Roberto Firmino sinks Spurs to keep up Liverpool’s runaway title charge

For Jürgen Klopp and Liverpool, the victories keep on coming, the records tumbling and it is becoming increasingly difficult to see their progress towards a first league title in 30 years as anything other than a foregone conclusion.

Roberto Firmino made the difference on an occasion marked by dramatic plotlines, with the Brazilian’s goal towards the end of a first half that Liverpool controlled following a moment when his mind and body were in glorious high-speed sync.

A few numbers. Liverpool have now gone 38 league matches without defeat – the equivalent of an entire season – and their return of 61 points from a possible 63 since the beginning of this one represents the best ever start to a campaign by any club in any of Europe’s top five divisions. They are a whopping 16 points clear at the top of the table – with a game in hand on second-placed Leicester.

Tottenham pushed them all the way and it might have been a different story had Son Heung-min or the substitute Giovani Lo Celso not fluffed their lines when wonderfully placed in the closing stages. The Lo Celso chance led José Mourinho to sink to his knees in disbelief. How had the midfielder missed the target when he had so much of it to aim for from Serge Aurier’s cross?

Spurs had entered the game in poor form and with a clutch of debilitating injuries, including the high-profile one to Harry Kane. They tried everything in tactical terms, they gave everything on a physical level and Mourinho was on solid ground when he argued that his team deserved something. Yet Liverpool have simply forgotten how to not win. They are coming to look invincible.

Firmino’s goal stemmed from the award of a controversial throw-in on the left flank, about which Mourinho was not slow to complain, but the Spurs manager did acknowledge that his players had to do more to defend it, particularly as they had practised doing so all week. Jordan Henderson threw himself at the ball – VAR would confirm that he did not use his hand – and, when Mohamed Salah found Firmino, the striker did the rest. He allowed the ball to run across his body to deceive the 20-year-old Spurs league debutant, Japhet Tanganga, who had lunged in, before setting up the left-foot finish in the same explosive movement.

Klopp felt Liverpool ought to have been out of sight at the interval, with Virgil van Dijk heading too close to Paulo Gazzaniga midway through the first half and Salah driving wide at the end of it.

The visitors would have been ahead in the second minute but for a remarkable double goalline clearance from Tanganga. First he blocked from Firmino, after the irrepressible striker had chopped inside Christian Eriksen and shot, and then he somehow deflected Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s follow-up on to the far post. Gazzaniga collapsed on to the loose ball.

Tanganga, a centre-half by trade, had played only once previously – at Colchester in the Carabao Cup exit – and Mourinho started him at right-back before switching him to left-back midway through the second half. He was up against first Sadio Mané and then Salah, which added up to the ultimate baptism. He acquitted himself well. Mourinho argued that Andy Robertson should have been sent off for clattering into Tanganga on 66 minutes, but it was hard to discern any malice.

Mourinho set up in a 4-4-1-1 formation with Aurier on the right of midfield, frequently pushed high to engage Robertson, Son on the left and Dele Alli roaming behind Lucas Moura. Mourinho wanted his players to remain compact so as not to allow Liverpool to unleash their pace in behind and, with the visitors hogging possession and ever eager to step on to the front foot, Spurs felt there was scope for them to counter. Son and Alli had a couple of early openings.

But this Liverpool team are so quick and cohesive, so remorseless with their pressing, that it is one thing to ask them questions and quite another to call the tune.

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Spurs were much better in the second half, with Moura trying his jinks and flicks, and Alli carrying the fight. Moura shot wildly, Aurier banged straight at Alisson and Son saw a shot deflect wide. Liverpool had their moments, too, with the best one being a Mané header that drew a smart save out of Gazzaniga.

Mourinho twisted again, swapping Danny Rose and Eriksen for Érik Lamela and Lo Celso and recalibrating to 4-1-4-1. Eriksen, who has been linked with a move away this month, had been poor and heard boos upon his removal.

Lamela and Lo Celso made a difference and finally Spurs created the gilt-edged chances. Son, though, blazed high after Moura’s lay-off and, when Lo Celso could not finish, Liverpool were on their way to a sixth consecutive clean sheet in the league. They cannot be breached or stopped.