Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Tottenham 2 - 1 Liverpool

Liverpool's quest to end a 20-year wait to win the title started with the disappointment of an opening-day defeat against Tottenham at White Hart Lane.
Rafael Benitez can have few complaints as Liverpool - heavily tipped to end Manchester United's run of three successive Premier League titles - delivered a lame display which lacked attacking invention and genuine quality.
Spurs, in contrast, showed the greater ambition and the scenes of delight at the final whistle reflected the renewed optimism felt by Harry Redknapp and his players at claiming one of the top flight's prized scalps.
Former Liverpool striker Robbie Keane wasted three glorious openings before Benoit Assou-Ekotto's thunderous drive gave Spurs a deserved lead a minute before the interval.
Spurs keeper Heurelho Gomes' rush of blood threw Liverpool a lifeline they barely merited after 56 minutes when he dashed from goal and brought down Glen Johnson, allowing Steven Gerrard to level from the spot.
But Spurs were swiftly back in front when defender Sebastien Bassong marked a hugely promising debut following his £8m switch from Newcastle by heading Luka Modric's free-kick past Pepe Reina.
Liverpool finally sparked into life and were infuriated when referee Phil Dowd dismissed late claims for a penalty after substitute Andriy Voronin tumbled under a challenge from Assou-Ekotto.
It capped Liverpool's intense frustration and assistant manager Sammy Lee was sent from the dug-out after an exchange with the fourth official.
Liverpool also have an injury worry over defender Martin Skrtel, who struggled throughout with a jaw injury after a clash of heads with Jamie Carragher.
Benitez 's side failed to make a serious attacking impact on Spurs, with Fernando Torres well-shackled by Bassong and Ledley King, and their midfield lacking cohesion without the departed Xabi Alonso.
Spurs were comfortably the more accomplished side, with Wilson Palacios and the gifted Modric dovetailing well in midfield and their reshaped defence looking assured throughout.
White Hart Lane proved a bogey ground for Liverpool last season, with one of only two Premier League defeats at Spurs - and boss Benitez will be hoping this represents little more than a false start.
Redknapp gave Keane the nod ahead of new boy Peter Crouch in attack - and he was not short of opportunities in a first half that started slowly but ended with Spurs in command.
The first incident of note came with a nasty clash of heads between Liverpool's central defensive duo Carragher and Skrtel that left both players needing lengthy treatment.
Carragher was forced off to be patched up, and while Skrtel stayed on he was clearly troubled by the heavy blow to his jaw and needed further attention as the game progressed.
Gerrard provided Liverpool's only moment of danger in the opening exchanges with a low drive from 25 yards that was always drifting wide of Gomes' goal.
Spurs showed the greater attacking invention, but Keane could find his touch in front of goal and wasted three presentable chances to punish the club where he had a short and unfulfilling spell last season.
He should have given Spurs the lead after 33 minutes when he had the goal at his mercy after a clever delivery by Modric, but he allowed Reina to scramble across his goal and save.
Keane then failed to chip over the onrushing Reina before blazing another wasteful finish well over when unmarked in the area.
Spurs deserved something for their superiority - and they got it in the most spectacular fashion a minute before the interval, with Assou-Ekotto lashing a rising 25-yard drive beyond Reina after Tom Huddlestone's free-kick rebounded back off Emiliano Insua.
Benitez demands Liverpool improvement
Reina had been Liverpool's star performer, and he emphasised his quality again seven minutes after the break when he dived acrobatically to turn over a powerful effort from Palacios.
The importance of the save was underscored seconds later when Liverpool drew level from the penalty spot. Spurs' keeper Gomes needlessly hauled down Johnson as he dashed from his goal and Gerrard slammed home the spot-kick.
Liverpool's spell of equality was brief as Spurs restored their advantage three minutes later when debutant Bassong rose high to meet Modric's free-kick and beat Reina.
Johnson had shown glimpses of the attacking dimension Benitez hopes he will give Liverpool after his £17m move from Portsmouth when he delivered an inviting cross that Torres could only direct wide at the far post.
Liverpool pressed in the final moments but could not break through - they could not fashion an equaliser and it would have been cruel on Spurs had they done so.

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