Mo Salah, Harry Kane centre stage in Premier League classic at Anfield
LIVERPOOL, England — Three points on Liverpool 2-2 Tottenham in the Premier League on Sunday.
1. Top four battle alive after Premier League classic
Harry Kane scored his 100th Premier League goal to salvage a point for Tottenham at Anfield with a stoppage time penalty — minutes after missing an earlier spot-kick in a classic encounter with Liverpool.
In a pulsating game on Merseyside, Mohamed Salah scored twice for Liverpool, either side of a 30-yard stunner from Victor Wanyama. Kane then saw an 86th minute penalty saved by Loris Karius to seemingly blow the chance of hitting the century mark for Spurs.
With Salah restoring Liverpool’s lead two minutes into stoppage time with a fine solo goal, Kane’s miss looked set to prove hugely costly for Spurs. But his late penalty, following a Virgil van Dijk foul on Erik Lamela, silenced Anfield and earned Spurs a point they deserved at the end of an incident-packed game.
The result keeps Tottenham’s hopes of Champions League qualification alive and keeps Liverpool in with a chance of securing runners-up spot behind Manchester City.
But ultimately, a draw will be regarded as little reward for either side after a game which they both had chances to win.
2. Van Dijk proves fitness but left frustrated
Virgil van Dijk has had a stop-start first month as a Liverpool player, with injury and illness halting his progress since scoring an FA Cup winner against Everton on his debut. And while he had some strong moments here, his performance will be remembered for the controversial last minute penalty he conceded.
At £75 million, the Dutchman is the world’s most expensive defender, but he has had to deal with questions over his fitness since arriving at Anfield, with former Liverpool centre-back Jamie Carragher claiming this week that Van Dijk needs to “get fit and lose a bit of weight.”
Having missed a preseason last summer due to his recovery from an Achilles’ tendon injury, Van Dijk was unable to get back to full match fitness with Southampton before leaving for Anfield last month.
Doubts over his sharpness were dispelled against Tottenham in an assured performance at both ends of the pitch — although he was furious to be penalised by Jon Moss for a foul on Lamela in the dying seconds, and Kane netted the resulting penalty.
As he showed with his headed goal against Everton, Van Dijk is a huge threat at set-pieces and he was a thorn in Tottenham’s side at every corner. But it is for his defensive qualities that Liverpool invested such a mammoth fee and Van Dijk stood up to every challenge in this game.
He was able to match Kane stride-for-stride and also dominated the England striker in the aerial battle. And while Kane bullied both Phil Jones and Chris Smalling during Wednesday’s 2-0 win against Manchester United, he was unable to do the same against the physically imposing Van Dijk.
In response to Carragher’s suggestion that he needs to lose weight, Van Dijk looked in perfect shape. He would not have been able to deal with Kane had he been out of condition.
It looked set to be a fine afternoon’s work for the Dutchman, but the concession of a penalty late on will leave a sour taste.
3. Dier becoming a weak link
Mauricio Pochettino fought hard to keep Eric Dier at Tottenham last summer, knowing that the midfielder was a target for Manchester United and receptive to the idea of playing for the club he supported as a boy.
Having allowed Kyle Walker to leave for Manchester City, Pochettino had no intention of further depleting his squad by losing Dier, but as this season has progressed, it increasingly appears as though the Spurs manager kept hold of the wrong man.
Walker has gone from strength to strength under Pep Guardiola at City, becoming a key figure at right-back for the Premier League leaders. But Dier has plateaued in a Spurs shirt and it remains a debate as to whether he is a centre-half or central midfielder. The 24-year-old’s versatility is certainly a tick in his favour, but by his age, Dier — who ended the game alongside Jan Vertonghen at centre-half — should really have settled on one position and become a regular there.
But perhaps his limitations, which were exposed again at Anfield, are why he continues to be used in positions. Dier’s loss of possession led to Salah’s third minute opener for Liverpool and he gave the ball away again midway through the first half in a dangerous area. There is no doubting the quality of his long-range passing, but Dier struggles with the ball at his feet in tight situations, lacking the touch and awareness to move the ball quickly.
Against top teams, it is a big failing and he is becoming a problem for Spurs for that reason. To make the step up to the top level, Dier needs to work on his game and ensure he can play in midfield against the very best.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_