Tottenham ripped a major hole in Liverpool’s Premier League – and quadruple – chances with Son Heung-20th goal of the season in a 1-1 draw at Anfield, giving Manchester City the edge.
Despite Luis Diaz’s 74th-minute equalizer and manager, Jurgen Klopp went for broke knowing he had no other choice, the hosts now need their championship rivals to lose one of their four remaining games.
Even though the point sent Liverpool to the top of the standings, it was only by virtue of a one-goal differential, and Pep Guardiola’s side will go three points ahead if they beat Newcastle at home on Sunday.
Spurs’ top-four aspirations were harmed by the result, as they remain a point behind north London rivals Arsenal, who face struggling Leeds a couple of hours before City start off.
Liverpool’s prospects of overtaking City, who had just the championship to concentrate on following their stunning Champions League defeat to Real Madrid in midweek, were always poised on a razor edge in this tense battle since they knew one slip-up would likely mean their aspirations were gone.
Tottenham were seen as the most difficult task of their remaining four games, and Antonio Conte brought a meticulous game plan to Anfield.
The strategies were clear from the start: five at the back, four in midfield, double-up on Mohamed Salah and Diaz, and attack the space behind their opponents’ full-backs, notably Andy Robertson.
In principle, everything was good, but Liverpool’s recovery of possession was among the finest this season, and Spurs scarcely had a moment’s quiet.
The three largest shouts in the first 12 minutes came from a team combination that recovered a lost ball, Trent Alexander-Arnold dispossessing Harry Kane in front of the Kop near the corner flag, and Jordan Henderson diving into stopping a Kane effort from a rare Spurs attack.
Tottenham’s strategy also hinged on them not allowing set-pieces in crucial situations, but that proved more difficult to do, with Virgil Van Dijk missing the target with one header from a corner and hitting the crossbar with another late in the half.
Hugo Lloris had to work hard to keep Ryan Sessegnon’s header back across goal with Salah waiting, and the France goalkeeper then got down brilliantly to save a low Diaz attempt following a rapid interchange with Sadio Mane.
Tottenham’s lone danger saw Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg strike Alisson’s right-hand post from distance, despite the fact that the Liverpool goalkeeper seemed to have it covered all the way.
However, the visitors tried to open up the game in the second half, which paid off in the 56th minute when Kane was allowed to run from deep and pick out Sessegnon on the left side of the penalty area, and his low cross was turned in by Son at the far post.
The South Korean joined Teddy Sheringham, Jurgen Klinsmann, Gareth Bale, and Kane as the sixth Spurs player to score 20 or more Premier League goals in a season.
As Liverpool continued to waste set-piece chances, Ibrahima Konate glanced a header over, the Reds were lucky to avoid surrendering another when Son diverted wide from close range.
Klopp quickly went to a 4-2-4 formation, replacing Henderson with forward Diogo Jota and bringing in Kostas Tsimikas at left-back to replace the fatigued Robertson.
Ben Davies’ diving stop to parry Salah’s effort seemed decisive, but Diaz’s low shot deflected off Rodrigo Bentancur and inside Lloris’ right-hand post with 16 minutes left.
Anfield exploded, as the hosts redoubled their efforts, emboldened by the cacophony of noise.
Conte substituted Davison Sanchez for Sessegnon, and subsequently the more defensive-minded Harry Winks for Dejan Kulusevski, but Liverpool did not push Lloris nearly as much as they would have anticipated, and their championship ambitions seemed to fade as the seconds ticked away.