All eyes were on Anfield on Wednesday, when Tottenham Hotspur had the chance to further underline their Premier League title credentials by beating the champions, Liverpool, on their own patch.
Victory over a Liverpool team that had won each of their previous home games so far this season would have been Spurs’ biggest result of 2020/21. However, after winning just 24% of possession, their lowest this season, Spurs were undone witha 90th minute Roberto Firmino goal which deservedly won The Reds all three points.
Tottenham have performed well against their fellow big-six sides this season. As well as beating the three teams mentioned above, they also collected a creditable point against Chelsea on a recent trip to Stamford Bridge.
Mourinho recently declared that “this ball possession story is more for sports philosophers than it is for me” in response to criticism of his style. Spurs have been content to let their opponents have the ball for long spells, before using Harry Kane’s passing ability and Son Heung-min’s speed and direct running to break forward in transition. That was exactly how Tottenham tried to get a result against Liverpool on Wednesday.
There are downsides to that approach, though, as Wednesday proved. Against a team as strong as Liverpool, ceding such an astonishing amount of possession meant defending against constant pressure and, whilst it may have been effective against Manchester City, Jurgen Klopp’s side punished Tottenham.
With the exception of the Liverpool game, Tottenham have had success playing that way against the division’s bigger sides and their title challenge could ultimately hinge on meetings with the Premier League’s so-called lesser lights. Indeed, since a 1-0 opening-day defeat by Everton, six of Spurs’ eleven dropped points have come in draws with Newcastle United, West Ham United and Crystal Palace.
On Sunday, at Selhurst Park, Tottenham played much like they had against Arsenal the previous week. On both occasions they held a lead at half-time and then sat back after the restart in a bid to protect it. Against Arsenal they were 2-0 up at the interval and therefore had a more comfortable cushion than against Palace, who were only 1-0 behind. In the end, sitting on their lead at Selhurst proved to be a mistake.
Palace were much the better team in the second period, pinning Spurs back in their own half and creating numerous opportunities. It is true that Vicente Guaita won the Man of the Match award, and Spurs may well have scored more than one goal had the Spaniard not been in such brilliant form, but Palace were well worth their point in their end.
Instead of seeking to kill the game off with a second goal, or take the sting out of it with sustained spells of possession, Spurs sat back after half-time and ultimately paid the price. Had they held on, there would no doubt have been talk of a Mourinho masterclass and the Portuguese’s ability to grind out wins even when his side are not playing particularly well. Instead, this 1-1 draw suggested that Tottenham’s championship challenge could ultimately be derailed by dropped points against sides they should really be beating.
Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea all failed to win at the weekend, so Spurs’ draw with Palace was far from disastrous. Had Tottenham ground out a result against Liverpool on Wednesday, it would have been seen in a more positive light.
The frustration against Palace was that Tottenham ceded control of a game they were ahead in, and ultimately paid the price. Against Liverpool, Tottenham fought back from a goal down and were then punished for sitting back again. It is a mistake they will not be able to repeat too often this season if they are to mount a sustained title tilt.