This was one of the most comprehensive victories of the season, inflicted on the home team, who have pretentions of Champions League qualification, by the visitors, who want the same thing, but who had not won away since September, and were missing their captain.
It is difficult to measure whether this owed more to Liverpool’s excellence or Spurs’ poverty but Brendan Rodgers could only have been delighted with his players’ skill, intensity and application.
Although three of the goals came in the final 15 minutes, against 10 men, the score-line was a fair reflection of the whole game. Liverpool tore into Spurs throughout, making chance after chance. Simon Mignolet did not have a save to make.
Luis Suarez, as ever, was the star, scoring two and making two others, and giving Spurs a lesson in the value of keeping hold of one world-class player rather than trying to replace him with many merely good ones. Spurs, four months into the season now, still look like a team of strangers, and yesterday they were abject across the pitch. There was no organisation in defence, no control in midfield and no threat up front. Andre Villas-Boas, yet again, will have to rip up the team and pick a new one for West Ham’s arrival in the League Cup on Wednesday.
While Tottenham continued their dizzying rotation, Liverpool made just one change from their blitzing of West Ham United last weekend, Lucas Leiva replaced the injured Steven Gerrard. Spurs still do not know their best side but Liverpool looked like a very coherent unit, playing the sort of quick, incisive, assertive football to which Villas-Boas aspires.
Suarez, of course, first broke through Spurs, but Raheem Sterling made it immediately clear that Liverpool would not be polite guests here. Stationed on the right of Liverpool’s front three, Sterling soon realised that he was faster and sharper than Spurs left-back Kyle Naughton, beating him three times in the first 15 minutes, drawing free-kicks and lacing panic in the Tottenham back-line.
It is bad luck that so many of Spurs’ better defenders are injured, but they ought to have a better option at left-back than Naughton, even with Danny Rose still recovering and Jan Vertonghen still on crutches. Naughton came off for Ezekiel Fryers at half-time. Etienne Capoue and Michael Dawson, the thrown-together torn-apart centre-back pairing, had no respite.
So it was no surprise when, 18 minutes in, Suarez put Liverpool ahead. Dropping deep into space, he played an incisive pass forward for Henderson’s run. Dawson slid in to tackle and the ball rolled loose. Suarez, with his instant instincts, charged forward, Henderson touched it to him, Suarez skipped past Capoue’s desperate lunge and found the bottom corner.
Liverpool, sensing their chance in the gaping spaces behind Spurs’ defence, speeded up. Sterling put Suarez in behind, with Capoue sleeping again, only for Hugo Lloris to get enough on Suarez’s chance. Suarez pulled the ball back to Philippe Coutinho, whose shot into the ground hit the bar.
A long Martin Skrtel clearance brought Lloris out, but his header was poor, Suarez reached the ball first but uncharacteristically turned down the chance to score. He waited too long, Lloris got back into position and the moment was gone.
Liverpool need not have worried. Five minutes before the interval they had their second after another move that was just too quick for Spurs’ slow, flat stranded defence. Sterling played a brilliant diagonal pass to Coutinho on the left, whose lay-off was perfection. Henderson shot, Lloris came out to save, Suarez shot, Lloris scrambled back to save, but when Henderson picked it up again Lloris could not stop him making it 2-0.
Spurs were limited to flickers, with Roberto Soldado missing two half-chances in the box before having a goal understandably disallowed two minutes before the break, after pushing Mignolet in the back on the edge of the box.
There needed to be a radical improvement after the interval – the scoreline flattered Spurs – and, had Soldado not fired over in the first minute of the second-half, it might have been a different game. But Liverpool soon re-asserted their control, and could have scored their third far sooner than they did. Coutinho had a shot deflected wide before Mamadou Sakho headed against the post from inches underneath the cross-bar.
The marginal possibility of a Spurs come-back evaporated with 30 minutes left when Paulinho planted his foot in Suarez’s chest and was sent off. Two minutes earlier Villas-Boas had, quite understandably, made his final change, replacing Mousa Dembélé with Andros Townsend. Now he was left with Lewis Holtby and Nacer Chadli in central midfield for the final third of the match.
Suarez and Coutinho missed chances, but both were involved in making the third for an unlikely team-mate. Coutinho rolled the ball down the channel to Henderson, on another forward charge, and he reached the by-line and back-heeled it to Suarez. His chipped cross was perfect and Jon Flanagan, the 20-year-old left-back, was there at the far post, volleying his first goal for the club in off the underside of the bar and gleefully charging over to the away fans.
It was not easy before, it was very simple now, Spurs’ 10 tired men providing little resistance as Liverpool revelled in one of the greatest away wins for years. Suarez soon scored his second – his eighth in three games, his 17th in 11 – taking a pass from substitute Luis Alberto, facing no challenge, and lifting it with the outside of his right over Lloris from the edge of the box.
Suarez even turned down a chance of a hat-trick with two minutes left, choosing instead to roll the ball through to Sterling, who did not have any difficulty scoring Liverpool’s fifth.
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