Tottenham Hotspur have been on a downward spiral since they recorded a phenomenal 3-0 victory over Borussia Dortmund at Wembley. Rather than standing on top of the peak, enjoying the view and perhaps even hanging around for a little while, they have since plummeted back down to earth with a floor-splitting thud.
Nothing screams title contender quite like a domineering win in Europe over the starkest of dark horses. But rather than using victory over the Bundesliga giants as a springboard for domestic success, Mauricio Pochettino’s side have since found themselves blinded by the lights and proceeded to flunk what should have been a routine victory over Burnley in the following match.
A thoroughly mellowing afternoon at Turf Moor set the wheels in motion for a string of results which have seriously jeopardised their top-four credentials.
Just a few weeks ago, Tottenham’s trip to Anfield was pencilled in as a day when the pendulum could take an almighty and unlikely swing in the visitors’ favour; now the Lilywhites are 15 points adrift and have three clubs breathing down their necks as the race for two European qualification spots becomes a four-horsed affair.
Spursy Spurs at it again. But this fixture is about much more than just claiming another three points towards a top-four finish for Pochettino: this is an opportunity to outsmart one of the best managers in world football.
Tottenham arrive on Merseyside with a dismal record of just two wins from 26 previous Premier League visits. Considering the hosts are yet to lift the ultimate prize in English football and have regularly finished outside of the top-six, that return is simply abysmal.
How can the Argentine change history and potentially condemn Liverpool to another season of chronic disappointment and regret? Well, the secret regards a memorable night at Wembley back in February.
Pochettino’s men lined up against a scintillating Dortmund side whose tactical setup is comparable to that of Liverpool. Mario Götze spearheaded the attack in a deep-lying forward role, just as Firmino does under Klopp, while precocious, pacey sensations Jadon Sancho and Christian Pulisic provided jet-heeled invention either side of the World Cup winner.
Sound familiar? Well anybody who is anybody in football will be aware that Liverpool’s attacking success predominantly revolves around Firmino’s ability to drop deep into space and seamlessly connect with Mo Salah and Sadio Mane.
As a trio they are the deadliest in Europe on their day, but Pochettino has a blueprint for stifling them courtesy of a blend of ingenuity and pragmatism. Without a recognised left-wing-back, Jan Vertonghen was drafted into the position against Dortmund last month, paving the way for Juan Foyth to make his maiden Champions League start.
The Belgium international stole the show as he provided a sumptuous assist for Son Heung-min, terrorised Dortmund with his bulldozing style of dribbling, and then staked a claim for a rarely seen 10/10 performance by notching Tottenham’s second.
But it was the robust solidity of Tottenham’s back-five which was especially impressive. Sancho conspired to double his reported £100 million valuation in the first-half with a handful of slaloms through the heart of the defensive unit.
Occasionally he would squeeze through a crevice and threaten to cause serious damage, but his threat was effectively neutralised as the game continued and the hosts became increasingly familiar with the system they were operating in.
With a lack of space in the channels and even less room by the touchline, Dortmund were devoid of penetration, and that is a realisation which should be playing on Pochettino’s mind ahead of the weekend.
Vertonghen started at left-wing-back out of necessity last time; now Pochettino must repeat that decision out of tactical choice, with Danny Rose’s nightmare against Southampton underlining his frailties and Ben Davies likely to be torn apart by Salah.
That decision would pave the way for Foyth to return to the starting XI for the first time since his side were humbled at Turf Moor. He is a player who, despite being on the fringes for the majority of the season, is no stranger to occasions of grandeur: three of his 11 starts this season arrived against Arsenal, Chelsea and, of course, Borussia Dortmund.
It would be a testament to Pochettino’s faith in his compatriot’s ability if he opted to start him in a central defensive trio this weekend, but history suggests it’s a decision which could enable the Argentine to outsmart the title-chasing German on his own turf.