It was all going pretty much according to plan for Jose Mourinho and his familiar rope-a-dope tactics.
In fact, as the clock ticked toward stoppage time in the top-of-the-table match at Anfield, Tottenham perhaps deserved more than to be drawing 1-1 with Liverpool, the defending Premier League champion.
One simple corner changed everything.
Roberto Firmino met Andrew Robertson’s cross from the left with a powerful header into the top corner, and Liverpool was on its way to a 2-1 win that left Mourinho miffed.
“We were so close … so close of winning, not so close of a draw,” Mourinho said of what he described as “a very unfair result.”
Liverpool didn’t look, he added, “like a team that’s champion, European champion and world champion.”
As Mourinho, the arch-pragmatist, knows so well, it’s only the result that matters in games like this, and the win lifted Liverpool above Tottenham and three points clear in first place after 13 games.
Liverpool took the lead in the 26th minute through Mohamed Salah’s deflected shot that looped up and in off the post, before Son Heung-min replied seven minutes later after breaking the offside trap and running through unchallenged to score.
Firmino’s 90th-minute goal meant Tottenham narrowly failed to come out of an extremely difficult run of games — Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Crystal Palace then the ultimate test, Liverpool away — unscathed.
Still, it was a performance from Tottenham that suggested Mourinho’s second-place team should be regarded as a genuine Premier League title contender.
Mourinho will particularly rue Steven Bergwijn hitting the post and Harry Kane heading over from point-blank range at a corner when the score was 1-1.
“They’re a counterattacking monster,” said Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, who ran onto the field after the final whistle, congratulated each and every player and applauded the 2,000 fans inside Anfield — the only crowd to attend a Premier League match this midweek.
Antics which Mourinho didn’t appreciate.
“The referees let him behave the way he does,” he said. “It’s not my problem. I feel sad for it because I cannot do it but it’s just the way it is.”
Klopp and Mourinho exchanged words after the final whistle, too.
“I told him the best team lost and he disagreed,” Mourinho said, “but that’s his opinion.”
AUBAMEYANG TO RESCUE
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored at the right end for Arsenal this time — and spared his struggling team slipping to five straight losses for the first time in its 134-year history.
Three days after his own-goal consigned Arsenal to a chastening 1-0 home defeat to Burnley, Aubameyang rescued a point with a precise finish in a 1-1 draw against Southampton at Emirates Stadium.
It was only his third league goal of the season — a disappointing return for one of the world’s most prolific strikers — and a first in six games, ending his longest run without a goal for Arsenal.
Theo Walcott, a former Arsenal winger, had put Southampton ahead and was the player fouled by Gabriel to earn the defender his second yellow card in the 62nd. Arsenal also finished with 10 men against Burnley.
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta remains under pressure with his team in 15th place.
LEICESTER’S MISSED OPPORTUNITY
Leicester could have climbed into first place if results had gone its way tonight. Instead, its fourth loss in seven games at King Power Stadium raises questions about whether the team’s home form will scupper its top-four hopes.
Everton beat Leicester 2-0 thanks to goals by Richarlison and Mason Holgate, completing a strong few days for Carlo Ancelotti’s side after its 1-0 win over Chelsea at the weekend.
Leicester dropped to fourth place, and is only a point ahead of Everton.
Two matches in four days proved too much for a Newcastle squad that has been ravaged by a an outbreak of COVID-19 at the club.
Steve Bruce’s team was overwhelmed in a 5-2 loss at Leeds, which scored its last three goals in the final 23 minutes.
Newcastle had to postpone a recent match against Aston Villa because of the training-ground outbreak. The team returned to action — without many first-team players — in a home win over West Bromwich Albion on Saturday, after which Bruce said players were fatigued, and must go again on Saturday against Fulham.
An entertaining game epitomized Leeds manager Marcelo Bielsa’s free-flowing approach, and allowed his side to leapfrog Newcastle in the standings.
Fulham climbed out of the relegation zone, at least for one night, by drawing 0-0 at home to Brighton. A flying volley by Sebastien Haller salvaged a point for West Ham from a 1-1 draw with Crystal Palace, for whom Christian Benteke scored and was later sent off.
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Steve Douglas, The Associated Press