Same old story for Tottenham but Dejan Kulusevski return raises spirits despite Liverpool defeat

Return: Dejan Kulusevski  (Action Images via Reuters)
Return: Dejan Kulusevski (Action Images via Reuters)

Tottenham produced a now-characteristic second-half rally but this time it was not enough to earn a result as they went 2-1 to Liverpool after Mohamed Salah's brilliant first-half double.

Spurs have won several games this season while playing far worse than they did against Jurgen Klopp's side, but the match was decided by the Egyptian's two smart finishes, the second following a dreadful mistake by Eric Dier.

Dier's miscued header, which set Salah free on goal before he chipped over Hugo Lloris, ultimately decided the contest, with Spurs unable to find a leveller after Harry Kane halved the deficit from substitute Dejan Kulusevski's pass.

After another frustrating defeat to a big-six rival, Antonio Conte can reflect that his side were unlucky, particularly after his side had a credible penalty appeal waved away at 1-0 for a Trent Alexander-Arnold push on Ryan Sessegnon.

Ultimately though, Spurs paid the price for sloppiness at both ends and yet another slow start, while quality in the final third was the difference between the sides.

Conte's team were also sloppy for the opening goal, falling behind to Salah's low finish after 11 minutes after Liverpool strolled through Spurs' midfield and defence. The forward smacked into the bottom corner despite having five white shirts around him in the box.

Spurs have now conceded first in six straight matches and in 13 of their 20 fixtures this season, and if strong finishes to games are part of a deliberate strategy, which increasing appears plausible, it was always going to be a huge risk against a side with Liverpool's firepower.

While Salah was in fine nick and well fed by the usual supporting cast, Spurs were forced to play their two best creators, Kane and Ivan Perisic, up front because Richarlison and Heung-min Son were both injured and Kulusevski and Lucas Moura only fit enough for the bench.

Perisic was impressive as an auxiliary forward and went closest to equalising at 1-0 when he forced Alisson to turn on to his own post from Kane's cross. The Croatian also struck the bar at the start of the second half, before switching back to left wing-back when Kulusevski was introduced in the 68th minute.

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

It was remarkable how quickly the Swede made a difference, slipping in Kane with a trademark pass after just over a minute on the pitch.

The England captain fired across Alisson into the far corner for his 11th League goal of the season, and Spurs sensed another dramatic comeback.

You wonder whether Spurs could have maintained the pace with Manchester City and Arsenal if Kulusevski had not been absent since September 17 with a hamstring injury. As it is, a third defeat in four means they will likely restart the season on Boxing Day looking over their shoulders at the chasing pack rather than up the table at the leading pair.

They had a number of chances to spark a third consecutive dramatic comeback but Liverpool are made of sterner stuff than Bournemouth and Marseille, and they held firm as Spurs laid siege to their goal in the final 20 minutes.

Alisson made a number of brave interventions, while Kane flicked a header just beyond the far post and the reach of Rodrigo Bentancur.