“Without a doubt, it’s a good time to play Liverpool.” – Niko Kranjcar
“They’re struggling a little at the moment, we’ll go there full of confidence.” – Michael Dawson
“It’s the Big Three this season.” – Tottenham Hotspur fan Dave Tickner on the official Liverpool website.
Not exactly tub-thumping, chest-beating arrogance from the Spurs camp – indeed, many Liverpool supporters would have agreed with the above comments prior to their meeting with Tottenham on Wednesday night – but there appeared to be a general feeling amongst the knowledgeable football public that all Spurs had to do was to turn up at Anfield and they’d easily win. As the night unfolded, that belief couldn’t have been more wrong.
As we discussed earlier in the week, the Reds had rediscovered some of their lost pride, character and determination in the weekend draw at Stoke – something ignored by those who just wanted to concentrate on the result – and those three qualities were on show in abundance on Wednesday night. Everyone, from captain Jamie Carragher right down to those on the back row of the Kop (and indeed the other three stands, who rarely get a mention) simply wanted this victory more than Spurs. That they got it was down to a collective effort, the kind of which Liverpool have been producing for decades. It was as though everyone had had enough of the ridicule. ‘Scouse solidarity’ as one banner on the Kop put it. This wasn’t about Rafael Benitez, American ownership, or even about Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres, this was about a team effort to get Liverpool back to winning ways, back to normality and back in the hunt for the top positions in the table. There was a European night-type atmosphere at Anfield, and it played its part in a victory that could prove as vital as any this season. Liverpool are now, after all, just a point behind Tottenham, a team who have been lauded this season while the Reds have laboured. The Reds could be fourth as early as Tuesday night.
One man who certainly didn’t labour was Dirk Kuyt, the self-effacing, unselfish, selfless ever-present in this Liverpool team. Thrown upfront by his manager, the Dutchman’s terrific early finish immediately washed away all thoughts of Torres – and even of Kenwyne Jones, who the club wanted in time for this fixture and retain a real hope of signing. Kuyt’s class was so vital in settling any nerves that were apparent in the build up to the game, and suddenly Liverpool’s players were charging around the pitch with a new sense of belief. Carragher was bombing down the right flank, Philipp Degen discovered a surprising extra 10 yards of pace, Albert Riera was such a menace that Vedran Corluka had to go off, presumably dizzy, Sotirios Kyrgiakos and Martin Skrtel were solid, while Alberto Aquilani seemed to enjoy himself on an English football pitch for the first time – his flicks, tricks and clever incisive passing were a main feature of the first half, although he did fade in the second.
The major talking point of that second half was the decision to disallow a Jermain Defoe goal in front of the Kop. There are far too many issues to talk about in the whole offside debate for this writer to do it justice here, but it is safe to say that the Spurs forward was certainly gaining an advantage by standing in a vastly offside position when the ball reached the feet of Krygiakos, and as legendary Spurs manager Bill Nicholson once said: “If he’s not interfering with play, then what is he doing on the pitch?” That debate can wait, however, as Liverpool enjoy the feeling of an important win in an important game for the next few days. The victory now means that the Reds have beaten Spurs and Aston Villa in recent weeks, having lost to the same opposition in two of their first three games of the season. If it’s a sign that the tide is turning then it’s a welcome one, and observers may be surprised to note that the Reds currently sit third in the Premier League’s form table, with exactly the same results (and in the same order) as Manchester United over the last six games. The doom and gloom isn’t as doomed and gloomy as many think.
Reading ensured that there is no game for Liverpool to look forward to this weekend, with eyes now turning to Molineux for a tough test on Tuesday. If the Stoke game set a precedent for effort and commitment, then the victory over Spurs showed that it can be combined with strong, winning football too. A benchmark has been set.