Liverpool beat Tottenham Hotspur at Anfield on Saturday, recording a long-awaited first Premier League win of the year, courtesy of two goals from Sadio Mané.
The Reds were under intense pressure following five games without a win, a run that saw their title dreams fade as well as their top-four hopes hang by a thread.
Manager Jürgen Klopp had rallied his troops prior to kick-off, also calling on the Anfield crowd to be his team’s 12th man and he named a strong starting line-up, with Georginio Wijnaldum returning to the side in place of Emre Čan and the awesome foursome of Adam Lallana, Mané, Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino all making starts.
And it was Mané who settled the nerves early on with a quick-fire brace inside the first 20 minutes, after which the Reds went on to apply their authority on the match, seizing possession and creating chances as well as aggressively denying their opponents of the influence they impose on a regular basis.
Two goals would be enough in the end, as Liverpool celebrated a win and a clean sheet over their rivals.
Here then, are five things we learned from Saturday evening’s win over Spurs.
It should be said that Saturday night’s performance against Tottenham was, for Liverpool, a revival of their true dominant spirit.
Over the past month, it seemed to be either sleeping or dead as Klopp’s men were the ones getting dominated, particularly in games they were expected to win.
Teams were setting up walls in being collectively compact and defensively tough to breach, with almost every Reds attack landing like liquid on solid structure. As a result, the Merseysiders would often look mentally jaded, clearly wondering just what needed to be done to score a goal or win a match, replacing their dominant spirit with a rather frail one.
However, with this complete performance against Spurs, the Reds put away their frailty in favour of a dominance that will surely do the rest of their season the world of good.
Mané of the match
With the disappointment of a cup exit with his home nation at the Africa Cup of Nations, and what looked like a growing club crisis weighing on his shoulders, it was at times difficult to see Sadio Mané recapturing the form of 2016 for the sake of Liverpool’s season.
However, the Senegalese forward did just that against Tottenham, scoring two goals in the space of two minutes and putting his past disappointment to bed and hopefully his side’s own poor form.
More than just taking his season goal tally to eleven, though, the former Southampton star put in an excellent Man of the Match display, using his pace and power to constantly breach Spurs’ high defensive line.
In particular, he would’ve given Tottenham’s Ben Davies a sleepless night or two. The left-back simply couldn’t live with Mané’s pace and was often caught sleeping by the Senegalese in the first half.
After such a wretched period without him, the striker’s superb performance was a much welcomed one, with the Anfield faithful giving him a standing ovation when he was substituted late on and Klopp giving him a warm Klopp-hug that was surely on behalf of the entire Liverpool fanbase.
When the starting line-up was announced ahead of kick-off, you could easily anticipate moans and groans from Reds fans over the inclusion of Lucas Leiva as a centre-back.
The Brazilian has featured in that position for several times this season as Klopp’s squad player and despite proving reliable in only a handful of matches, he hasn’t filled Liverpool fans with the greatest of confidence in his ability, with the Merseysiders’ defeat at Hull City recently denting their trust in the experienced midfielder.
However, against Spurs Lucas was near-perfect in his response. The Brazilian put in a classic no-nonsense performance, taking no risks in making quick clearances and clamping down on the threat of strikers Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min.
It was a strong display by Lucas that also earned him a standing ovation when substituted with injury and one that will surely keep him in Klopp’s thinking for future matches.
Is Coutinho still searching for himself?
Perhaps the only dim light that came from an otherwise bright Anfield night is the performance of Philippe Coutinho.
The Brazilian made his fifth league appearance ever since returning from a long injury lay-off and the hope from Reds fans was that he would help his side to a win with another golden performance, alongside his fellow attackers.
What they got, though, was a display of good control but poor end-product.
As is always the case, Coutinho played a focal role in Liverpool’s build-up play, collecting the ball from midfield into Tottenham’s defensive third, however, the attacking midfielder’s finishing lacked the incisive quality it always carries and he was often too ponderous in a few situations which he would usually thrive in quickly.
It may be fair to assume that the little magician is still searching for himself, that is, still searching for the confident, quick-thinking and quality-filled Coutinho that the Reds know and love.
Top-four finish still in sight
Obviously, winning against Spurs alone doesn’t make everything alright for Liverpool. There still lies the huge task of 13 Premier League games to play this season, the first of which is a trip away to Leicester City.
Jürgen Klopp’s men, though, can use their performance on Saturday night as a launch-pad to rise up the same ladder they fell from.
The three points achieved from this match in addition to the confidence and momentum received will be vital for the Reds’ season, as will the next few weeks, which will see Liverpool’s rivals involved in domestic and continental cup matches, whilst the Merseysiders look to utilise their time on the training pitch.
That said, a top four finish is still in sight for Klopp’s men and judging by their display against Spurs, they will surely be giving everything to achieve it.