When Harry Met Salah

Victor Wanyama

It was almost written in the stars that, having scored ridiculously early against Man. Utd. on Wednesday, we would concede very early to Liverpool on Sunday. And so it came to pass. I just didn’t quite expect the defence-splitting pass in question to be from Dier, who seems to be appearing a bit too often at the scene of the crime when we play another top six team away from home for my liking these days. On the back of such a good performance against Man. Utd. – complete domination apart from a tricky 10 minutes after we scored and a chance for Lukaku later that was well-saved by Lloris – I had hoped that we would continue in the same vein and, at the very least, not shoot ourselves in the foot so early. We also gave it to the player most Spurs fans would vote the man they least want to see one-on-one with Lloris and, predictably, he did what he is making a habit of doing. I think it’s fair to say, though, no-one would have – could have – predicted the end of the game. The Spurs player most Liverpool fans would vote the man they least want to see lining up a penalty fluffed his lines, then Salah bettered Harry by beating three players and clipping it over Lloris, then Harry redeemed himself and Klopp’s blood pressure left the building. Both sets of fans, both managers, both sets of players, particularly Harry and Salah, all put through the emotional wringer and then left to drip down the emotional drain.

Let’s get the negatives out of the way first. We had a golden opportunity to improve our poor away form against the other top six contenders and, though the weird interpretation of what is offside presented that opportunity – surely, if the law still applies that you are offside if seeking to gain advantage when the ball is played forward by a team-mate, a slight nick off the toe of a stretching defender should be irrelevant – we blew it. I’ve always thought that the ‘hitting the ball straight down the middle’ school of penalty-taking is risky and that more keepers – not least our own, who invariably dives early and in the wrong direction when faced with penalties – ought to try just standing there more often. When, as in this case, it works, the taker looks ridiculous. And, when, thus reprieved, Liverpool get into our box for what seemed like the first time in the second half, into injury time, three defenders had a case of the collective jitters and Lloris, in an inversion of what keepers are usually supposed to do when one-on-one, actually seemed to succeed in making himself look smaller (as, indeed, he seemed to do with his hesitation coming off the line for the first). So, from elation at thinking we were going to get a deserved victory to dejection and anger, thinking we were facing certain, and undeserved, defeat, in a matter of minutes.

And then came the second penalty. I think the linesman was exceptionally brave and, most importantly, absolutely right. I cannot understand what the debate has been about. Some sports writers have angered me in seemingly thinking along Klopp’s lines, i.e. that, somehow, Erik Lamela ‘being clever’ in putting himself between Van Dijk and the ball and getting a kick in the arse for his pains doesn’t warrant a penalty, or makes it a ‘soft’ one. It doesn’t matter that Van Dijk was looking at the ball and hoping to volley it away – he volleyed the player and got nowhere near the ball. That is generally how penalties are conceded. And, once the row settled, I confidently sat back on my sofa shouting at the TV, ‘Oh God, Harry’s going to miss this one, just watch, aaaaargh…..’ But, bless him, Harry didn’t miss. ‘Big cojones’, as Pocchettino said.

It was, as any neutral would surely concede, the least Spurs deserved from that game. In the second half, I can barely recall Liverpool getting anywhere near our box before Salah’s second. We looked like the home team and the home fans were getting edgier by the minute. When Wanyama – possibly the least likely candidate for such a brilliant long-range strike– hit that equaliser we were so much on top that I thought we would go on and win it. It wasn’t to be but the way we fought back twice from adversity bodes well for the rest of the season.

It’s perhaps ironic that, over two of our best performances of the season, Harry hasn’t looked anywhere near his sharpest. Had he been, he would have scored at least one against United and, if we’d got to three up I think we could have run riot and hit four or five. But he doesn’t hide and showed his mettle with the second penalty. Hopefully, the coming Arsenal game will get him back firing on all cylinders and the rest of the team will continue to play as they have been. On that subject, I must confess to, yet again, getting it wrong on one of our players. Two or three games ago I felt that Dembele was basically past it and destined for a peripheral role here on in. Two barnstorming performances later, I’ve totally revised that opinion. As for Dele Alli, he’s beginning to play better again but I haven’t revised my view about one aspect of his play; diving is bad enough, but to dive when you still have a chance to get a shot on target is unforgiveable. If he doesn’t cut out the diving, he could end up with another suspension and missing out on genuine penalties (e.g. as in Man. Utd. game) because his reputation precedes him every time he gets in the box. If it had been him kicked up the arse instead of Lamela, I seriously doubt whether we would have got the penalty.

Anyway, Arsenal up next and a win against them, good at the worst of times, will make it a great week. With Chelsea now imploding (what the hell is going on there?), we have a real chance of at least third place if we keep playing like this. COYS.

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