Maddison genius helps Spurs unpick Liverpool lock

30 Sep 2023
Premier League - Tottenham Hotspur v Liverpool

Alex Keble hails midfielder’s impact in win that has Tottenham Hotspur fans dreaming of top spot

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Joel Matip crumples to the turf, the Tottenham Hotspur stadium erupts, and one of the most absorbing and surreal Premier League matches of recent times has an ending that’s in keeping with the preceding 90 minutes of carnage.

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Nine-man Liverpool held out for nearly half an hour before they were stunned by the cruellest of own goals from Matip, who smashed the ball into the top corner of his own net in the sixth minute of stoppage time to gift Spurs a 2-1 victory that leaves them unbeaten and closing in on the top.

It is premature to be peering up at Manchester City but Spurs supporters must be starting to wonder after yet another frenzied match went in their favour, after yet another wild throw of the dice brought up a six.

Top six

Position Pos Club Played Pl GD Points Pts
1 Arsenal ARS 13 +17 30
2 Man City MCI 13 +20 29
3 Liverpool LIV 13 +17 28
4 Aston Villa AVL 13 +13 28
5 Spurs TOT 13 +8 26
6 Man Utd MUN 13 0 24
Full table

And if they do believe, if the scenes at the final whistle indicate that Spurs are beginning to dream, then it’s clear who they have to thank. 

Judging by a near-perfect first two months in the job, it seems as though Ange Postecoglou has a knack for creating these magical moments. Spurs have become the first team to score stoppage-time winners in back-to-back home Premier League matches since Burnley in 2016, while the goal at 95 minutes and 31 seconds was the latest winner against Liverpool since such data became available in 2006/07.

Maddison the star as Liverpool’s nine men fall

And yet for such a long time it felt as though Liverpool would scrape a point. 

A lightning-fast opening half-hour went exactly as anticipated with both sides pressing hard and sprinting head first at the opposition after winning the ball back. It was frantic, and Spurs were just about edging it as their numerical advantage in midfield created space around sole Liverpool defensive midfielder Alexis Mac Allister.

But the first red card, given against Curtis Jones for serious foul play, dramatically altered the shape of this game.

Inevitably it became a contest of Spurs possession and Liverpool counters, with Luis Diaz and Mohamed Salah surprisingly effective as a two-man forward line on the break. 

For long periods Spurs couldn’t create much against an unusually defensive Liverpool, first in a compact but bullish 4-4-1 and then, after Diogo Jota saw red, in a profoundly weird, yet effective, 5-3-0.

But James Maddison worked them out, not once but twice. 

In the first portion of the match Maddison dropped deep to dictate the tempo. When Liverpool were down to a two-man midfield he roamed in-between the lines, the result being a wonderful threaded through-ball that released Richarlison to set up Son Heung-min’s opener. 

For the final 25 minutes, Jurgen Klopp’s formation change closed down that space in the centre, at which point Maddison roamed out to the left and, yet again, began to run the match. 

The winner resulted from Pedro Porro overlapping Dejan Kulusevski, finally stretching Liverpool’s narrow defensive shell, and came after Maddison left the pitch, but nevertheless it was Maddison’s work putting Liverpool under significant pressure that set the tone for a one-sided stoppage time.

Refereeing decisions in the spotlight

But despite Spurs’ dominance after the red cards – Alisson made more saves, eight, than any Liverpool goalkeeper in a Premier League match since Simon Mignolet against Everton in November 2013 – it might have swung on a controversial moment.

There was a "significant error", say PGMOL, when the Video Assistant Referee failed to overturn a Luis Diaz goal that was ruled offside on-field. 

See: PGMOL acknowledge error in Spurs v Liverpool

Liverpool setback requires big response

Irrespective of the controversy Liverpool were second-best and will need a big response to the end of their 17-match unbeaten run in the competition, and the ill-discipline behind it. 

Liverpool have had four red cards in just seven Premier League matches, which is as many as in their previous 178 and the most any team have had at this stage in the competition’s history. 

Losing players to suspension pales in comparison to having lost in the Premier League for the first time since 1 April. Considering that Klopp teams are so often built on the power of momentum their next Premier League match, at Brighton & Hove Albion on Sunday, has taken on extra significance. 

"I learned so much about my team, much more than from a win,” was Klopp’s philosophical post-match response and there was certainly a lot to be proud of in the resilience shown right up until Matip’s unfortunate moment, when sheer tiredness, perhaps, meant his connection with the ball was a few centimetres out.

It certainly wasn’t a poor performance in the circumstances and Liverpool, feeling a sense of injustice after their disallowed goal, will need to shake off that feeling to avoid their title challenge faltering.

Sky’s the limit for Spurs

Spurs, on the other hand, have once again won in the perfect way, with an uplifting and dramatic finale that vindicates the attacking style of their head coach. 

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After Man City’s 2-1 defeat at Wolves earlier on Saturday they are now one of only two unbeaten sides in the Premier League, alongside Arsenal, who play Man City next weekend. At least one of them will drop points; yet more good news for Spurs fans.

They, like the players, are riding a wave of optimism that could reach new heights in the early kick-off against Luton Town next weekend, which presents Postecoglou’s side with a chance to go top of the Premier League.

Surely then, if not already, fans will start to murmur that something truly special is happening. What else are they supposed to think if the wins keep coming; if, when your own players start to run out of ideas, the other team scores the winner for you?

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