Liverpool fell to Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 in the teams’ mid-week Barclay’s Premier League clash at White Hart Lane on Wednesday. Gareth Bale was at the center of the action with a goal and an assist for the Spurs, while also scoring an own goal for Liverpool’s sole tally.
Contrary to popular opinion, Brendan Rodgers’ task is simple: figure out in what way he has wronged the football gods and quickly make amends. Or even better, figure out why Liverpool seem to be on the wrong end of refereeing decisions this season.
This time Rodgers was once again left directing his anger at Phil Dowd for a series of influential, if not controversial decisions. In the 16th minute, Jordan Henderson was adjudged to have fouled Clint Dempsey 30 meters from goal, with replays seeming to indicate that there was very little contact.
On the ensuing free kick Bale knuckled a rocket into the back of the Liverpool net to put Spurs up 2-0. As if to add insult to injury, the ball seemed to take a deflection off Henderson in the wall, while wrong-footing Pepe Reina in the process.
Ten minutes before his free kick, Bale assisted on Spurs’ first goal following a Steven Gerrard turnover in midfield. Jermain Defoe intercepted the Liverpool captain’s ill-conceived pass and sprung Bale along the left side, with the Welshman eluding three Reds before squaring for Aaron Lennon’s tap in at the back post.
Despite being down 2-0 after 16 minutes, Rodgers could take heart in the fact that Liverpool never stopped fighting and that the Reds created several opportunities of their own.
Rodgers’ ire was once again directed at Dowd, who famously awarded two penalties against Liverpool on opening day at West Bromwich. The Liverpool manager felt that Gerrard was fouled inside the box by Mousa Dembélé in the 37th minute and complained about the lack of decisions in his club’s favor.
"Two clear penalties. Steven Gerrard—that was bordering on assault, never mind a tackle. It was frightening how we never got the penalty for that. And if you watch, Luis Suárez gets kicked by William Gallas, also."
The latter reference being made regarding an incident in the 89th minute when the Uruguayan striker went down inside the box under a challenge by the Spurs central defender. Replays seemed to indicate a trip on the part of Gallas, but Dowd saw nothing wrong with the challenge.
That Liverpool has been wronged by decisions this season is unquestioned, a point not at all lost on Rodgers.
"It's incredible that we have gone through the season and haven't had a penalty. Statistics will tell you we've been in box as much as anyone and although we know we need to be more clinical, to arrive at this stage of season and not get a penalty … I can go through a whole raft of [incorrect] penalty decisions and offside decisions that were actually pretty straightforward."
Not to be lost in that quote is the fact that Rodgers himself acknowledges that his team needs to do better with their chances, as exemplified by Suárez and Henderson’s chances in the ninth and 20th minutes respectively.
It is a tired refrain about the Reds attack now, and one that Rodgers has to hope will correct itself as the season progresses. Better favor of the gods would help as well… prepare the calf.
As always, player ratings are presented by position (back-to-front) below, along the following guidelines:
10: Exceptional—superlative performances only.
9: Excellent—outstanding performance.
8: Impressive—very influential game.
7: Very good—eye-catching game.
6: Average—good game, but nothing overly impressive.
5: Below Average—decent performance, but with some faults.
4: Poor—many faults, performance stands out for all the wrong reasons.
Additionally, any performance that affects the outcome of the game will increase or decrease a player’s rating by half a point (.5).
Pepe Reina— the season has been one of ups and downs for Reina, but he acquitted himself well today in keeping the match close. Some reports are claiming that he was fooled by the swerve of Bale’s free kick, others that he was caught flat-footed, but the evidence shows that it was a deflection in the wall that was the true culprit. Grade 7
Glen Johnson (Jordan Henderson 70th) — Johnson was once again brilliant, continuing a recent trend of superb performances for the club. Was one of three Liverpool defenders beaten by Bale on the cross to Walker, but difficult to fault him or any of them for that matter when the team captain gives the ball away in midfield. Grade 7
Martin Skrtel— Skrtel had a very good game in central defense, combining with Agger to silence a rampant Jermain Defoe who entered the contest having scored seven goals in 13 appearances for Spurs. Took a professional foul on Dempsey late in the game which earned him a yellow card, but that was the only blemish on his performance. Grade 7
Daniel Agger—Agger had a brilliant game in central defense and almost produced a moment of sheer brilliance when he hustled to save the ball from going out for a Tottenham goal kick. His effort resulted in a gilt-edged chance for Suárez, who could only put his effort over-bar. Grade 7
Stewart Downing (Oussama Assaidi, 78th) — injury to Andre Wisdom created an opportunity for Downing to get on the pitch, and to his credit, he has offered a decent contribution playing out of position. Today however was not one of his better days as he was caught ball watching on Lennon’s opening goal, which took the shine off what would have otherwise been a decent shift. Grade 6
Jordan Henderson (Jonjo Shelvey, 63rd) — Henderson’s problem continues to be quality (or lack thereof) rather than effort. Was doubly unlucky to be called for a very soft foul, if that, on Dempsey that lead to the free kick, then to suffer having the ball deflect off his head and past his stranded keeper. Should have done much better with his effort from 18 yards out, skewing his shot wide with an empty net beckoning. Grade 6
Joe Allen— another masterful shift by the young Welshman. Has developed a disturbing penchant for fouling of late, but thankfully Liverpool are yet to be made to pay for his transgressions. Grade 7
Steven Gerrard— Gerrard had a very poor start to the game with back-to-back giveaways in midfield that created chances for Bale. The first lead to a long-range effort that stung the palms of Pepe Reina, the second lead to the breakaway and cross by Bale, for Lennon’s finish. Created several nice opportunities from corner kicks, only to cede the crosses to Shelvey later on in the game. His preference for long range passes is not only out of scheme for the Rodgers system, but today also proved costly as well. Grade 5
José Enrique— hopefully we have seen the end to the Enrique experiment in midfield, the Spaniard can’t say that his manager hasn’t given him a look. As with Henderson, the issue isn’t one of effort, but rather one of quality, and put simply, Enrique is not an attacking player. He suffers for pace and while he maintains possession admirably enough, he’s not creative with the ball at his feet and has proved himself a poor finisher around goal. The majority of chances fell to him today, on plays that surely left Reds faithful pining for the days of Craig Bellamy and Dirk Kuyt. Wisdom can reasonably be expected to regain his position at right back when fit, with Johnson shifting to the left, which may mean more opportunities for Enrique. On present form, fans can expect those to continue go begging. Grade 6
Raheem Sterling— Was he even on the pitch? The young striker was lost today against a bigger, more physical Tottenham side, personified by the wily presence of Phil Dawson. The end result was a disappointingly anonymous day for Sterling. Grade 6
Luis Suárez —the striker continues to be the bellwether of Liverpool’s fortunes this season— as go the Uruguayan, so goes Liverpool. Should have done much better with a couple of his opportunities, notably his ninth minute effort which he tried to place past Hugo Lloris in the Tottenham goal, when a much more violent effort was called for. Was denied what seemed to be a legitimate penalty shout in the dying minutes after being brought down by Gallas. Needs to be more clinical. Grade 7
Shelvey— the England U-21 continues be a reliable substitute late in the game for Rodgers, but today his effort fell flat, disappointing on corner kicks, and rarely factoring in the despite being on the field for the final 30 minutes of play. Grade 5.5
Assaidi — didn’t really do much in his 15 minutes on the field. Grade 5.5
Brad Jones, Nuri Sahin, Jamie Carragher, Jesus Fernandez Saez (Suso), Andre Wisdom.