The fog has cleared for Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold. Seventy-five seconds into the second half the England right-back drifted into the Tottenham penalty area, found the ball kindly scooped into his path by Hugo Lloris and, with perfect striker’s technique, drilled the ball back from whence it came and into the net. The smile lit up north London.
Twenty minutes later he went marauding down the Tottenham right and curled in one of those curling crosses which had been put into cold storage of late. Joe Rodon could not deal with it; Sadio Mane could and it was in again.
The Liverpool full-back has endured the first dip in his career this season but on Thursday night there were signs of the real Alexander-Arnold.
His contribution has waned on the back of a bout of Covid in the summer and an injury which ruled him out of the pre-season trip to Austria and the Community Shield.
For the past two seasons he has been the Premier League’s leading provider of goals but going into last night’s game had supplied just two goal assists for the champions. It is no coincidence that a dry spell has followed for Liverpool.
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But the tap has been turned on again last night and Alexander-Arnold was an instrumental part of it.
Inside two minutes he dropped a broad hint as to what was to come with a raking long pass which should have put Liverpool on the way to an early lead.
He picked out Mane exquisitely but after a swift exchange with Mo Salah the Senegalese striker mixed his feet up and stabbed a great chance wide.
When Liverpool had the ball in the first half Alexander-Arnold helped them overrun Spurs in midfield; when they didn’t he was back helping out the latest patched-up centre-back combination – rejigged again at half time. He needed to be as well with Son Heung-min’s pace a threat.
There was less space going forward for Alexander-Arnold to exploit after the break as Jose Mourinho restocked his midfield but boy did he make it count when he was offered it.
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A huge sigh of relief for Jurgen Klopp but yet more pain relief for his players. Slippery Sadio Mane was back to his best to win Liverpool the game they could not afford to lose, but again that hole in the heart of the champions’ defence is gaping wider than ever as the transfer window comes to a close.
Instead of celebrating their first league win since before Christmas, the Liverpool manager was again left counting his injuries.
Having lost Fabinho in the build-up to minor muscle injury, Joel Matip’s brief return only lasted till half-time of his second game.
There was more worrying injury news for Jose Mourinho, though. Harry Kane also managed just 45 minutes having needed sustained treatment on each of his ankles after two awkward falls in the opening half-hour.
Perhaps these concerns are the price of the exhilarating pace of the play from the first whistle. Within three minutes, on a different day in a different era, we could have had two goals.
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A one-two between Sadio Mane and Mo Salah left Joe Rodon on his heels and any other season you would have expected Mane to score. This time he hit the side netting – 2020/21 has been like that for the Senegal international.
Instead, within 45 seconds, Heung-Min Son gave him the perfect demonstration of cool finishing, sliding the ball inside the near post. Liverpool were ready to kick off again when VAR finally spotted a hair’s breadth offside.
Pretty soon Liverpool were settling into their usual rhythm of dominating possession and with the speed and complexity of the movement there were always going to be chances.
Mane stole in to force Hugo Lloris into a brilliant reflex save from close range and the France World Cup winner again had to be sharp to beat away another effort from Senegal striker in the 42nd minute.
However, the Spurs captain was arguably at fault when Salah finally gave Liverpool the lead in the fourth minute of injury time.
Despite the protests of the entire Spurs contingent, Mane was clearly onside when he crossed low but Lloris and Eric Dier seemed to leave the ball for each other and allowed the Egypt international to score.
Such an unexpectedly abrupt end to the first half could only tee up the second – not least when Kane failed to re-emerge for it.
But while the language from Mourinho when Trent Alexander-Arnold showed that the Spurs boss was fired up for it, his players clearly weren’t.
Salah had nearly scored just 20 seconds after the restart and the defence seemed nearly half asleep still when Lloris parried Mane’s shot and the unmarked England right-back appeared at the far post to fire the ball home.
But hang on! Sparked into life by their manager’s fury, out of nowhere Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg drove one in from 22 yards at the other end just two minutes later. Game on after all.
Certainly there was more drama when Salah put the ball into the back of the net for a second time before the half-hour mark only for VAR’s eagle eye to spot a handball by Firmino on the half-way line during the build-up.
There was no reprieve in the 65th minute, though, when the inexperienced Rodon failed to block Alexander-Arnold’s deep cross and Mane pounced from just behind him.
Game over on the night. More crucially today, though, both camps will assess how long it is game over for their latest crucial injury victims.
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