Liverpool moved back into second place in the Premier League with an emphatic 5-0 victory on Sunday over a woeful Tottenham Hostpur at White Hart Lane. In a match between two sides chasing Champions League football for next season, it was a match that could have powerful consequences for both.
Liverpool were switched on from the start and had far too much for a shambolic Spurs in all areas. The performances of Luis Suarez and Jordan Henderson were key, with Tottenham unable to cope with the former’s movement and quality and the latter’s energy and intelligent running from deep. Both were fittingly on target to put Liverpool two goals to the good at the break.
Already having received resounding boos at the interval, Tottenham’s feint hints at a revival were halted when Paulinho was deservedly sent off following a high challenge on Suarez. Liverpool took advantage and goals from John Flanagan, a second for Suarez and one for the impressive Raheem Sterling late on reflected the gulf between the sides.
In the absence of Steven Gerrard and Daniel Sturridge, Liverpool’s performance was everything that manager Brendan Rodgers could have asked for. The Merseysiders were solid at the back, well balanced in midfield and, with one of the world’s great players in Suarez, devastating going forward. Hunger also oozed through their side.
The contrasts couldn’t be sharper with Tottenham’s display. As against Manchester City, Andre Villas-Boas’s high defensive line was crudely exposed time and again. With a trio of center-backs out, in addition to left-back Danny Rose, Spurs lacked the personnel to play with such a system that requires both pace and each player to be in tune with each other. In midfield, despite selecting a trio capable of defending, little pressure was applied to Liverpool throughout as the visitors had their way with them. There was no foothold to even think about creating anything going forward. The lack of a single shot on target through 90 minutes spoke volumes.
While Tottenham had recovered well from the 6-0 humbling against Manchester City, this was a desperate showing. With Villas-Boas still appearing to have no idea about what his strongest team, or even his playing philosophy, should be, his job must now surely be under severe threat.
The warning signs for Spurs were there inside the opening two minutes. A layoff from Suarez on the edge of the box found Philippe Coutinho with a chance that surprised even him and he badly mishit his shot. But with Liverpool dominating midfield and getting repeated looks at Tottenham’s backline, there was no surprise when they went in front in the 18th minute.
And it was a woeful goal for Spurs to concede. Their highline was exposed, with Michael Dawson being caught deep and then showing all the turning speed of a wardrobe to try and intercept Suarez’s through ball. While he got a foot to the ball, Henderson was able to knick in and knock it off to Suarez, who delightfully side-stepped Kyle Walker before finishing coolly into the corner.
Time and again, Suarez’s movement got him in behind Tottenham’s back line, which lacked both organization and protection in front of them. After having an effort from a tight angle blocked by Hugo Lloris, his chip back from the byline was volleyed, uncleanly, against the cross bar by Coutinho.
Tottenham’s problems were exacerbated when Sandro was forced off after half an hour. His replacement, Lewis Holtby, did, in theory, provide more passing ability, there was little chance for that to be demonstrated, despite his corner being poorly headed over by Nacer Chadli.
The problems continued to come at the other end. Lloris raced out to try and prevent Suarez getting in behind once more, but could only succeed in heading the ball straight to his side for the Uruguayan, who was unable to take advantage as players got back and the Spurs keeper made the block.
He was finally rendered powerless to prevent his side deservedly going two goals behind five minutes before the break. Spurs were all over the place from a simple cross field pass. With seemingly every member of the back four caught out, Lloris made stops from Henderson then Suarez, before the rejuvenated former Sunderland man volleyed a fine strike into the corner.
Spurs initially showed some signs of life at the start of the second half. The one chance for Roberto Soldado to build on his hat-trick in the Europa League on Thursday went begging as he fired over from a tight angle. He should have had a penalty too when Martin Skrtel clearly dragged him down in the box.
But, in truth, it is hard to imagine that decision having any major impact on the final outcome. Tottenham’s defeat was effectively confirmed when Paulinho went with a high boot into a challenge with Suarez and then appeared to deliberately make sure his studs met with his opponent’s chest.
A man down, Tottenham were even more exposed. In the 75th minute Henderson once more broke free from midfield, Suarez chipped a wonderful pass back for Flanagan at the back post and the young full-back met it perfectly on the half-volley to send it arrowing into the corner off the underside of the crossbar.
The already emphatic defeat turned well and truly into a rout in the final minutes. Young substitute Luis Alberto set up Suarez to lob beautifully over the besieged Lloris before he turned provider for Sterling to coolly complete a result that could well live long in the memory for both sets of fans, for very different reasons.