Tottenham Hotspur take on Liverpool this weekend and the game offers a stark reminder of the two clubs’ diverging paths in recent years.
Think back to 2017 and Spurs’ clash with the Reds at Wembley. Jurgen Klopp’s side turned in an atrocious defensive display and were 3-1 down at half-time. Dejan Lovren was so poor he was substituted after 31 minutes.
The result left Spurs third, with Mauricio Pochettino claiming afterwards that he and his players “believed” they could catch leaders Manchester City. Liverpool, at the time, were left languishing in ninth, seven points behind the north London club.
Since that game, the two sides have met five times – once in the Champions League final – and Spurs have not won once. They did draw 2-2 with the Reds at Anfield later in the aforementioned season, thanks to a 95th-minute Harry Kane penalty.
That result, ironically, left them two points behind Klopp’s men.
But the message of that season, 2017/18, is clear; these were two evenly-matched sides competing at a similar level. Spurs ultimately finished two points ahead of Liverpool in third, with the Reds comfortably fourth, five points ahead of Chelsea. Both were some way behind City’s centurions.
Nevertheless, what has happened since has been astonishing.
The summer following that 2-2 draw saw Klopp and the Reds go for the jugular. Having bought Virgil van Dijk for a £75m fee in January, they added even more quality into their first XI, bringing in midfielders Naby Keita and Fabinho and goalkeeper Alisson Becker, along with winger Xherdan Shaqiri, at a combined cost of over £170m.
That investment allowed Klopp to more freely implement his ‘gegenpressing’ style that prides quick transitions, pacey forwards and vertically-thinking defenders over anything else. Liverpool lost just one league game the following season and were only one point behind City come the end of the campaign.
The big fat Tottenham quiz of 2019 – how much do you remember about the last year at Spurs?
Spurs, by comparison, didn’t spend a penny. They had a fine starting XI, sure, as emphasised by the drubbing of the Reds, but there was no investment into the squad.
They became the first club in Premier League history not to buy a player in a summer transfer window and they ended the campaign 26 points behind Klopp’s men.
That is a stunning reversal of fortunes and it would be simplistic to say that it came about purely because Liverpool spent money and Spurs didn’t. Klopp unlocked the potential of some of his best players, built his defence around two world-class players in van Dijk and Alisson, and managed to bring the best out of Mohamed Salah, who scored 27 goals in all competitions.
Spurs had no such depth, no such reserves of quality. They were active last summer, bringing in Tanguy Ndombele and Giovani Lo Celso, along with Ryan Sessegnon, while Liverpool were more careful, bringing in two reserve goalkeepers in Adrian and Andy Lonergan and investing in Harvey Elliott’s potential.
But a team can do that when they have challenged for the title and lost one game all season. That is when the argument of “our starting XI can’t be strengthened” actually holds genuine weight. Liverpool’s squad is complete and they are reaping the rewards; they are 13 points clear at the top of the table and the title race is all but run. They are yet to lose.
Spurs are sixth and are six points off the Champions League places.
In 2017, when Spurs won at Wembley, many will have claimed that it was Pochettino who was building towards a title challenge, that it was Tottenham who had the potential of becoming one of the most feared teams in the country.
But instead, they stood still, basking in the glow of another top-four finish and fooling themselves that they couldn’t get better. Pochettino, who has since been sacked and replaced by Jose Mourinho, was not given the tools to achieve what Klopp has. Perhaps, if he had been, the two would be on a level footing once again.
Liverpool, though, did the opposite and consistently looked to move forward. They are now, indisputably, the best team in England and, being Champions League holders, are probably the best team in Europe too.
When the two sides meet this weekend, it could be another drubbing; just don’t expect it to be Spurs taking all three points.
Meanwhile, Spurs are tracking a striker in absolutely brilliant form.