed Tottenham to strike twice in swift succession, that assumed a new significance.

An untidy ending illustrated that Liverpool have not been secure enough defensively to become champions. A terrific first 70 minutes offered a truer representation of the Klopp era than Anfield’s previous two games, which Liverpool had lost without scoring. Salah’s drought had been uncharacteristic. His first goal in open play for nine matches arrived early and could have come sooner.

Ange Postecoglou is struggling to get anything out of his players (EPA)

He hit the bar in outrageous, if unintentional, fashion with an outside-of-the-foot cross. He had a shot parried before Elliott’s rebound was cleared off the line by Cristian Romero. But Salah’s propensity to steal in unmarked at the far post was apparent again when he met Cody Gakpo’s deep cross. Guglielmo Vicario got a hand to his header but the ball went in anyway. Salah probably ought to have had a second later but Emerson Royal, his immediate opponent, was out of position throughout, outclassed and eventually replaced by Oliver Skipp, a midfielder parachuted in at left-back.

In contrast, Liverpool’s left-back was a specialist and superb. Andy Robertson’s goal was merited. Arguably their best player in recent weeks and, after Salah, their most dynamic in the first half, he tapped in the rebound after the Egyptian had a close-range shot blocked by Vicario. Robertson was alone in reacting, the Tottenham defence performing their impression of mannequins.

Harvey Elliott fires home Liverpool’s fourth goal (Liverpool FC/Getty)

The half-time shot count was 12-1; not quite the 15-0 Liverpool had at Old Trafford, but one-sided nonetheless. This time, though, Liverpool built a two-goal lead. They doubled it, too. Gakpo’s movement was terrific and he timed a burst into the box to head in a cross from the excellent Elliott. The midfielder then arrowed a 25-yard shot into the top corner.

It took Tottenham’s tally to 13 goals conceded in four games; if benching James Maddison, for the second time in four days, was supposed to give Spurs more energy, it backfired. They were overrun.

Richarlison turns in Tottenham’s first goal (AP)

Ange Postecoglou, the unhappiest Liverpool supporter inside Anfield, made a belated impact with a triple change. In particular, the introduction of a former Everton forward did, with Richarlison offering a menace Spurs had lacked until then. The substitute converted Brennan Johnson’s cross. Then Heung-Min Son, who never gave up, sidefooted in from Richarlison’s pass. One Brazilian was forced to make a fine save from another, Alisson denying Richarlison, to prevent it from becoming 4-3.

Then Salah and the substitute Darwin Nunez almost made it five. Klopp’s Liverpool have offered entertainment in abundance, sometimes with a sense of jeopardy, providing the sense anything could happen. The unpredictability and the excitement, as much as the excellence, will be missed.

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