This story has been reproduced from today's media. It does not necessarily represent the position of Liverpool Football Club.
Gareth Bale had a hand in two goals - and a face in another - as he inspired Tottenham Hotspur into a two-goal lead over Liverpool before unluckily diverting the ball into his own net as the visitors surged back strongly. In the end, however, the first-half goals by Aaron Lennon and Bale proved just enough to give Spurs the three points.
The paths of André Villas-Boas and Brendan Rodgers first crossed eight years ago when both occupied relatively discreet roles at Stamford Bridge, the Portuguese as a match analyst and the Irishman as Chelsea's reserve team coach. They have each risen to greater prominence since then but the most salient question tonight was whose new team is progressing faster?
Tottenham were not slow in coming up with an answer. Villas-Boas's side had Liverpool reeling within minutes. Gareth Bale was the tormentor-in-chief. First he confounded Pepe Reina with a 35-yard free-kick that wobbled in the air and forced the goalkeeper into an improvised save. Then, after Jermain Defoe dispossessed the dawdling Steven Gerrard in midfield, Bale galloped down the left wing before firing wide. A breakthrough was looking inevitable and, sure enough, in the seventh minute Bale embarked on another jagged dash down the left. After leaving three opponents panting in his wake, the Welshman delivered a low cross that Lennon turned into the net at the back post.
That woke Liverpool up and Hugo Lloris had to make an urgent save from Luis Suárez moments later. Spurs were full of swagger going forward but visibly shaky at the back and Jordan Henderson spurned a prime opportunity to take advantage of that in the 14th minute when, after a mix-up between Lloris and Kyle Walker, he failed to find the unguarded net from 20 yards. That wastefulness was in stark contrast to the shot that Bale produced to double Tottenham's lead in the 16th minute, his 25-yard free-kick swerving outrageously, possibly aided by a slight deflection, before landing in the opposite side of the goal to the one where Reina was heading.
Liverpool did not panic. That is not Rodgers's way. Instead they kept on trying to probe and pull the Tottenham defence apart. They created half-chances, with Lloris having to make another save from Suárez in the 32nd minute and José Enrique, again deployed in an attacking role ahead of Stewart Downing, working his way into good positions without being able to find an effective finish. Still, Tottenham were far from comfortable. The hosts were even more ill-at-ease in the 36th minute when Suárez slipped a fine ball through to Gerrard, who tumbled in the box under the challenge of Mousa Dembélé. Liverpool began to appeal for a penalty but then thought they might get a goal instead when the ball broke to Suárez, who poked it towards the net from 10 yards, only for Walker to recover and clear it off the line.
Rodgers, constantly scribbling notes on the sideline, was being shown ample ways that his side might get back into the game. Giving the ball to Suárez must have been top of the list, as usual. Spurs, meanwhile, kept feeding Bale, who troubled Reina with another long-range shot just before the break. Liverpool made a much better start to the second period than the first. Their thoughtful possession play worried the White Hart Lane crowd, as did the home side's inability to cobble together similar moves. Tottenham's lead was not looking unassailable. A mistake by Martin Skrtel in the 53rd minute gave the hosts their first sight of goal of the second half but Clint Dempsey could not take advantage.
If Liverpool's display was showing that their noble intentions are being undermined by a lack of top-quality players in some areas, Dempsey's continuing toils for Tottenham, until his substitution in the 63rd minute, did not suggest he would have made a telling difference if his mooted move to Anfield had materialised in the summer. Bale, as suitors across the continent may have noted, remained in the sort of form that suggested he could improve almost any club. Another wondrous freekick from him in the 69th minute hurtled inches wide.
Two minutes later Bale's fortunes nosedived. The forward was booked for a dive and the after Spurs failed to repel a Liverpool corner, Lennon booted a Gerrard header off the line but straight into the face of the Welshman, whose pain was compounded as the ball bounced off him and into the net. Liverpool sought an equaliser in vain, the closest they came to securing the points being when Suárez rasped a shot inches over from 10 yards in the 80th minute.