The renaissance of Kyle Walker has begun. After a rough nine months, which hit rock bottom when the 'PFA Young Player of the Year’ was subjected to mindless abuse by a minority of Spurs fans in the home defeat to Chelsea, the form is beginning to return. Class is permanent, they say, and the sudden revival of Walker adds credence to that maxim.
On Sunday, Walker saw off two West Ham wingers in his best display since Spurs blew that massive points advantage over Arsenal last season and three days later the jet-heeled right-back was the standout defender as Spurs repelled a late Liverpool surge for their second win on the spin. Walker’s goalline clearance from a blocked Steven Gerrard shot was nothing short of sensational.
It was a busy evening for Walker and co. The Brendan Rodgers’ passing model was in full flow. Returning talisman Mousa Dembele is still struggling for fitness but was often the glue that held Spurs’ sieve-like midfield together as the defensive corps were forced to work for long periods during sustained Liverpool pressure in the second half. Sandro was oddly ineffectual – the match literally passed him by – perhaps he had not fully recovered from the injury sustained against West Ham.
The skill and trickery of Luis Suarez, Raheem Sterling and Jose Enrique in an advanced role caused constant problems for a backline featuring Spurs’ fourth and fifth string centre-halves and an out of position Jan Vertonghen. Never forget that Younes Kaboul and Vertonghen are the starters at centre-half with Steven Caulker an able deputy. Spurs are lucky to have such strength in depth in this position, but the understudies were tested rigorously in this rivetting encounter.
Michael Dawson and William Gallas are not the quickest of operators and, while frequently wrong-footed, they both showed admirable powers of recovery in what became a backs-to-the-wall situation when Clint Dempsey was replaced by the listless Gylfi Sigurdsson in the second half. Gallas, while sometimes ponderous against clever forward play, still made some pivotal interventions which no doubt went unnoticed by those with selective myopia.
At times, the home defending felt frantic, almost calamitous, with under-pressure Spurs players dawdling on the ball outside the box when clearing their lines was the only and best option. With the pint-sized Jermain Defoe on his own up front, there was no ‘out ball’ on offer and, on those rare occasions the ball found the striker, he was often being manhandled by Martin Skrtel to prevent any onward movement. That omnipresent ‘clever defending’.
This defensive uncertainty made for a tense finale, but a thrilling game in hindsight. Gareth Bale had an eventful evening and showed flashes of his usual brilliance early on, finding Lennon for the opener after a marauding left-wing run and sweeping in a free-kick to give Tottenham a giddy 2-0 advantage on 16 minutes that looked frequently under threat for the rest of the game. For all their possession and positive play, Liverpool were thankfully toothless and Suarez reliant in the final third and perhaps it was no surprise that their reply resulted from Lennon’s goalline clearance ridiculously cannoning off Bale and into the net. The away side merited a draw, but from a home perspective it was refreshing to see Spurs hold on to a lead after this season’s flood of late conceded goals.
It would not be a fixture against Liverpool without Gerrard and Suarez collapsing in the penalty area when goalside of a Spurs defender. Tottenham were certainly fortunate that Phil Dowd, no lover of Liverpool, was the referee. Dowd’s first free kick for the 'Reds' was awarded on 44 minutes! Neither looked a spot-kick on review, but both players deserve credit for artistic impression and post-decision arm-flapping. The t-shirt printers in Liverpool will probably be busy today.
The booking of Bale for ‘simulation’ was instigated by the snarling response of Daniel Agger who has no ethical problems playing alongside the talented but toxic Suarez, arguably the most prominent simulator in modern football. It looked a free-kick, and certainly not a booking, from my vantage point in the Paxton End. Ironically, the free-kick which Bale scored from was not and courtesy of a trademark Dempsey ‘tumble’.
A rare lucky day for Spurs and a red letter one for the resurgent Walker.