Liverpool ended a five-game winless run in the Premier League to move back into the top four with a 3-1 win at Tottenham on Thursday as Spurs also lost Harry Kane to an ankle injury.
The English champions had not even scored in their last four league games, but Jurgen Klopp said he recognized his side again as their front three sparked back into life after Roberto Firmino ended a 492-minute goalless drought in first-half stoppage time.
Kane had soldiered on after twice receiving treatment on ankle knocks in the first-half and was eventually replaced at the break with Jose Mourinho predicting the England captain will be absent for at least a few weeks.
“Two injuries in both ankles, the second one worse than the first one,” said Mourinho. “A few weeks, I don’t know for sure. There are some players you can’t replace. When it happens it happens, but I believe we have to fight against it, we cannot do anything else.”
Liverpool’s worst run in the league since 2017 had seen them slip from the top of the table to fifth before kick-off with Klopp admitting his first priority is now to secure Champions League qualification for next season.
But the German was delighted with the response from the Reds as they clicked back into gear, particularly after going in front.
“What I saw today it’s not about shape or form; it’s about who we are. That was us, second half especially it was us,” said Klopp. “Tonight we knocked a wall down – that’s good. It is easier to lose (confidence) that’s how it is, but it is possible to get it back as well. It is not a light you can switch on and off. You have to show it in the right moment.”
Tottenham’s Son Heung-Min (7) looks on dejectedly during his team’s clash with Liverpool at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, England, January 28, 2021. /CFP
A return to the Champions League is also Spurs’ target in Mourinho’s first full season in charge, but Tottenham’s chances may now depend on how long Kane is sidelined.
Kane and Son Heung-min have been the most deadly duo in the Premier League this season and thought they had combined for the opening goal inside the first five minutes. Son finished coolly from Kane’s through ball, but the South Korean had just strayed offside in the build-up and the goal was ruled out by a VAR review.
There were signs of life in Liverpool’s attacking play despite a 3-2 defeat to Manchester United in the FA Cup on Sunday and they created many more clear-cut chances than in recent weeks as Hugo Lloris twice denied Mane with excellent saves.
With Kane clearly hobbling, Tottenham were clinging on for half-time when Liverpool finally struck.
Sadio Mane got in behind and squared for Firmino to bundle in at the back post for his first goal in eight games. Trent Alexander-Arnold’s drop off in form has been another major part of Liverpool’s regression from the side that romped to the title last season with 99 points.
However, the England right-back connected sweetly to drill in his side’s second after Lloris could only parry Mane’s initial effort into his path. Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s brilliant strike from outside the box halved the deficit just two minutes later.
Liverpool, though, rarely looked troubled after Kane departed and could have won far more convincingly. Mohamed Salah’s powerful strike was ruled out after a VAR review for a handball by Firmino earlier in the move. But Mane restored the two-goal cushion when he pounced on an error from Joe Rodon to fire high past Lloris.
Victory takes Liverpool back above West Ham, who they face on Sunday, into fourth.
Tottenham’s early season form saw them being touted as contenders for a first top-flight title in 60 years ahead of their last clash with Liverpool last month. Now a run of just two wins in eight games has plummeted Mourinho’s men down to sixth, four points adrift of the top four.