Liverpool appear real deal as familiar failings torment Tottenham

LONDON — Three points from Wembley on Tottenham 1-2 Liverpool in the Premier League on Saturday afternoon.

1. Liverpool maintain perfect start as Spurs slump

Liverpool extended their flawless start to the Premier League season by claiming a fifth successive league win to beat Tottenham at Wembley and record their best start to a campaign for 28 years.

Jurgen Klopp’s men have now emulated Kenny Dalglish’s 1990-91 team by winning their first five games, but as Arsenal ended that season as champions, history also serves to offer a reminder that Liverpool will still face challenges ahead.

But after losing 4-1 at Wembley last season, Liverpool avenged that defeat with goals from Georginio Wijnaldum and Roberto Firmino either side of half-time. Erik Lamela’s injury-time strike was scant consolation for a Tottenham side who slumped to back-to-back defeats.

The victory underlines Liverpool’s billing as the most likely challengers to reigning champions Manchester City this term, but having started the season with three wins, Spurs are now a team searching for answers. They could and should have suffered a heavier defeat. In the end, they were perhaps unlucky not to have a chance to level in the dying seconds, following a possible foul on Son Heung-Min by Sadio Mane in the penalty area. Liverpool, the unluckiest team in the league last season in ESPN’s Luck Index , escaped, but a draw would have been harsh as they dominated and looked more dangerous from the outset. Spurs were unable to cope with the pace of the visitors’ counter-attacks.

Perhaps early-season fatigue is becoming a factor for Spurs, whose starting lineup included seven players who reached the semifinals of the World Cup this summer.

Liverpool, in contrast, had just one member of their starting lineup who endured a similarly draining World Cup, and that was Trent Alexander-Arnold.

But regardless of the mitigating factors, Spurs were second best from start to finish, with defensive mistakes costing Mauricio Pochettino’s team for both goals.

On this evidence, Spurs face another season of disappointment in the title race, but Liverpool are unquestionably the real deal.

2. Tottenham troubled by set pieces

When Wijnaldum headed Liverpool ahead in the 39th minute, it was the fifth goal conceded by Spurs in the Premier League this season — all of them headers.

The home side could argue that goalkeeper Michel Vorm was crowded out by Virgil van Dijk in his attempt to get the initial ball at the near post, but it wasn’t a foul, and Spurs still had time to deal with the second ball before Wijnaldum headed it in.

The goal was another bad one to concede, and Spurs can have no excuses, because conceding as they did has become a recurring theme.

Pochettino, as a former centre-half, will be furious about the repeated failure of his defenders to deal with aerial balls in the penalty area.

But when you consider that Spurs possess two of the most highly rated centre-backs in the Premier League in Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld, it doesn’t stack up that they have become so vulnerable when defending crosses and set-pieces.

The two Belgian defenders both had lapses of concentration in this game, yet in other moments, they lived up to their billing as two of the best around.

But defending set-pieces is a basic requirement for a defender, and they were founding wanting once again.

As for Liverpool’s second goal, that was a comedy of errors which highlighted the uncertainty at the back, with Vertonghen diverting a cross on to the post before Vorm allowed the rebound to slip through his fingers.

3. International break distorts title race

It is a regular complaint of Premier League managers that international breaks deny them any kind of preparation time with their players ahead of the game which immediately follows them.

Many players do not return to their clubs until late Thursday or early Friday, and they are then expected to go straight back into action on the Saturday or Sunday in the Premier League.

Clearly, international players cannot be given the weekend off in such circumstances, but surely it would be wise to ensure that such important fixtures as Tottenham vs. Liverpool are not scheduled on the back of an international break?

These are the games that can prove decisive in the race for the title, so it distorts the competition to have them take place when the two managers and sets of players have barely had time to practice a set-piece in the build-up.

And for the sake of the spectacle, the Premier League would also benefit from this type of fixture being played without both sides having to juggle their squads because of the draining effects of travelling the globe that international football can have on their players.

There is a similar big six clash next month, when Chelsea face Manchester United at lunchtime on Oct. 20 after the next round of international games.

The Premier League may believe that such scheduling helps the competition reclaim the spotlight after the internationals, but fans want to see the best teams go head-to-head in the best possible condition.


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