Liverpool assumed the role of chief Champions League football challengers as they moved into fifth place after a frankly bizarre late 4-3 win over Tottenham.
A week after conceding five in the opening 21 minutes at Newcastle, history started to repeat itself after another shambolic opening to a game from Spurs, who were 3-0 down inside 15 minutes courtesy of goals from Curtis Jones, Luis Diaz and Mohamed Salah.
That the visitors got back on level terms through Harry Kane – equalling Wayne Rooney’s 208 Premier League total – Son Heung-min and Richarlison, in added time, said as much about the home side’s sloppiness when cruising as it did Tottenham’s powers of recovery which had earned them a come-from-behind draw against Manchester United on Thursday.
It may have been a different Spurs interim manager – Ryan Mason now in charge after Cristian Stellini’s sacking – and a different formation but the same problems were present with a lack of intensity and understanding of the task at hand leaving the visitors wide open in the early stages.
Trent Alexander-Arnold, continuing in his new hybrid right-back midfield role, can open up most teams even without the assistance he was given by a lack of pressure on him.
His cross to the far post demanded to be fired home and Jones did just that for his first goal since September 2021, in doing so making Alexander-Arnold the first player in Premier League history to twice provide an assist in five consecutive games.
His recent form in his new role will have had the watching England manager Gareth Southgate wondering whether he can afford to adopt it himself, having left the 24-year-old out of his last squad.
Liverpool doubled their advantage two minutes later when Diaz, making his first start since October, showed greater desire than Cristian Romero to meet Cody Gakpo’s cut-back with a smartly-taken volley.
Harvey Elliott’s brilliant through-ball picked out Gakpo, exploiting the scarcely believable spaces in Spurs’ back five, but he was eventually squeezed out by Romero.
The suffering Spurs fans chanted ‘We want our money back’, having this week been offered a refund for their St James’ Park experience, but their self-deprecation turned to anger when Romero brought down Gakpo and Salah fired home his first penalty success in three attempts.
It was the seventh successive home match in which the Egypt international had scored and it moved him past Robbie Fowler and just two behind Steven Gerrard in Liverpool’s all-time leading scorers list with 184 in 300 games.
That goal confirmed Tottenham’s position as the Premier League’s worst team in the first 15 minutes, with their league-high 13 goals conceded in that period only beaten by Wolves, Ipswich and Sheffield in the competition’s history.
Alexander-Arnold released Gakpo again for another chance and Salah curled wide from the edge of the box. Liverpool’s press was ferocious but Spurs’ organisation was atrocious and Oliver Skipp was lucky to escape any punishment for going over the top on Diaz.
Tottenham had not had a touch inside the opposition penalty area in the opening 28 minutes and the only danger to Liverpool appeared to be themselves as the game seemed just too easy.
However, in a moment, the dynamic changed as, with the press a little less dynamic and the concentration a little less focused, Virgil van Dijk was forced to clear Son’s goalbound shot after Andy Robertson gave the ball to Kane.
But the Netherlands captain was left sprawling on the turf when Ivan Perisic broke down the left into the space left by Alexander-Arnold and Kane volleyed home his cross from close range for his ninth goal against Liverpool, behind only Andy Cole (11) in terms of Premier League strikes against the Reds.
The introduction of Jordan Henderson and Jota, for Elliott and Diaz, restored some balance but the space remained behind Alexander-Arnold and Son exploited that in the 77th minute as he raced onto Romero’s pass to tuck a shot under Alisson.
Former Everton forward Richarlison’s tumble under pressure from Ibrahima Konate was not deemed worthy of a penalty as Spurs pressed for the equaliser, which duly arrived when the former Everton forward chose the optimum time to score his first Premier League goal for the club, diving to head home a free-kick.
However, straight from kick-off, Jota slotted home from the angle to snatch back victory, provoking such wild celebrations that limping manager Jurgen Klopp appeared to pull his hamstring celebrating after the final whistle.