The weather has not been a friend to football supporters of late. The cold snap did for a majority of matches scheduled below the Premier League, and this evening, an hour before kick-off at Anfield, there is a possibility that it might strike again, with a thick fog over Liverpool. The fog clears in time for kick-off, though a lack of clarity will turn out to be a common feature of the evening. The top of the table has the feeling of being a house built on shaky foundations. No team is in outstanding form and it feels as if, although there is more than a third of the season left to play, the questions of who will win this year’s title and which four teams will make up next year’s Champions League places doesn’t at the time of writing feel a great deal more decided than it did in August.
After eleven minutes, a cat gets on the pitch and play is held up for a couple of minutes while players stand around with that familiar, slightly befuddled expression that passes across the face of the professional footballer that isn’t a football match, a training session or the opportunity of a fight outside a night club at three o’clock in the morning. It’s one of the rare highlights of an otherwise indistinguished half. Perhaps the absence of Harry Redknapp from the Spurs dressing room has had an adverse effect on the team tonight – the aeroplane that was due to be flying north after his day in court is understood have no flown on account of technical difficulties – but Spurs look shapeless this evening and alllow dominate for long periods of play.
The good news for them is that Liverpool are limited to a few shots from distance – one, from Jay Spearing, curls narrowly wide of Brad Friedel’s left-hand post – and a Dirk Kuyt header that heads in a direction so far at odds from the direction of the goal that it might even have been a piece of performance art while, at the other end of the pitch, Spurs are limited to one shot that Pepe Reina momentarily fumbles and an attempt at a flick from Gareth Bale that is a touch too clever for its own good and ends in a comfortable catch for the goalkeeper. Half-time arrives with the score goalless and neither side really meriting much more than the ripple of applause that greets the half-time whistle. All bustle and no hustle, this has been as disjointed a forty-five minutes of football as we might see all season.
Ten minutes into the second half, Gareth Bale takes a dive when faced with a tackle from Daniel Agger, pickes up a yellow card for his troubles and a little pushing and shoving finally drags the crowd to its feet. While the atmosphere improves with this, however, the standard of football doesn’t on the whole. Martin Kelly fires in shot from an angle which forces Friedel to sprawl and save, whilst Bale tries another shot from distance but wraps his foot around the ball and sends his shot a couple of yards wide. With sixty-five minutes played, though, the evening’s main event arrives with the arrival of Luis Suarez as a replacement for Drik Kuyt, and within four minutes he has earnt himself a yellow card for a reckless tackle on Scott Parker.
Suarez’s introduction, however, doesn’t really change the overall shape of the game. Liverpool continue to shade the midfield tussles, but in spite of the presence of the Uruguayan – who seems to have a vaguely unsettling effect on the Spurs defence – the golden chance goes to Spurs, when a long ball from nowhere suddenly releases Bale on the left-hand side and through on goal. Reina, however, gets his angles down to perfection, blocks the shot with his legs and the ball is hacked clear. Within a couple of minutes, Suarez has a free header, six yards from the Spurs goal, but he can’t direct his header wide of Friedel. The match, a match that neither team could in all conscience could claim to have deserved to win, finishes goalless.
This match, then completes a curate’s egg of a Premier League weekend, with wins for Newcastle United, Arsenal and Manchester City, and draws for Manchester United, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool. The race between the top two has tightened, and the performances of Arsenal and Newcastle United at the weekend can only be interpreted as proof two of the Champions League places are from assured just yet. Whether Liverpool can click back into gear with Luis Suarez back in their team is a question that only time will definitively answer. Spurs, meanwhile, are seven points off the top of the table and eight points above Newcastle United, who currently sit in fifth place in the table. It may be a while before anything decided at the top of the Premier League table this season.
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