Klopp’s men made to suffer by Kane-Son express | Barney Ronay
With 56 minutes gone, as the sky began to fade from powder blue to black, Emerson Royal pumped a hopeful pass into the empty air above the roof-lights, seeking out Harry Kane, who craned his neck, adjusting his feet, reading the arc.
At that point the game seemed to fall apart a little. For almost an hour this had been a close, stifling game. Just before half-time Liverpool had applied one of those periods of surge-football, where they seem to be playing out of the same red mist, winning the ball back repeatedly, forcing the Spurs players to sweat and puff and turn a little dizzy.
But suddenly there was space. Trent Alexander-Arnold dawdled. Kane killed the ball on the bounce and surging infield, feeling that inbuilt two-way radar start to twang, registering that familiar figure up ahead. Kane and Son. This is not a partnership. It is a deep and meaningful commitment. It’s fireworks.
The ball was nudged on to Ryan Sessegnon, making a fine run outside. And by now that pressure was gone. The shapes were clear, the angles set. Sessegnon produced the perfect cutback and Son Heung-min was there to tap it into the net, reward for a relentless, fearless performance.
And in that moment the season began to turn a little. This was always a high-stakes game: another peg in that unforgiving title run-in, and for Spurs a treacherous step in their own pursuit of fourth place.
The top line will be two points dropped by Liverpool. They are now reliant on Manchester City losing one or drawing two. It will surely go right to the end but with an edge now, a feeling that City can find some clear blue air in this race.
But the story of the night was Tottenham, and a sense of transformation. Liverpool were a level below their high-throttle best. But Spurs achieved something remarkable in its own right. They didn’t look like Spurs. They looked a modern, aggressive, well-drilled team. They defended with rigour. And in Son they had not just the most potent attacker on the pitch, but the Premier League player of the second half of the season.
What a footballer he is. And what a conundrum too, that strangest of things in a sport where every detail is relentlessly hyped, fawned over, puffed to absurd degrees of ultimacy, Goat-dom, celebrification. Somehow, in the middle of all this, in Son we have a player who is underrated, just a little.
The numbers are sensational. Son has nine goals in his last seven Premier League games, at a time when the season is narrowing to a cold, hard point. Is there a more complete ball-carrying attacker around at the moment? Son’s range is stunning. He can run 60 yards with the ball, as he did here just after half-time, surging through the centre, thrumming that super smooth automatic gearbox out of traffic, veering left, able to switch feet and jink even as his muscles start to burn. He can play the short game too, combining in small spaces, finding angles and triangles. He can finish. He can pass. He can shoot from distance.
Watching him play like this against the Champions League finalists, it is hard to see why there is never any talk about the Son move, the Son step up, the Son mega-bid. We know about the Kane talk. But why does it stop there? Why does it seem so hard to pick out the blur of speed and precision alongside him, playing off each other like two men roped together on a mountain. Son is two goals behind Mo Salah for the Premier League golden boot now. Antonio Conte deserves credit for harnessing his skill-set, the mobility, the passing, the finishing, if only because Son is so good at this now, and so consistent in his levels.
But given a week to prepare, Spurs were ready. Conte had come to Anfield in navy blue smart casual and white soled dad-trainers, like a man on his way to the yacht club drinks. For much of the first half he pranced and whirled, kept urging his players to look upfield, pointing to the flanks, pointing to possibilities, half-seen passes.
And the sharp edge of this game was always likely to be the interaction between Tottenham’s chief weapon, the Son-Kane express, and Liverpool’s daringly high defensive line. They sprang the trap for the first time on six minutes, Kane and Son combining ominously down the left. Spurs’ wide players were causing problems, Royal and Sessegnon hugging the touchline as Liverpool’s full-backs flew upfield or came inside.
The first tremors of anxiety hit around the half-hour mark. Spurs looked solid. They resisted as Liverpool produced a spell of all-out, bespoke Klopp-era pressure. Luis Díaz would equalise, deservedly, with 74 minutes gone.
But this was a huge result for Tottenham. It means they are now a point up on their expected total. A draw against Arsenal would be a decent enough result. They will feel they can hold the balance of play against anyone.
Conte has seemed to be on the verge of leaving ever since he arrived. Watching this it felt as though he might just be on his way to creating something of substance.