Stars and Duds from Spurs 1-2 Liverpool

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Tottenham Hotspur had almost nothing to offer aside from Lucas Moura, while it’s hard to find a criticism of Liverpool as the Reds cruised to a 2-0 win on Saturday at Wembley Stadium.

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Stars

Virgil Van Dijk — There are times I believe I could keep a clean sheet for Liverpool with the big Dutchman back there. He simply nullifies any cross that isn’t magical, and makes life significantly easier for his center back partner and accompanying fullback.

Sadio Mane As usual, the Senegalese attacker was a pace merchant who caused problems with dribbles and tricks, but on Saturday he also pulled the strings at times in leading the attack. Now should he have conceded a stoppage time penalty kick? Perhaps VAR would’ve moved Mane off our list.

Lucas Moura — If Spurs had a star, it was the Brazilian, who was one of the few players relativley unbothered by the absence of Dele.

Naby Keita — Missing on a 64th minute bid to make it 3-0 almost stopped us short of keeping his name on this list, but he made a first-half star intervention in his own box to keep Spurs from a dangerous chance.

Jurgen Klopp — Opinion alert: Liverpool is a more complete team against possession-oriented squads when Jordan Henderson isn’t included as a key piece. Sitting his captain just after Henderson signed a new contract was a brave and smart move.

Duds

Mauricio Pochettino — Before we lay out Tottenham’s individual player failures, it’s important to note that a few of them were inspired by decisions of Spurs management. Playing Harry Winks wide in place of the injured Dele Alli had the entire unit out of whack and stopped Winks from doing what might’ve helped battle Liverpool’s 4-3-3: actually clogging the middle. That said..

Harry Winks — Better once moved into the middle of the fray, but still gave the ball away cheaply at times. Not a good day even considering he was put in a poor position by Pochettino.

Harry Kane — We know Dele wasn’t out there and Eriksen was playing a bit deeper, but this was not a performance befitting one of the best strikers in the world.

Eric Dier — Just sloppy. Rarely can you fault Dier for effort, which makes it hard to fault him, but he didn’t have his A or B game in the locker today and it was not going to be enough against the Reds.

Three things we learned: Tottenham v. Liverpool

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LONDON — In a battle between two Premier League title contenders, Liverpool proved they’re the real deal and Tottenham showed they are perhaps on the slide this season.

Jurgen Klopp‘s Liverpool were comfortable throughout as they beat Tottenham 2-1 on Saturday at Wembley, with a goal in each half from Georginio Wijnaldum and Roberto Firmino doing the trick. Erik Lamela pulled a goal back but it was too little too late for Mauricio Pochettino‘s sluggish Spurs.

Tottenham have now lost back-to-back PL games and concerns about them sustaining a top four challenge this season are starting to linger.

Here’s what we learned from the clash at Wembley.


LIVERPOOL UNDERLINE TITLE CREDENTIALS

Five wins from five so far this season, and this was the best of the bunch.

Liverpool defended resolutely, dominated midfield and launched searing counter attacks as they beat title rivals Tottenham with ease at Wembley. Klopp’s side set the tone early on, with James Milner, Naby Keita and Georginio Wijnaldum forcing Mousa Dembele, Harry Winks and Eric Dier into several giveaways.

The only question mark remains is about Liverpool’s composure. They had the chance to put the game to bed multiple times but failed to score again on the break and were almost made to pay after Lamela’s late goal, then some pressure from Spurs. Klopp looked frustrated on the sidelines as his team failed to manage the game effectively, but they’d done enough over the course of the 90 minutes to ease to victory.

Liverpool have only started a top-flight season with five victories on two previous occasions (1978-79, 1990-91) and on both occasions they finished in the top two that campaign, winning the title in 1979. There’s still a long way to go but ahead of a pivotal two months where they face Chelsea in the PL and League Cup, Man City in the league and PSG and Napoli and the UEFA Champions League, Liverpool have put down a marker as they continue to lead the Premier League.

Their display at Tottenham proved their early season promise can correctly be converted into talk of a serious, and sustained, title push.


POCH’S CONCERNS COMPOUNDED

Mauricio Pochettino raised plenty of eyebrows when he called out his team for not being at their best in the aftermath of their big win at Manchester United late last month. Prothetic Poch knew exactly what was coming up.

A defeat at Watford arrived just before the international break and Spurs’ sluggish start and finish to the first half handed Liverpool the initiative as Tottenham lost back-to-back PL games for the first time since May 2016.

There are a few factors to explain this sticky patch for Spurs: 1) most of their squad had no preseason and Pochettino’s high-pressing tactics need a rigorous preseason. 2) there is still some uncertainty in the air over their delayed move back to their new White Hart Lane home. 3) injuries to Dele Alli and Hugo Lloris were huge in this loss to Liverpool.

The latter reason is something which will be sorted out in the next few days when Dele and Lloris return. Without the former they lacked a presence between midfield and attack and Harry Kane in particular was isolated. Without Lloris, well, they probably wouldn’t have concede the first goal as Michel Vorm flapped at a corner and couldn’t keep out the header.

The other issues are more difficult to solve. Only three of Spurs’ starting lineup didn’t play in the latter stages of the World Cup this summer and fatigue will continue to creep in over the next few months as the busy Champions League and cup schedule intensifies. Harry Kane once again struggled through and doesn’t look to be at his best.


SALAH QUIET AS FIRMINO, MANE SHINE

Mohamed Salah isn’t quite having a Sophomore slump, but he isn’t the main man right now for Liverpool. And that’s great news for Klopp. So often last season Liverpool ran out of ideas if Salah wasn’t on form.

With the Egyptian star feeling his way into the new season with just two goals to his name so far, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino carried the threat against Spurs.

The former didn’t score but opened up so much space behind Tottenham’s usually stout defensive line. He took a little too much time to supply a finish or a pass for his teammates on a few breakaways, but Mane’s pace caused all kinds of problems and his cross led to Firmino’s goal.

As for the Brazilian striker, he continues to almost, quite amazingly, fly under the radar. He looked sharp throughout with his twists and turns and almost flicked home twice in the opening two minutes.

Mane and Firmino are carrying Liverpool’s main offensive threat right now but the good news for Klopp is that Salah is just getting warmed up.

Liverpool waltz past Spurs

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  • GDS helps Liverpool to lead
  • Spurs poor, missing Dele
  • Firmino, Wiljnaldum score

Liverpool passed its first Top Four test of the year in style with a 2-1 win over Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley Stadium on Saturday.

Georginio Wijnaldum and Roberto Firmino scored the goals for the Reds, who moved to 5-0 on the young season and kicked off a run of tricky fixtures with a loss.

Dele Alli and Hugo Lloris were unavailable for for Spurs, who got a stoppage time goal from Erik Lamela.

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Liverpool had two phenomenal chances in the first 20 minutes of the match, one denied by the officials and the second by Michel Vorm.

Then Eric Dier made a terrible back pass that served as a delightful through ball for Mohamed Salah, but Vorm stayed back in his goal and saved a left-footed effort.

Christian Eriksen‘s cutback to Lucas Moura was denied by a sliding Naby Keita in the 27th minute. The Dane then ripped a free kick that Alisson Becker collected with a dip to his right.

Substandard passing often betrayed both teams’ fantastic energy, nerves possibly playing a role in the Top Four clash.

Liverpool went ahead with the help of Goal Decision System, as Vorm’s two-handed slap of Wijnaldum’s header off a 39th minute corner just crossed the line.

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Joe Gomez opened the door for lively Lucas Moura early in the second half, but Alisson saved the deflected shot.

Another poor giveaway, this one by Mousa Dembele, forced Vorm into a fine save on Sadio Mane (who might’ve wanted to make one more pass).

Lucas cooked Gomez and Trent Alexander-Arnold before zipping a shot off the near post in the 50th minute.

Firmino doubled Liverpool’s lead in the 54th minute as Spurs faltered badly down their right side. Jan Vertonghen‘s sliding diversion was saved of an own goal by the post, but Firmino scored one of the closest range goals possible.

Vorm saved Spurs from a 3-0 deficit when Liverpool earned a 3v2 break in the 64th minute.

Eriksen’s hard, tight cross could only be flicked wide by Kane three minutes later.

Firmino left the match with an apparent head injury in the 73rd minute.

Lamela brought gave Spurs a breath of life in the third minute of stoppage time when he volleyed home.

Now should Mane have conceded a stoppage time penalty kick? VAR would’ve awarded it to Spurs, that’s almost certain, but the video is not in play for the Premier League this season and Mane’s clip of Heung-Min Son‘s heel in the box was not noticed by Michael Oliver.

Key battles for Tottenham vs. Liverpool

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Tottenham Hotspur host Liverpool on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and NBCSports.com) in a battle of last season’s third- and fourth-place finishers jockeying for the right to make a genuine challenge to Manchester City’s stranglehold on the Premier League title.

[ MORE: Premier League preview: Tottenham Hotspur vs. Liverpool ]

Tottenham were victorious at Wembley Stadium — site of Saturday’s clash — to the tune of 4-1 last October, courtesy of a Harry Kane brace and single goals from Dele Alli and Son Heung-min, before the two sides played to a memorable 2-2 draw at Anfield in February.

Three points for the home side would see Spurs pull level to the Reds on 12 points, while an away win would open the gap between Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino‘s to six points.


Harry Kane vs. Virgil Van Dijk

It’s the world most expensive defender taking on the center forward who would likely command the largest transfer should he hit the market. That’s blockbuster stuff, and rightly so as both Kane and Van Dijk so nearly have every quality you’d expect to see from the ideal player in their respective positions. Kane possesses the size, strength, hold-up and passing ability, craftiness and finishing touch to put any half-chance into the back of the net. Van Dijk, on the other hand, can engage Kane in the kind of physical battle that’s most likely to wear him out over 90 minutes, while simultaneously sticking right alongside him in the open field. Kane won’t often find himself too far from Van Dijk on Saturday, which could mean he’s in for a long, hard day.


Danny Rose or Ben Davis vs. Mohamed Salah

Pochettino has a big choice to make at left (wing) back — as is the case nearly every time out. Typically blessed with a pair of options which offer a night-and-day contrast to one another, Salah is the rare instance of an opponent for whom the Spurs boss truly needs a more well-rounded option. Rose’s attacking tendencies fit part of one gameplan that says the best way to defend Salah is to pin him back by overlapping on his side, but his lack of defensive discipline will almost certainly see him caught out of position a number of times, for which Salah will surely punish him. Davies’ defensive discipline will keep him in the right spots to at least slow Salah and make him work, but his lack of range and inability to change direction won’t allow him to stay in front of the Egyptian — not to mention all of the wide attacking play Spurs lose when he’s picked over Rose, thus inviting constant pressure on the backline as a whole.


Mousa Dembele vs. Naby Keita

Dembele is the soccer equivalent of American football’s “downhill runner”: the type of player who needs the first step or two to be unimpeded in order to generate a bit of moment, who’s then nearly impossible to slow down or take the ball off him once he begins to barrel forward. In his six-plus seasons at Spurs, Dembele has singlehandedly dragged his side to victory on dozens of days, while he’s been rendered completely ineffective on just as many others. It’s tempting to make Eric Dier — who’s far less comfortable and dynamic with the ball at his feet — the target of a press, but it’s Dembele who can be slowed to a crawl and subsequently blunt the entire Spurs attack. Keita will again be the one tasked with triggering the Reds’ high press, and he should made to stick on Dembele from the first to final whistles.

Shaw, Gomez, McCarthy in latest England squad

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Gareth Southgate has called his first England roster since this summer’s successful World Cup run, with a few changes to the pack.

Manchester United left back Luke Shaw has earned his long-sought Three Lions recall, while Alex McCarthy of Southampton is the lone uncapped player on the 23-man list.

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James Tarkowski of Burnley is in the fold, taking the place of retired Gary Cahill. Manchester United’s Ashley Young and Phil Jones are absent, with Liverpool’s Joe Gomez among the defenders.

Southgate also had this very interesting quote regarding the challenges of an deeply international Premier League:

“I can’t rule out players in the Championship now as our pool is getting smaller and smaller.”

A wink to Jack Grealish or Nick Powell, perhaps, as well as an explanation for the inclusion of Stoke backstop Jack Butland.

Goalkeepers: Jack Butland (Stoke City), Alex McCarthy (Southampton), Jordan Pickford (Everton).

Defenders: Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Joe Gomez (Liverpool), Harry Maguire (Leicester City), Danny Rose (Tottenham Hotspur), Luke Shaw (Manchester United), John Stones (Manchester City), James Tarkowski (Burnley), Kieran Trippier (Tottenham Hotspur), Kyle Walker (Manchester City).

Midfielders: Dele Alli (Tottenham Hotspur), Fabian Delph (Manchester City), Eric Dier (Tottenham Hotspur), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Adam Lallana (Liverpool), Jesse Lingard (Manchester United), Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Chelsea).

Forwards: Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United),  Raheem Sterling (Manchester City), Danny Welbeck (Arsenal).