By 90Min
October 29, 2019

There used to be a running joke among Tottenham fans that, in a social media era full of Liverpool fans shouting and screaming from across the globe, the best way to annoy them would be to point out that they were becoming a provincial club; one prided in history over the contemporary. There was even a graph to visualise the differences between the sides.

Between 2010 and 2018, the Reds finished above Spurs just once, before the trend was definitively broken at the end of last season. With 97 points in the Premier League and a Champions League title - at the expense of Tottenham - to boot, Liverpool look to be heading back to their glory days.

Let's cut the crap; Liverpool are on the rise, and Spurs are plummeting.

So, how did we get to this point? When did Liverpool go from being consistently worse than Tottenham to finishing a full 26 points above them and suffocating them in a European Cup final?

Under Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino respectively, both teams earned a reputation as aggressive pressers who played with pace and power. In their first few seasons as competitors, Pochettino's side were seen as the more streetwise outfit, competent in defence and able to use a number of formations. In contrast, Klopp's Liverpool were often calamitous at the back and could not match Spurs' consistency or flexibility.

While their defensive woes began to shore up around the time that Virgil van Dijk joined, the 2018 Champions League final seemed to force Klopp - a man famous for his dedication to unadulterated footballing entertainment regardless of the consequences - to try and protect his defence a bit more.


Obviously you can't legislate for Loris Karius essentially throwing the ball into his own net (twice), and Liverpool were already on their way to becoming a good defensive side, but the main workaround came in midfield. The arrivals of Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain suggested Klopp was willing to start an attack-mind midfielder, but injuries to both allowed him to shift creative responsibilities to their full-backs in order to be more protected in central areas. Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson came in for Joe Gomez and Alberto Moreno, while Jordan HendersonGeorginio WijnaldumFabinho and James Milner became the almost exclusive pool of midfielders.

Klopp's transition from gung-ho to insanely efficient - all while hugely improving nearly every player he's had at Liverpool in the last couple of seasons - is an underrated achievement, one that will be lost in history if they don't win the Premier League. The millions of pounds they've spent is in line with their contemporaries and isn't an outlier like it is with Manchester City.

Obviously, the same can't be spent for Tottenham, who went through an unprecedented summer of no incomings or outgoings in 2018, prior to the season where Liverpool leapfrogged them. It wasn't necessarily an investment issue, but a cycle one. The young squad Pochettino had built was now growing stale, and they're still suffering in spite of the acquisitions in the most recent window.


Off-field circumstances have contributed as well - Liverpool's proactive FSG board are probably the most proactive in football at the moment, while Daniel Levy and ENIC have focused their energies on the £1bn investment of Tottenham's new stadium. Spurs' best-ever season in the Premier League era came in their final year at White Hart Lane, and the temporary transition to Wembley was hardly smooth.

There's been upheaval in that sense for Tottenham just to maintain that level, with pushing on a near-impossible task - even if they had won the Champions League final last season, there's no guarantee that they wouldn't be struggling now, particularly as Pochettino said he would have left in that instance. Liverpool are simply returning to their stage rather than starting from scratch.

Perhaps the best metaphor can be seen in the clubs' full-back department. Tottenham used to have the best pairing in the Premier League, with Kyle Walker and a prime Danny Rose bombing up and down the flanks, pinning the opposition back and allowing Spurs to carve teams apart. Walker's departure in 2017 hurt them dearly, putting their faith in the calamitous Serge Aurier as a replacement. With the Ivorian and the illusion of Rose in their backline, there just isn't the same threat in that area anymore.

Matthias Hangst/GettyImages

For Liverpool, Alexander-Arnold and Robertson are the closest pair we've seen to being revolutionary full-backs, with the Reds able to run their attacks through them like no other side has done before - Klopp's men evolved, Pochettino's regressed.

It's evident that Spurs need to gut their core and start again, building around the likes of Harry KaneSon Heung-min and Tanguy Ndombele, while Liverpool have a couple of years left in the tank before they'll need to undergo a similar process. No-one expected the change in fortunes to be this drastic, however.

For more from Sean Walsh, follow him on Twitter!

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