Something in the Merseyside air prompts Tottenham Hotspur to self-destruct. Unbeaten in the Premier League since shipping two late goals at Everton in early December, Spurs again let three points slip carelessly from their grasp on their return. Liverpool are the wrong team to present with gifts at present.
An unfathomable back-pass from Kyle Walker and a weak touch from the goalkeeper, Hugo Lloris, presented Liverpool with an equaliser at a time when Tottenham had complete control at Anfield. But they were not finished with their generosity. Eight minutes from time Jermain Defoe sliced a dreadful touch into his own area and to Luis Suárez of all people. Suárez was bundled over by Benoît Assou-Ekotto, Steven Gerrard converted the resulting penalty, and Brendan Rodgers had the first significant scalp of his reign. Tottenham players railed at Suárez after the final whistle, with Scott Parker and Mousa Dembélé also involved in an altercation with Brad Jones and Daniel Agger, but their frustrations were misplaced. The blame could be found in the mirror.
For Liverpool, the first hat-trick of league wins under Rodgers represented a triumph of character rather than the polished, attacking football that had brought nine goals and two clean sheets in previous league games against Wigan Athletic and Swansea City. The match had been billed as a play-off for Player of the Year between Suárez and Gareth Bale, and the Liverpool striker edged that contest, but more important for Rodgers was the momentum and the confidence that continue to develop at a timely stage in the campaign. Leap-frogging free-falling Everton into sixth was a bonus.
José Reina was unable to build on his impressive display at Wigan due to a calf injury but with Philippe Coutinho again a bundle of energy and invention and Suárez lethal, Liverpool played in the same impressive fashion that delivered the 4-0 win at the DW Stadium. They were often camped inside their own half, however, as Spurs' central midfield pinned Liverpool down for sustained spells and showed the composure of a team third in the table.
Spurs appeared to have weathered the early pressure when they were undone by a fine Liverpool attack with a Latin flair. Coutinho released José Enrique once with a impudent flick, then for a second time with a deft pass into the area. The Spanish left-back read Suárez's angled run across the penalty area superbly, threading the ball behind Michael Dawson for the Uruguayan to finish inside Lloris's near post with the outside of his right foot. It was the confident strike of a forward with 29 goals to his name this season.
Liverpool contained Bale for the opening 35 minutes but his influence increased as the interval approached and Gylfi Sigurdsson should have levelled when sent clear by the Welshman's flick. The Iceland midfielder, who rejected a move to Liverpool last summer, shot wide from the edge of the area.
Bale really came to life after taking a blow to the back of the head from Gerrard, who won an aerial challenge but received a warning from referee Michael Oliver for leading with his arm. Seconds later, with the Kop jeering Bale for allegedly feigning injury, he silenced Anfield with an inviting cross from the right and Jan Vertonghen stole in ahead of Glen Johnson to steer a textbook header into the bottom corner. Rodgers was angered that Bale was allowed back on to the pitch with the play concentrated on that side.
Liverpool, denied a penalty when Walker grabbed Coutinho inside the area, were punished by another Bale-Vertonghen combination shortly after the restart. Spurs were awarded a dubious free-kick when Lucas Leiva touched the face of Bale, who whipped the set piece into the heart of the Liverpool area. Jamie Carragher, making his 500th Premier League appearance, won the initial header but a deflection off Agger and a slip by Johnson teed up Vertonghen for his second. The Belgian defender steadied himself well before sending a half-volley beyond Jones.
Spurs should have added a third in the dominant spell that followed. Johnson deflected a Sigurdsson shot on to a post after Bale had sprinted more than half the length of the pitch and floated a cross over to the unmarked midfielder. Dembélé also forced Jones into a desperate save having glided past two Liverpool defenders. Then, with the visitors in the ascendancy, they shot themselves in the foot.
For reasons known only to himself Walker sent an aimless pass towards his own goal from the halfway line. Lloris was in trouble but failed to apply a convincing touch and allowed Stewart Downing to advance on goal and finish low between Vertonghen's legs. Then Lloris punched away a Gerrard free-kick only for it to return via a dreadful touch by Defoe. Oliver had no hesitation in pointing to the spot and Gerrard sent Lloris the wrong way before setting off on a victory lap.
Man of the match Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham Hotspur)