Liverpool extended their lead at the top of the Premier League to 16 points with a game in hand as they battled to a hard-fought win at Tottenham.
Jurgen Klopp’s men became the first team in Europe’s top-five leagues to win 20 of their first 21 games as they withstood a second-half fightback from Spurs to win courtesy of Roberto Firmino’s first-half goal.
The Brazil forward turned Spurs’ young debutant Japhet Tanganga then beat Paulo Gazzaniga with a sweet left-foot strike to give the visitors a deserved lead.
However Liverpool were then grateful to poor finishing from Jose Mourinho’s side – who were without the injured Harry Kane – in order to record another victory on their seemingly relentless march to a first title in 30 years.
Son Heung-Min and substitute Giovani lo Celso missed glorious second-half chances to give Spurs some reward for a performance that improved as the game went on.
But Liverpool, their position strengthened further by Leicester City’s shock home loss to Southampton, held on to increase the sense of formality about the destination of this season’s Premier League trophy.
Liverpool not at most fluent – but win again
Liverpool may not have been at their best – there were even spells in the second half when they looked jaded – but this is a team on a seemingly unstoppable run to the Premier League title.
This was their 12th successive league win and it is a remarkable feat to have dropped only two league points from their first 21 games – something no other team in Europe’s major leagues has ever achieved.
It’s true they were let off by Spurs’ missed chances but there is perhaps a sense that Liverpool’s dominance is having a psychological impact on their opponents so that when rare opportunities come along, they are being snatched at.
And even when not in prime form, Liverpool’s forward line is so potent that there is always a goal in them – as Firmino proved with his neat 37th-minute sidestep and thumping finish.
Spurs will claim, with justification, they should have had a throw-in before the goal but Liverpool are now being propelled with growing momentum to end that long wait to reclaim their perch at the summit of the English game.
Spurs lack killer instinct
The root of Spurs’ downfall came in two distinct aspects of their performance – albeit one did get better as the game wore on.
In the first half, Spurs were far too passive and negative as they sat back, presumably waiting for an opportunity to strike on the counter attack.
The tactic was undone by Firmino’s goal, leaving Spurs with no option but to be more positive in the second period.
It was then, without the marksmanship of long-term injury victim Kane, that they were so wasteful in front of goal – with both Son and Lo Celso missing when it seemed easier to score.
Lo Celso’s miss, in particular, left Mourinho openly lamenting his side’s absence of a clinical edge as he collapsed dramatically to his knees after the Argentina midfielder failed to hit the target from close range.
Spurs’ wasteful moments against Liverpool may well further convince their manager he has to strengthen his attacking options in this transfer window as the fight for a top-four place intensifies.
Man of the match – Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool)
‘This is the best team in the world’ – what they said
Tottenham boss Jose Mourinho, speaking to BBC Sport: “This is football. Sometimes you get more than you deserve. Sometimes you get less. This was an occasion when we got nothing when we deserved something. This is the best team in the world against a team in a difficult moment, with injuries, in a difficult part of the season. The boys were fantastic when we tried to change and create problems.”
On a potential handball in the build-up to the goal: “I didn’t watch it. What I watch is 200% that the throw in for the start of the goal was our throw. I am confused with VAR because of that.”
On finishing in the top four: “It is possible to talk about top four when you start the season on zero points. But it is hard to talk about it when you start at minus 12 (the number of points off the top four Spurs were when he took over).”
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp, speaking to BBC Sport: “It was very hard-fought because we didn’t close the game down early. We should have been one or 2-0 up already when we scored. If you have quality opponent like Tottenham and you don’t close the game they will come back. Allison makes things look easy. It is not what we would have wanted. It is intense, you lose the ball and you are facing one of the best counter-attacking sides. We had Robbo (Andy Robertson) free two or three times and he didn’t find a team-mate, so we didn’t help ourselves.”
On his side’s defensive record: “We needed Allison for that today. We had a few dips defensively. Some games he has not had a lot to do with us winning the ball high early. It is good but there is no other chance to win games than to defend well.”
On their record start to the season: “It doesn’t feel somehow special. We know about it and it is special but I can’t feel it. When someone gives you a trophy it is done but until then you need to fight. It is only the start. We need to continue because our contenders are so strong. Pep (Guardiola, Manchester City boss) will not give up. I will do the same. So far, so really good.”
Liverpool’s record 38-game run – the stats
- Liverpool have 61 points in the Premier League in 2019-20 – the most any side has ever registered after 21 games in a single season across Europe’s big five leagues (assuming three points for a win).
- Liverpool have collected 104 points across their last 38 Premier League matches (W33 D5 L0) – a record total by any team across a 38-match spell in the competition’s history, overtaking 102-point stretches by Man City (ending in 2018) and Chelsea (2005).
- Tottenham Hotspur have conceded 20 goals in 13 matches in all competitions under Jose Mourinho; it took Mourinho’s Chelsea side 44 games before letting in their 20th goal during his first spell in England as a manager in the 2004-05 season.
- This is Liverpool’s joint-best scoring run from the start of a season in English top-flight history, with the Reds also scoring in their opening 21 games in 1933-34.
- Liverpool have now gone 38 Premier League games without defeat; since their last league loss at Man City in January 2019, Tottenham have lost 16 Premier League matches by comparison, including three to the Reds.
- Tottenham have lost back-to-back Premier League matches for the first time this season, having last done so in May 2019, while this is the first time their manager Jose Mourinho has lost consecutive games in the competition since August 2018 as Manchester United boss.
- Liverpool have kept six consecutive clean sheets in the Premier League for the first time since December 2006 (seven).
- Roberto Firmino has scored five goals in his last six games for Liverpool in all competitions, as many as he had in his previous 30 appearances for the Reds before this run.
Tottenham host Middlesbrough in their FA Cup third-round replay on Tuesday, 14 January (20:05 GMT). They then travel to Watford in the Premier League on Saturday, 18 January (12:30 GMT).
Liverpool welcome Manchester United to Anfield in their next Premier League fixture on Sunday, 19 January (16:30 GMT).