Liverpool finished behind Man City by a single point in 2019 and 2022. In this game of fine margins who knows what will be the ultimate consequence of being robbed of one goal in this unforgettable (for the wrong reasons) match at Spurs.
One goal that could have led to an outcome different from the one that saw Liverpool leaving North London empty-handed.
In an encounter where 2 red cards were dished out in addition to countless of yellows, where one goal was disallowed because of a shambolic failure of VAR to overturn an incorrect offside decision, it is unfortunate that this game will be forever remembered for its refereeing, or more precisely, a lack of proper refereeing.
Trust in the Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) took a severe blow on Saturday. Their gob-smacking post-match statement admitted VAR failed to intervene to overturn an on-the-pitch offside ruling that disallowed Luis Diaz’s 33rd-minute goal.
Liverpool fans are understandably furious. Anybody else in the world of English football will now see match officials with a different eye, not to say suspicious eye.
With Man City’s defeat at Wolves earlier, there was an opportunity for Liverpool to go top of the table to make it the perfect weekend as we also had the icing on the cake of Man Utd and Everton losing at home.
But everything that could possibly go wrong to put an obstacle to all that, actually did go wrong. How “VAR failed to intervene” in this biggest game of the weekend was blatantly mind-boggling.
A botched job in our opinion. In the Match of the Day program on BBC Sports, Alan Shearer said VAR referee Darren England sent a “Check Complete” to his colleagues on the pitch.
Equally baffling was the swiftness with which the offside decision was upheld without us watching on TV seeing the customary image freeze with the famous VAR lines drawn.
Actually, were those VAR lines even necessary? In the TV replay, Cristian Romero’s trailing left leg was putting all body parts of Diaz well onside and the obvious was there to be seen for everyone. It was even far from a matter of having badges on shirt sleeves or armpits straying offside.
For good measure, Darren England and his assistant Dan Cook have now been replaced in their scheduled match duties on Sunday and Monday.
How things would have been different if Diaz’s goal had stood? We can only answer that if we can warp into a parallel universe where VAR works charmingly well.
But taking the lead despite the setback of being one man short would have certainly changed the outlook of the Reds players in terms of how to go on afterwards in addition to getting an extra spring in their steps.
That mirage of an offside came only a handful of minutes after another controversy when Liverpool were reduced to 10 men with the dubious sending-off of Curtis Jones.
Unfairly sent off said former players who are now pundits. You know something is fundamentally wrong when Gary Neville is taking Liverpool’s side.
The Scouser’s right boot rolled over the ball during a challenge and just like being on a slippery slope, Curtis could not stop himself from making contact with Yves Bissouma’s ankle.
Our midfielder got to the ball first before his studs landed on Bissouma. There was no malicious intent. It was more of an accident.
Ref Simon Hooper initially showed yellow but this time, VAR did not fail to intervene, sending the official to the pitch-side monitor before he overturned his own decision to red.
If Jones’ mishap was enough to warrant a straight red, players will soon think twice before launching themselves into tackles and challenges. And where will this leave Jurgen Klopp’s much-heralded pressing game?
After Curtis’ red card and Diaz’s disallowed goal, it was left for Spurs to open the score in the 35th. A defence-splitting pass from James Maddison found Richarlison down their left. The Brazilian squared the ball for Heung-Min Son to prod in.
Still, it was very remarkable that the Liverpool players kept their fighting spirit despite this most unusual wave after wave of setbacks. Well, we’ve already been there, done that against Bournemouth and especially Newcastle and it was all too natural we’ll try to do it again.
Therefore, not quite surprisingly, the Reds even equalized deep in the first half stoppage time.
A diagonal ball from Dominik Szoboszlai from the right found Virgil Van Dijk on the other flank. Just like against West Ham last week, our captain headed the ball for an assist. This time, fellow Dutch Cody Gakpo was the beneficiary. He chested the ball before swiveling to blast it past Guglielmo Vicario.
A beautiful goal which was unfortunately marred by Gakpo getting injured in the process. He has now joined CuJo in being a likely absentee for the next match.
Even more remarkable, the 10-men Liverpool could have also taken the lead moments later. Mo Salah crossed from the left and Diaz tried to slide the ball in but failed to connect by a whisker—quite a shame given the exquisite quality of the cross from the Egyptian King.
Still not the end of misfortunes
At half-time, if you had thought every possible misfortune had already befallen on Liverpool, well worse was still to come.
Diogo Jota came in for Gakpo and received two yellows. The first one was harsh as Destiny Udogie appeared to have stumbled by himself while Jota was merely running close to him.
Some argue that notwithstanding such unfairness, the Portuguese should have been careful before lunging himself into a second booking barely one minute later.
Liverpool were now further reduced to 9 men. Klopp had no other option than to close shop and restructured the team with 5 defenders and 3 midfielders, one of whom, Wataru Endo being a vastly experienced defensive midfielder.
As expected, Spurs kept coming but Liverpool valiantly and admirably held on.
Just as we thought the Reds’ tenacity would finally be rewarded against all odds with a precious point, misfortune struck again in the dying moments when Joel Matip put the ball in his own net while trying to clear a Spurs cross.
An agonizingly cruel ending given that Matip and Van Dijk have really been working their socks off in the face of all adversity.
Despite Alisson Becker’s consolation attempts, Matip himself was utterly dejected after all the good work he had put in until then.
Although an unused sub, Darwin Nunez was overtly encouraging his on-the-pitch teammates and applauding the travelling Kop after the final whistle.
After an incorrectly disallowed goal, one unfair red card and a harsh yellow which was the genesis to another red, this Liverpool team was just about to defy the terribly stacked odds against them by showing their true mettle. Just.
It is said that Liverpool supporters know their football and the traveling contingent to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium showed their appreciation and pride as it dawned on all of us that this is a truly special team that we now have on hand.
If there is any silver lining to this refereeing debacle during this hugely damaging trip, we can now say that Liverpool supporters and this crop of players are unlikely to allow anyone to ever walk alone.