At Anfield, two of the biggest underperformers of the season produced a ridiculous game in which nearly everybody made a fool of themselves. As meaningless mid-table end-of-season fixtures go, you can’t ask for much more than Liverpool and Spurs served up yesterday.
The pattern of the game — 3-0, 3-3, 4-3 — echoed that of the second, farcical 4-3 between Liverpool and Newcastle back in 1997, a match that exposed the essential unseriousness of Roy Evans’s then title-chasing Liverpool side. Maybe the sense that this match was saying something similar about the current side was why Jürgen Klopp got so angry that he gracelessly celebrated the winning goal in the face of the fourth official — pulling his hamstring in the process — then launched a personalised attack on referee Paul Tierney.
“We have our story, our history with Mr Tierney,” Klopp told Sky Sports. “I really don’t know what this man has with us. I really don’t know. You always will say there’s nothing and it’s not true, it cannot be. I have to say, it cannot be. I’m really not sure — how he looks at me, I don’t understand it. I really have no problem with any people, not with him as well. But it’s just like — again? He was ref at Tottenham when Harry Kane didn’t get a red card … it was Mr Tierney and nobody asks him about it, because in England they don’t have to clarify situations. It’s really tricky. It’s difficult to understand. My celebration towards the fourth official, I didn’t say any bad words, nothing, but it was unnecessary, I got punished for it immediately …that’s fine, fair. But what he said to me then, when he gave me the yellow card? It’s not possible. It’s not okay as well.”
Accusing a referee of having a personal agenda against your team is the kind of comment that usually results in an FA charge and touchline ban. It is a fact that Tierney was the referee at Tottenham v Liverpool in December 2021, a match that finished 2-2 after a series of controversial decisions. Harry Kane should have been sent off for a flying lunge on Andrew Robertson that Tierney deemed worthy only of a booking. Diogo Jota was denied a penalty after an obvious barge by Emerson Royal. Liverpool dropped two points that day, ended up losing the title race by one point, and Klopp can’t forget it.
The problem with Klopp’s argument that Tierney must therefore have it in for Liverpool is that at Anfield, he seemed determined to reverse all the bad decisions he’d made in the Tottenham game last season — or rather, make a similar set of bad decisions, but in the other direction. Jota should not have been on the pitch to score his late winner, after earlier studding Oliver Skipp in the face in what Ryan Mason described as “one of the clearest red cards I’ve ever seen”. Equally galling for Spurs, Tierney ignored a late penalty appeal by Richarlison and his video assistant apparently ignored replays that showed Konate putting his arm around Richarlison to drag him back. So while one manager ranted that the referee clearly had an axe to grind with his side, the other was demanding explanations from the referee’s organisation PGMOL for the decisions that had gone against his side.
Their explanation might be that if the referee consistently gets everything wrong, then it’s ultimately fair to both sides. Tierney’s performance was not the result of a grudge against Liverpool FC or Klopp. It was what you get when you combine simple incompetence with the culture of “let it flow”, which in practice is an instruction to referees to enforce the rules only some of the time, depending on how they feel in the moment. Did Skipp reflect as he wiped the blood out of his eyes that he could have been spared all this pain if only Tierney had sent him off for burying his studs in Luis Diaz’s ankle in the first half? In the event, Tierney didn’t even call it a foul — but someday soon you’ll see somebody shown a red card for a similar challenge.
The flatlining of their season has Spurs fans singing “We Want Levy Out” at every game
The result meant that for the first time this season, Spurs finished a Premier League match week lower than fifth in the league. It shows the inconsistency of the teams outside the top two that Tottenham, who have lost a third of their matches, finished 10 match weeks in third, 11 in fourth and another 11 in fifth. Their sustained profligacy has now caught up with them and they look quite likely to finish eighth, which would be their lowest league finish since 2009.
The flatlining of their season has Spurs fans singing “We Want Levy Out” at every game. Even eighth, however, is a pretty respectable position for Spurs in historic terms. In the decade before 2001 when Enic bought the club, their average finish in the table was 11th. Over the last 10 years, their average placing is between fourth and fifth, a period in which Spurs also built the best football stadium in England. So Daniel Levy is a victim of his own success.
Levy would have sympathy from his counterparts at Liverpool. This week FSG’s ownership has been compared to the “Glazer model” by Gary Neville. One would have thought the more than £1 billion in interest and financial fees the “Glazer model” has drained from Manchester United constitutes a significant point of difference with what FSG have done at Liverpool, but plenty of people seem to be persuaded.
At half-time the familiar buzz of a light aircraft engine sounded above Anfield. “LFC — SOX — PENGUINS. SAME PROBLEMS. FSG OUT”. The disgruntled reach out from either side of the Atlantic to combine their grievances. Even this column has been swept along with this international movement. Imagine my surprise, earlier this month, to find myself being quoted in the Boston Globe by the venerable sports correspondent Dan Shaughnessy: “This from Monday’s Irish Times: ‘A consensus has formed among Liverpool fans that the rot can be traced back to the owners [FSG], who through a combination of miserliness and misjudgment have starved the team of the resources they need to compete. All the anger and confusion felt by Liverpool fans at the collapse of their once-great side has condensed into the slogan: FSG Out!’”
So flattering was it to imagine the great people of Boston hanging on my every word, I could almost ignore the fact that the quote had been taken out of context from a column which made a broadly pro-FSG argument. It probably serves me right. Nuance, like memory, is yesterday’s news.