Amid the mass postponements, the fear and uncertainty over the inexorable spread of the latest Covid variant, a football match broke out and it was one to remind us all why this crazy game has us in thrall.
There was drama from start to finish, contentious decisions, with the big one coming on 20 minutes when Harry Kane stretched into a bad tackle on Andy Robertson. Jürgen Klopp, the Liverpool manager, felt it was a potential leg-breaker but the Tottenham striker got away with a booking. Liverpool would be the team to finish with ten men, Robertson being dismissed in the 76th minute for a wild hack at Emerson Royal.
There were goals, including a long overdue one for Kane – only his second of the Premier League season – and a catalogue of misses, with Kane surely the biggest culprit. He ought to have departed with the match ball.
There were outstanding performers – chief among them Son Heung-min for Spurs; Trent Alexander-Arnold for Liverpool – and there were glaring errors, most notably the one by Alisson that let in Son to equalise for 2-2, Liverpool having got themselves in front thanks to headers from Diogo Jota and Robertson. Previously, Alisson had made vital saves, none better than that with his fingertips to deny Dele Alli for 2-0 on the half hour. Alli’s display was a plus point for Spurs as was that of Ryan Sessegnon at left wing-back.
And, at the end of it all, there was the sight of Klopp remonstrating with the referee, Paul Tierney, who had also angered him by overlooking a strong Jota penalty claim in the 37th minute for a barge by Emerson.
Klopp was a volcanic presence, his anger at Tierney having boiled over shortly after the Jota penalty incident, leading to him being shown a yellow card. The referee would dish out eight of them to players from both sides, together with Robertson’s red.
The point felt better for Spurs, even if they were up against ten men in the closing stages – the evidence mounting that Antonio Conte is building something in north London. The manager remains unbeaten after five league matches, winning 11 points and, after the Covid-scarred fortnight he and the club have experienced – which led to three postponements – this was hugely impressive.
Liverpool had watched the leaders, Manchester City, win at Newcastle and they now trail them by three points. They had plenty of regrets, mainly involving Tierney, but the draw was not a bad one, particularly not with Klopp missing his first-choice midfield. Thiago Alcãntara had returned a positive Covid test on Sunday morning to join Fabinho and Curtis Jones in isolation while Jordan Henderson was a late withdrawal with illness. Virgil van Dijk was another Covid positive absentee.
The game crackled to life at the outset, with Kane drawing first blood. Tanguy Ndombele spotted his run off Ibrahima Konaté and the pass was curved and weighted to perfection. Once Kane had the far corner in his sights, there was no doubt as to the outcome.
Kane had earlier been denied by a Konaté block and Spurs had golden chances for 2-0, not least when Kane broke and crossed for Son. There was just too much on the ball from him and Son skewed wide. Alli’s opportunity would follow a lovely Son pass on the counter, with Liverpool’s defenders having followed the run of Kane. Spurs repeatedly threatened to play or run through the Liverpool backline, which was riskily high and not always well protected.
Liverpool had started the brighter, with Robertson fluffing a gilt-edged header and Alexander-Arnold extending Hugo Lloris with a left-footed first-timer from outside the box.
Klopp complained that Kane had been out of control when he lunged in on Robertson and he certainly got nothing of the ball, which was lifted away from him by the Liverpool left-back. Where was VAR, Klopp wanted to know, after Kane had crashed into Robertson’s shin?
Liverpool’s equaliser came when Robertson watched Ben Davies take a heavy touch and then nicked the ball from him and sprinted to the byline to cross. Jota’s headed finish was clinical. The visitors could also point to a Lloris save from Naby Keïta in the 26th minute and an ever better one from the Spurs goalkeeper to keep out an Alexander-Arnold half-volley on half-time.
Conte, who had some players not fit enough to start after Covid infections and no Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, watched his team play largely on the break in a 5-3-2 system and Kane twice blew the chance to put Spurs back in front. After Jota had looped a header wide, Eric Dier picked out Alli beyond a static Liverpool backline. His touch inside for Kane was slightly undercooked, which allowed Alisson to get out to close the space. Kane’s attempted dink was blocked by the goalkeeper.
Kane could then not react in time to head home after a corner broke for him and Liverpool scored again moments after Alli had wanted a penalty for a shove by Alexander-Arnold. It would have been soft. Lloris scooped away from Mohamed Salah, who looked to have handled, and Robertson glanced home after Alexander-Arnold had thrashed across goal.
Back came Spurs, with Alisson, inexplicably, missing a sliding clearance, which allowed Son to equalise. Strangely, Tierney would need VAR to advice him on the Robertson dismissal – initially, he had reached for yellow – and Conte would have mixed feelings at the end. “When you create so many chances, you have to kill your opponent,” he said.