This was a remarkable end to a game that finished with 11 against nine and a point that slipped through the fingers of the Liverpool side clinging on, although within an hour of the final whistle, their defeat was framed by a much bigger controversy.
PGMOL, the referees’ organisation, would admit that a first half Luis Diaz goal, wrongly disallowed for offside, was the result of “significant human error”. The Var, Darren England, had failed to recognise that Diaz’s legitimate goal had been flagged offside and disallowed by his on-field colleagues. When he told on-field referee Simon Hooper “check complete” he was assuming the goal had been given. Hooper, for his part, assumed the decision to disallow it was correct
An error that will have ruined the Saturday night of PGMOL chief refereeing officer Howard Webb and many nights to come as the fallout continues.
It was notable that Webb and PGMOL chose to put the emphasis on human error. Humans can, after all, be dropped, replaced and re-trained. As a Var for Burnley’s visit to Nottingham Forest this month, England also failed to review a handball against Sander Berge that should have been overturned and meant another legitimate goal was disallowed.
It took PGMOL a long time, after Jurgen Klopp had finished his television interviews and was on his way to his press conference, before the statement finally appeared. The Diaz goal, Klopp would say, should have given the game a different momentum. Curtis Jones had already been sent off by then, and substitute Diogo Jota would follow around the 70th minute. Liverpool were playing a 5-3-0 formation by the time Joel Matip accidentally turned in Pedro Porro’s cross in the last attack for Spurs.
What a game it had been, and the implications will be severe. Webb has already had to stand down officials after the mistake in not awarding the penalty against Andre Onana for Wolverhampton Wanderers in the first game of the season at Old Trafford. It was the same referee Simon Hooper this time around, although the Var review that never happened for Diaz’s goal was not his fault. Webb will now have to convince the game that this was an anomaly. He cannot afford a repeat.
If anything, Webb was fortunate that Klopp decided to be magnanimous on the wrong end of this mistake. “Nobody did it on purpose,” Klopp said. “Whatever I say here creates headlines but doesn’t help the situation at all.”
For Ange Postecoglou, the winning start at Spurs just keeps rolling. His team now have 17 points and are just one behind Manchester City, the leaders. Undefeated in the Premier League, the Spurs manager won this game having substituted his two best attacking players, Heung-min Son and James Maddison. Son, who scored Spurs’ first, was not fit enough to play the full 90 minutes. In the post-Harry Kane era the team have still managed to score 17 in their first seven games.
Second place at the end of September is some progress. “You want to put the game to bed earlier than when we did,” Postecoglou would say later. “But sometimes when you score that late it just helps to continue to build that belief in the group and the spirit within the group that we have that in us to go to the last minute. All these things, they’re not by design. It’s just the nature of the game and I’m not sitting here thinking we’re ahead of some schedule.”
Much for Klopp to think about too. The Diaz disallowed goal came with his team already down to ten men but not trailing and was made by the power and vision of Mohamed Salah. After Maddison played in Richarlison to create the first for Son, Liverpool would equalise through Cody Gakpo. He was injured in that phase of play and Klopp warned that it could be serious for the Dutchman who left the stadium with a brace on his leg.
The first red card for Jones was one of those challenges that will have looked worse to referee Hooper if he saw the final freeze frame first. It was Jones’ misfortune that his foot bounced off the ball and into the leg of Yves Bissouma. The Var review convinced Hooper to upgrade it from yellow to red. “When you see it in slow motion it looks horrendous,” Klopp said. “When you see it in real time, it’s not even close to being that bad.”
Jota came on at half-time for Gakpo as Liverpool settled into their one-man deficit for the second half. There were some good saves from Alisson but the game was in the balance. Then Jota was booked twice in succession for fouls on Destiny Udogie, the second of which was ill-advised given the previous booking.
“The first [caution] is clearly not a yellow,” Klopp said, “and the second I didn’t see back but it doesn’t matter.” Both managers changed what they could. There had been a fine performance in the heart of defence from Matip and Virgil Van Dijk. Trent Alexander-Arnold was back as a late substitute. Liverpool defended the central channels and pushed Spurs wide and it looked like it might just work for them.
Eventually though it was Porro’s cross from the right that created the conditions. A difficult one but Matip’s reaction to his error told you everything. He knew he could have made many better choices. A compelling game had finally been decided by the team with two players more on the pitch. Although it would be an offside decision long before that will have a major effect on how the game handles the technology that now dictates so much.
BDST: 1005 HRS, OCT 02, 2023