(written by Callum Owen)
On Wednesday night, Liverpool returned to winning ways in the Premier League, cruising to a 3-1 victory over Tottenham Hotspur.
VAR was on display, disallowing an early opener for Tottenham and a Mo Salah goal for the visitors, in the second half.
A cagey first-half was concluded with a Roberto Firmino goal, Liverpool’s first in the Premier League in 2021.
Trent Alexander-Arnold capitalised on a Hugo Lloris error, before Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s wonder-strike gave the hosts hope.
Eventually, Sadio Mane would restore Liverpool’s two-goal advantage, confirming all three points would return to Merseyside.
Liverpool’s terrific trio
Whisper it, but Liverpool’s front three seem to be back in business.
In short, all three members of the attack were fantastic on Thursday night.
Mo Salah looked to be a threat all evening with a possibly harsh handball, spotted by VAR in the build-up to what would’ve been Liverpool’s third goal of the evening, all that denied Salah from being on the scoresheet.
Sadio Mane was relentless, as always, tirelessly working on Liverpool’s left flank all evening and was rewarded in the second half with a goal.
However, the star man in Liverpool’s attack was Roberto Firmino. The Brazilian was sublime for the Reds. He was key in chance creation, creating three big chances for his attacking team-mates. Firmino, as always when on form, provided a link between Liverpool’s midfield and the attack, dropping in deep in the gap between the forwards and the midfield.
This is why Firmino is so important for Liverpool, and why Jurgen Klopp continues to favour the Brazilian, even in bad form.
When on-form, Firmino is the most important member of the front three. He makes Liverpool tick, he links the different thirds of the pitch together, he creates chances, and whilst criticised for his number of goals, he will still contribute – especially against Tottenham, this being his third goal in his previous three games against Spurs.
Liverpool’s lack of centre-backs
If there wasn’t before, there is now absolutely no reason why Liverpool shouldn’t bring in defensive cover this window and it is completely baffling as to why Liverpool haven’t made a move for a centre-back so far in January.
Virgil Van Dijk and Joe Gomez are still suffering from long-term injuries, so we’ll take them out of the equation.
That leaves Liverpool with Joel Matip, Fabinho, Nat Philips, Rhys Williams and, if needed, Jordan Henderson and there are various problems with this list.
Firstly, Joel Matip, whilst being a solid and dependable centre-back, is injury prone, there is no way that fact can be denied. Proof of this being? He was replaced during the Spurs game, after sustaining ankle ligament damage, with Jurgen Klopp saying: “It looks like something serious with Joel Matip”.
So, one down.
The next issue being Fabinho, he missed the Spurs game due to a ‘minor injury’, most likely muscle fatigue, due to the fact he has been required to play almost all of Liverpool’s minutes when fit, in the less familiar centre-back position. A major injury to Fabinho would all but end Liverpool’s slim title hopes, so they must be able to rest him.
With Nathaniel Philips and Rhys Williams, both are young and inexperienced, and, whilst talented, they aren’t ready to be at the heart of a title-winning defence, especially not without an experienced partner.
Finally, Jordan Henderson, not a natural centre-back, is massively missed in Liverpool’s midfield, and shouldn’t be relied upon in Liverpool’s defence.
In the final days of this transfer window, one thing is abundantly clear, Liverpool MUST sign a centre-back, whether on loan or not.
For Liverpool, a major positive from this game was Trent Alexander-Arnold’s strong performance. Trent has had a tough season so far, not hitting the levels that he is capable of, and was strongly criticised following the Burnley defeat. However, based on Thursday’s performance, again, whisper it, he could be back.
In terms of stats, Trent contributed, one goal and one assist, he had 53 accurate passes – amounting to a pass success of 85%, further creating two chances. However, what was maybe most important, Trent looked confident, for the first time in a while.
Regardless of the reason for his poor form, possible ‘long-Covid’ or just simply a dip in performance, Trent has lacked the confidence – in an unconfident Liverpool side – so, if he can restore confidence, this could be a sign of things to come from the young right-back.
For Tottenham, the midfield duo of Hojbjerg and Tanguy Ndombele were the shining lights in a tough evening.
Hojbjerg, along with his goal, completed 89 passes, with a success rate of 88%. Additionally, winning 7 out of 13 duels and making 13 recoveries for a Spurs side who were second best on the evening.
Ndombele also performed strongly, completing 51 passes (85% success rate), winning six out of his eight duels, also completing three successful dribbles on three attempts.
The Frenchmen was a driving force for Spurs, bringing the side forward in an all-action midfield. His partnership with Hojbjerg is promising to become one of the leagues best.
Following the result, it seems Tottenham’s incredibly slim title chances, have now all but vanished. The objective now will turn to attempting to securing Champions League football, as well as facing Manchester City in the delayed Carabao Cup final in April.
For Liverpool, this result could be the result which revives their title hopes. The Reds now sit fourth in the table, four points off leaders Manchester City, who have a game in hand.
If Liverpool can put together a strong string of performances, thus finding the ruthless consistency which helped them to last years crown, then they will find themselves in the title race, and what a race it promises to be.