LONDON: FIFA’s The Best awards show is being staged in London tomorrow after Tottenham and Liverpool paraded the best – and the worst – of the Premier League to entertain VIP guest Diego Maradona at Wembley.
Tottenham thrashed Liverpool 4-1 in a hugely entertaining duel between two of the optimistic pursuers of Manchester City in pursuit of the Premier League crown. It was typical Premier League with thrilling attacking football (from Spurs) and atrocious defending (from Liverpool).
Jurgen Klopp’s team had scored an English club record seven-goal win away to Maribor in the Champions League while Tottenham were running themselves into the ground to grab a draw against Real in Madrid. But it was Liverpool who looked jaded.
All year Liverpool’s defence has looked threadbare. This was nothing new and will question Klopp’s managerial judgment both on and off the pitch. During the summer transfer window fans waited for the arrival of a new leftback. Instead, Klopp maintained his faith in Alberto Moreno who defensive skills had been proved vulnerable against Premier League pace.
It was largely through his side of the pitch that Liverpool were carved apart three times in the opening 15 minutes.
Harry Kane capitalised on Liverpool’s failure to co-ordinate an offside trap in the fourth minute. Eight minutes later Moreno was out of sight when Dejan Lovren missed a defensive header to a long throw from Hugo Lloris and Kane ran free to lay on No2 for Song Heung-min.
The Korean rapped the bar in the 15th minute when Tottenham again caught Liverpool wide open on the flank of defence. But instead of a further Spurs strike it was Liverpool who scored next. Mo Salah accelerated through the Spurs defence to convert a Jordan Henderson’s through pass for his fifth Premier goal of term.
Before the game Liverpool old boy Graeme Souness had expressed his doubts about the quality of squad available to the club with whom he won the Champions Cup back in the 1980s. Souness, later also manager at Anfield, described Liverpool as a “nearly” team and warned that pressure is building this season for Klopp to start winning trophies.
Klopp reacted to the goals by making one personnel change and a risky five positional switches. He brought off the out-of-sorts Lovren but replaced him not with a substitute centre-back, such as the available Ragnar Klavan but fullback Joe Gomez. Emre Can dropped to rightback to allow James Milner to move up into defensive midfield.
However Can was partly to blame for Spurs’ third, by Dele Alli, just on halftime. He pulled down the escaping England forward who then shot home after Liverpool’s poor excuse for a defence failed to clear Christian Eriksen’s free kick.
Liverpool switched to a back three at the start of the second half but it did them no good. Mignolet missed a right wing free kick from Harry Winks and Roberto Firmino cleared off the line only for Kane to drive home his 17th goal of the season and become the league’s eight-goal top scorer.
Klopp believes that Liverpool should always score more goals than they concede. His attack is good. But not that good.
** Jose Mourinho had no excuses. No hesitation. Charged to explain Manchester United’s first league defeat since May he said: “The best team won. Simple.”
While David Wagner celebrated “maybe the proudest moment of my career,” Mourinho was blaming his players. He thought they had offered the commitment of a friendly match. The outcome was a defeat which, added to the previous goalless draw against Liverpool, meant United had slipped five points behind leaders and neighbours City in a mere seven days.
The last time Huddersfield beat United in a league fixture was back in 1952. The last time United and Huddersfield met at all, in 1972, United won 3-0 with goals from Denis Law, George and Bobby Charlton. Law was in the crowd at the John Smith Stadium to see his first professional club outrun the one where he developed built his great reputation.
“Huddersfield gave me everything,” he told fans before the match. Huddersfield – Germany’s Premier League exclave – also gave their fans everything in the succeeding 90 minutes. United had gone 414 minutes without conceding a Premier League goal and then along came two in five minutes.
Mourinho had been seeking to become the first top-flight manager to record eight clean sheets in the first nine games of the season; victory would have provided United with their best points return after nine matches. Instead, mistakes by Juan Mata and centre-back substitute Victor Lindelof handed killing goals to Aaron Mooy and Laurent Depoitre.
United’s manager had suspected that fatigue would be a factor after Wednesday’s win at Benfica, and his starting selection reflected that with Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Marcus Rashford on the bench, but recovery was beyond even a refreshed attack.
Romelu Lukaku eventually emerged from anonymity to cross for Rashford to head home and set up the sort of defiant grandstand finale that made victory all that more memorable for home supporters.
Even Mourinho conceded: “We probably could have had a second goal and a draw but it would have been an undeserved draw. They deserved to win.”
Wagner said: “I live in Huddersfield so I know how huge this result is. This is a special moment and a huge result. Little Huddersfield Town, in the Premier League for the first time, in the top flight for the first time in 45 years, has beaten Man United. I’m happy and proud about it but, like always, we will stay humble.”
** History note: Huddersfield’s 1951-52 season ended in their relegation with United winning a first league title for manager Sir Matt Busby.
** Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal’s two end-of-contract stars, sparked the 5:2 win at Everton which provided manager Arsene Wenger with a happy 68th birthday. Sanchez provided the assist for Ozil to head Arsenal’s second goal and the German midfielder laid on the third for Alexandre Lacazette. Sanchez struck the late fifth goal which threatens a premature end to Ronald Koeman’s reign at Everton.