Liverpool continue to be the media darlings in this title race.
After drawing 1-1 with West Ham United on Monday Night Football, Sky Sports presenter David Jones asked guests Ashley Cole and Jamie Carragher, of course, an ex-Liverpool defender, if it could turn out to be a “good point” come the end of the season.
Let’s ignore the fact that Liverpool’s goal was offside and that Divock Origi was presented with the chance to win the game despite being a solid yard beyond the defensive line in the last minute. He missed, naturally, as reserve strikers often do. But the question remained.
Manchester City’s loss to Newcastle United the week prior was treated equally sycophantically; Jurgen Klopp appeared on the 10 o’clock news that night, telling the BBC that he hoped to bring joy to Liverpool fans. Liverpool went on to draw with Leicester the next night, another missed opportunity.
Remember too, the reaction when Liverpool were eliminated from the FA Cup; Paul Merson, speaking after the Reds lost to Wolves, said that it could be “the best thing to happen to them”.
Before Tottenham Hotspur were eliminated by Crystal Palace, playing an equally rotated side, Merson said that Spurs’ season was “in the balance”.
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It cannot be forgotten that Mauricio Pochettino’s side are still in this title race. They are third but just five points behind the Reds and only two behind City.
Yet the narrative would have you believe that they are spoilers, merely there to distract attention away from Liverpool and City, the two teams genuinely in with a chance of lifting the trophy.
That, quite frankly, is absolute nonsense.
Pep Guardiola understands this. The City manager was asked by assembled media why Spurs are rarely mentioned as genuine title contenders on Tuesday.
His reply: “These are questions for yourself. I never said Tottenham are not (in the title race).”
If we are to be forensic about this, and we should be, then it starts with the summer spending. Liverpool bought Fabinho, Naby Keita, Xherdan Shaqiri and Alisson. They spent a total of £177million.
Manchester City bought Riyad Mahrez, their only senior signing, but they broke their transfer record to do it. Spurs, in third, did not spend a penny. They last bought a player in January of last year, securing Lucas Moura from PSG. That deal cost £23m, or less than half a Riyad Mahrez.
Why then are Liverpool the scrappy underdogs? What do the media see in them that they do not see in Tottenham? Just to emphasise this point, a tweet from Barney Ronay, a respected Guardian journalist, on Tuesday read thus: “Sympathy for Liverpool last night, who don’t have City’s Special Sponsorship bottomless resources, who are missing three defenders, and who just looked a bit thin and stretched.”
It is laughable.
Perhaps it is the history – it cannot be the trophies. Jurgen Klopp, after all, has won exactly the same amount as Mauricio Pochettino since joining Liverpool. Both are yet to have a winners’ medal around their neck, yet it is Spurs who bottle the title, who are allergic to semi-finals, who don’t have a winner in their ranks.
At the end of the day, neither do the Reds. Yet Pochettino is the man routinely criticised. Click on any article after a Spurs loss and you can guarantee it will make mention of the manager potentially joining Manchester United, or of Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen or Harry Kane joining Real Madrid, or of a trophy drought.
Let’s get the facts straight: Liverpool have not won a single thing since 2011-12 when they lifted the League Cup. They beat Cardiff in the final, on penalties. Spurs do have to go back further, to 2008, but the investment in the squad has been far from sustained and for many years merely qualifying for the Champions League was seen as the goal, such was the gap to the top of the table.
Liverpool have been here before, in 2013-14, and they did what Spurs are regularly accused of. They bottled it. Steven Gerrard slipped, Brendan Rodgers spoke of character, and City, third at one point, swooped in to win the league. Spurs finished sixth that season.
The real story of this title race should be Tottenham’s amazing overachievement. It bears repeating – they did not spend a single penny in the summer nor in January. They have had a laundry list of injuries, too, to put Liverpool to shame.
That list in full, of players to miss at least one game through injury, reads thus: Hugo Lloris, Michel Vorm, Davinson Sanchez, Jan Vertonghen, Juan Foyth, Danny Rose, Kieran Trippier, Serge Aurier, Eric Dier, Victor Wanyama, Mousa Dembele, Moussa Sissoko, Harry Winks, Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen, Lucas Moura, Harry Kane. That is not to mention that Son Heung-Min was absent for an extended period due to international commitments with South Korea.
Yet Liverpool are the ones with the issues, with the lack of resources, with the inability to field a proper team, with the grass too long, with the referee not cooperating.
Come the end of the season it may well be that neither side wins the league, that City retain their title with their usual swagger.
But there is a very real story being missed. Tottenham are in this race, and they deserve just as much credit as Liverpool. They are not a footnote, just as Liverpool are not the heroes in this story.