Liverpool and Elliott turn on style as Tottenham’s top-four hopes fade away | Premier League

Ange Postecoglou found comfort in Tottenham “at least trying to play a version of ourselves” at Anfield. The assessment will be as disconcerting to Spurs supporters as the performance that yielded a fourth consecutive ­Premier League defeat. This version of Postecoglou’s team was dreadful, and their top-four hopes were ­effectively extinguished as Liverpool rediscovered their verve in Jürgen Klopp’s penultimate home game.

The scoreline flattered the ­conquered. Liverpool cruised towards victory for 72 minutes until Spurs’ substitute Richarlison and their captain Son Heung-min sparked a mini-crisis of confidence among Klopp’s reshuffled pack. It passed. For the second Sunday in succession Spurs performed only when staring at a comprehensive pounding but, just like the north London derby, their late flurry fooled no one. Their manager’s post-match optimism did not convince either. Liverpool were richly deserving of a win delivered by the recalled Mohamed Salah, Andy Robertson, Cody Gakpo and Harvey Elliott.

Spurs came into the contest with a glimmer of Champions League ­qualification following Aston Villa’s defeat at Brighton. The problem for Postecoglou is Spurs are not a ­Champions League team, and that was made abundantly clear at Anfield. Incentive alone cannot compensate for flimsy defensive organisation and a largely ineffective forward line.

The visitors started sharply but, while tidy in possession, they were hopeless out of it. With Salah back in the Liverpool starting lineup ­following his petulant row with Klopp at West Ham and granted the freedom of the right wing by Emerson Royal, the hosts were able to enjoy the comforts of home after a few damaging results on the road.

Postecoglou’s team struggled at the first sign of Liverpool pressure. The only fight in a quite pathetic first-half performance from Spurs came in a half-time bust-up between Cristian Romero and the lazy Emerson. The goalkeeper, Guglielmo Vicario, had to intervene as a peace-maker.

Salah, giving a rousing reception when the teams were announced before kick-off, struck the crossbar from Liverpool’s first attack of note, curling an effort with the outside of his boot over Vicario and against the woodwork. A desperate clearance by Micky van de Ven prevented the recalled striker pouncing on Gakpo’s header as Spurs struggled to hang on. Desperate is a fitting description of their defensive efforts. Static, slow, weak and careless are also applicable.

Richarlison scores in the second half as Spurs look to rally at Anfield. Photograph: Jon Super/AP

Vicario saved from Salah when the Egypt international was put through on goal by Elliott, who swept the rebound beyond the visiting keeper only for Romero to block on the line. The opportunity stemmed from a dreadful touch in central midfield by Pape Sarr. It would not be his last.

The inevitable breakthrough came from an inevitable source. Wataru Endo switched play out to Gakpo on the left and the in-form forward floated a delightful cross into the space that Emerson regularly left behind him for Salah to head home. Vicario was left exposed once again but could have done more to prevent the header crossing the line.

Liverpool were back to their old selves in terms of intensity, pressing and dominance although their wastefulness in front of goal was also on display prior to Robertson pouncing on the stroke of half-time. Salah, ­Elliott and Trent Alexander-Arnold all fired over before Liverpool’s left-back gave the scoreline a fairer reflection of his team’s superiority. Alexander-Arnold supplied his fellow full-back with a pin-point cross to the back post. Robertson squared to Salah and, though Vicario got down well to save the striker’s first time shot, the loose ball rolled perfectly for the Scotland captain to tap home. The sight of Robertson walking the ball home summed up how easy the first half was for Liverpool, as well as the pitiful efforts from Spurs.

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Postecoglou’s half-time team talk had no galvanising effect. Liverpool were soon three up when Elliott took the ball off Emerson and centred for Gakpo to steer a textbook header into the bottom corner. Four ­followed swiftly, and superbly, when ­Emerson headed a Robertson cross into the path of Salah and he teed up Elliott. The midfielder cut inside and curled a stunning 20-yard shot into Vicario’s top right corner.

The Spurs manager rang the changes in the face of a one-sided embarrassment with Richarlison, James Maddison and Oliver Skipp arriving just after the hour. Now the visitors improved. It helped that Klopp utilised his substitutes’ bench too, with a detrimental impact on ­Liverpool’s rhythm.

Richarlison punctured Alisson’s designs on a clean sheet when ­turning in Brennan Johnson’s low cross. That appeared to be the extent of ­Liverpool’s problems until the ­former Everton favourite assisted a second for Son, turning Skipp’s ­delivery into the path of his captain who ­produced a clinical finish. Anfield was ­suddenly on edge, especially when Salah missed a gilt-edged chance to restore a comfortable lead from two yards out.

From coasting Liverpool were now in danger every time Spurs ventured forward. Alisson saved brilliantly from ­Richarlison, with Joe Gomez preventing Johnson converting the rebound, while Alexander-Arnold made a vital interception to prevent the Brazil international claiming his second of the game. Spurs’ late rally was not enough. It would have been a travesty had it conjured anything. The top four should be beyond them.

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