The finale was an ordeal for Mauricio Pochettino, his anguish intensifying as half chances went astray in stoppage time and bringing him to his knees when one last corner sailed over Tottenham heads. Body language told in terms of the Premier League title but the Argentinian found consolation in the conviction that, for his team, this is only the beginning.
Forced errors could not detract from a quality spectacle illuminated by Spurs’ control, Liverpool’s threat and beautifully crafted goals from Philippe Coutinho and Harry Kane. Equally, the visitors’ post-match mantra of needing to believe in a first title triumph since 1961 did not mask the significance of two points dropped in pursuit of Leicester City.
Kane’s 22nd league goal of the campaign – a club record in the Premier League era – made it 19 points recovered from a losing position this season by Spurs, the division’s highest. Their powers of recovery are ingrained, insists Pochettino. Regardless of where the title goes, Tottenham will be back.
“I am a little disappointed, sure, but we must believe,” the Spurs manager said. “This is not just about this season. When you compare Tottenham with big sides people can see our approach is for the long term. We have the youngest squad in the Premier League yet here we are fighting for the title. The project is fantastic, because we are ahead of the programme – we are only going to get better. This is true because for a lot of players this is their first season in the Premier League and next season they will be better because they will have more experience. In football you always need time to develop to your full quality.”
Tottenham do not have a reputation for keeping key talents – and their manager’s work may attract outside interest this summer – but Pochettino is adamant an era of stability is upon White Hart Lane. “It is impossible to set limits,” he added. “It is also important to improve our squad because this is always our idea to improve. Our idea is to keep the main group for the next few years and to try and build and add players that can help us.”
Saturday showcased many strengths and a few shortcomings in both sides. Spurs performed with clear purpose, authority at times, but with Dele Alli looking fatigued after international duty and Erik Lamela absent through injury they lacked the required precision in the final third. Liverpool’s defensive composure may have deserted them on occasion, with Mamadou Sakho indebted to Dejan Lovren’s covering work, their central midfield may have lost the physical battle but they created by far the clearer chances. Coutinho’s precise side-foot finish beyond Hugo Lloris early in the second half, after an incisive one-two with Daniel Sturridge, was the least their creativity deserved.
“After this game, think if there should be seven positions between us,” asked Jürgen Klopp. “If not, then we have to think about how we can close this gap. I saw a few really good signs that this could be possible. I think we created more chances, we had more shots on goal, more ball possession – maybe second half that changed a little bit, but first half for sure. We pressed better. That’s all true. But they have more points, that’s true too.
“It’s not a coincidence. There is a gap, that’s for sure. Usually it’s not my job to say this but we had a lot more injury problems than Tottenham. With the same injury problems, who would have played for Tottenham? Kane – problem, Alli – problem. Then this development is not possible with 25 games in a row. Or Eriksen’s out. Plus Vertonghen and Alderweireld? Oops. Completely different. These are the problems we’ve had to cope with.”
Klopp ended the game in a long embrace with Kane, who spared Spurs from a more damaging result when he collected Christian Eriksen’s improvised cross from the byline, turned Lovren – the defender’s only slip of the game – and found Simon Mignolet’s far corner. “He just kept saying three words to me – what a strike,” said the England international of his chat with the Liverpool manager. “It was obviously nice to hear from the opposition manager. He’s a good character to have in the Premier League but if I scored another one he might not have done that.”
A Premier League goalscoring record for Spurs may not have compensated for the result in Kane’s eyes, but 22 goals is a convincing riposte to those early-season accusations about being a one-season wonder. He admitted: “There was a lot of talk at the start of the season but I have a lot of self-belief. I’ve gone ahead of last season’s total but it doesn’t stop here, there are six games left for me to try and get as many goals as possible. Whenever anyone tells you you can’t do something or you’re not as good as you think you are you want to prove them wrong.”
Man of the match Hugo Lloris (Tottenham Hotspur)