When Kenny Dalglish railed against the refereeing decisions that he believes have cost his Liverpool side this season, he was tapping into a very modern phenomenon. The culture of criticising referees is not far short of being as old as the game itself, but in recent times it has started to take a slightly different feel, with endless television replays and the sense of persecution complex hanging around many managers has become one of the staples of the modern game. Kenny Dalglish is not the most notable practitioner of this particular dark art, of course, and we could assume the position that his statement last week was little more than unfortunately timed, considering his team’s performance at White Hart Lane this afternoon.
That Liverpool had, after sixty minutes of play today, two players sent off was not the fault of the referee. This was an astonishingly ill-disciplined performance by Dalglish’s team this afternoon, and that they would end the match without the full complement of players seemed evident from the very early stages of the match. It may be for the best that we don’t even pause to consider what was going through Charlie Adam’s mind when, having collected a yellow card already, went crunching into Scott Parker’s thigh as if trying to kick a fire escape door open. The sending off of Martin Skrtel with just over an hour of the match played was mere icing on the cake for Spurs, who were already almost indescribably superior in spite of what their slender, single goal lead might have suggested. It has been pointed out that Spurs committed more fouls than Liverpool this afternoon, but this is to miss the point – Liverpool’s fouls were clumsy, bordering on reckless. It was difficult to argue against either sending off.
It was still eleven-a-side when Spurs took the lead, after just seven minutes, of course. The Luka Modric transfer saga rumbled for the length of the summer, but Chelsea didn’t get their man in the end – for now – and Modric demonstrated why they were so persistent in their pursuance of the waif-like Croatian midfielder with a first time shot into the top corner to give his team the lead. Spurs have begun their season in fits and starts and, while they seemed to have turned a corner with a comfortable win at Molineux against Wolverhampton Wanderers last weekend, they were back out of sorts in Salonika on Thursday night and were only a missed penalty from losing that match. This afternoon, though, they purred like a finely-tuned engine, keeping possession with ease, creating chance after chance and strangling any of Liverpool’s attacking ambitions so effectively that the visitors may as well not have had any strikers on the pitch in the first place.
It was the sending off of Skrtel which proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back for Liverpool. Within seven minutes of his dismissal, Spurs were three goals up and sailing away in the distance. Jermain Defoe scored the second with a low drive that sneaked inside Jose Reina’s near post, and Emmanuel Adebayor, making his home debut for Spurs this afternoon, scored the third from close range after Reina had spilled Defoe’s shot. With this goal, the demoralisation of Liverpool was complete, and Spurs spent much of the last twenty minutes merely keeping possession, although the sense of disarray was such that there was even time for them to almost absent-mindedly add a fourth goal in stoppage time through Adebayor, whose accomplished performance was arguably the highlight of a very good afternoon for Harry Redknapp.
There will likely be Liverpool supporters that will seek to place the blame for this afternoon’s debacle on the performance of the referee, but the truth of the matter is that the Liverpool performance was so woefully lacking in substance that even the sendings off had the feel of hardly being central to the eventual outcome of the match. Skrtel’s dismissal was, in some respects, the end of a torrid afternoon for the man charged with the job of trying to contain Gareth Bale. The red cards shown may have made Spurs’ job somewhat easier than it might otherwise have been, but it would be difficult to argue that Liverpool would have been much more effective had they kept their full starting eleven for the entire ninety minutes.
As we said regarding Arsenal yesterday, the situation at Anfield is far from being what could reasonably be described as a crisis. Things may yet continue to be sticky for them, though. They travel to the south coast to play Brighton & Hove Albion in the League Cup this week and, whilst a home match against Wolverhampton Wanderers should yield them three points, their next two matches after that are a trip to Everton and then a home match against Manchester United. By the end of those four matches, we should have a slightly clearer picture of where Liverpool Football Club is headed this season. The club’s heaviest defeat for eight years doesn’t seem to augur well, though, and there can be little question that this was their worst defeat since Dalglish took charge of the club. If Arsenal’s decline cannot be arrested, there will be likely be at least one Champions League place up for grabs at the end of this season, but Liverpool will have to improve considerably on this afternoon’s performance if they are to maintain their challenge for it.
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