Having delivered a masterclass against Manchester City in February to seal a stunning stoppage-time win at the Etihad Stadium, Tottenham came oh so close to inflicting even more misery on the Premier League’s best on Saturday evening. Making the trip to Anfield to take on Jurgen Klopp’s Champions League finalists, Antonio Conte’s men looked on course for another famous victory until Luis Diaz struck 16 minutes from time.
Leading courtesy of Son Heung-min’s simple finish after a swift break, Liverpool had upped the pressure on the Lilywhites but Hugo Lloris had very little to do in front of the Kop until he had to pick the ball out of his net. With Spurs having plenty of numbers in their own box as they looked to ensure there was no way through for the Reds, Diaz’s strike from outside the area deflected off Rodrigo Bentancur and unfortunately found its way into the bottom corner.
Looking like there was only going to be one winner after that with Liverpool pushing for maximum points in their title challenge, Spurs should have won it at the death with the unmarked Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg choosing to head the ball to Harry Kane rather than going for goal from point-blank range. Whether that decision proves costly or not will be determined at the end of the season.
While all the focus is ultimately on this season at present and Tottenham trying to secure that final Champions League place, their performance at Anfield has given a taste of what’s to come next campaign providing Conte remains in north London. Countless teams in the Premier League have been torn to shreds by both Man City and Liverpool this season, with both in a league of their own and way ahead of the rest, yet Spurs have caused both huge issues that could prove pivotal in where exactly the title ends up come the final day.
Securing an opening day win over City during Nuno Espirito Santo’s tenure and triumphing 3-2 at the Etihad six months later, the Lilywhites drew 2-2 with Liverpool in their first meeting of the term before sharing the spoils once again on Saturday evening. Conte has a clear plan in place when he comes up against the Premier League’s best and his team have delivered it to perfection in his three games against them.
What had ultimately let Spurs down, however, is defeats against the likes of Southampton, Wolves and Burnley in February, with April’s loss against Brighton & Hove Albion and the draw at Brentford the reason they sit in fifth and not in the top four with three games remaining. Tottenham can take plenty of positives since the start of February, though, and a couple of tweaks here and there as well as some more quality additions can really see them kick on in 2022/23.
Klopp didn’t have it all his own way immediately after his arrival on Merseyside but he has taken Liverpool to new heights, something Tottenham fans are desperate for their head coach to mirror over the coming years. It really says something about how far the team have come under Conte in recent months that he noticed in the dressing room after the draw that he could see the disappointment in their eyes.
“On one hand I think we have to be satisfied because it is not easy to play in this moment against an amazing team, especially at Anfield with an amazing atmosphere and a lot of noise. It’s not simple,” said the Italian in his post-match press conference. “Against Liverpool, to see Liverpool players running and have a lot of energy despite playing every three days is incredible. I think that they’re deserving everything they are reaching this season.
“For sure for this reason too, to have a good result was positive on one hand. On the other I think maybe we have to be a bit disappointed, and I can see it in the eyes of my players at the end of the game. A bit of disappointment because we had the chances to win, to win the game, especially the last time.
“It was an incredible chance but I repeat, good performance. I asked of my players to be good defensively and I think we didn’t concede to Liverpool any chances. We conceded from a deflection. At the same time I asked for them to be brave, with courage, because Liverpool in every game are going to press you in a strong way.
“If we are prepared and you’ve studied the way to overcome this pressure, you can find a lot of space to attack and to create problems for Liverpool. When this happened we created the chances to score, but I think the draw was fair.”
Hitting a new level under the guidance of Conte, Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy must do all he can to convince the 52-year-old that Tottenham Hotspur Stadium is the place for him to be in 2022/23. Whether Spurs do indeed miss out on a Champions League spot or not over the next fortnight, Tottenham fans have seen at Anfield and the Etihad Stadium that next campaign can be an extremely exciting one with Conte at the helm.
If Spurs can indeed iron out those bumps in the road they’ve suffered in recent months and Fabio Paratici makes some more quality additions after such a successful January, Klopp and Pep Guardiola may find themselves looking over their shoulder. It may not be disappointment in the eyes of Tottenham players at full-time the next time they visit Anfield.