IT was the best of times. It was the worst of times.
The opening game of the Champions League highlighted the differing trajectories of Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur, albeit merely weeks into the new campaign.
While Liverpool outplayed one of the tournament’s favourites in Paris Saint-Germain, Spurs – who have suffered two league defeats to The Reds’ none – threw away a win at the San Siro.
This wasn’t the first evidence of the opposing fortunes of both sides either, with Liverpool’s 1-2 win at Wembley compounding Spurs to a second consecutive loss while reflecting their current stagnation.
Coming through unscathed in the first real test of the season, the league clash with Spurs was the perfect summation of the strides made since a dismal 4-1 defeat at Wembley back in October 2017 – the worst of Liverpool’s five away losses in the league (Manchester City, Spurs, Swansea City, Manchester United and Chelsea).
It’s hard to recall such a shambolic defensive performance, riddled with individual errors. What ensued was a chaotic mess that saw Liverpool leak three goals in the first half.
Dejan Lovren was eaten up and spat out by Harry Kane before being hauled off on the half hour. Simon Mignolet was caught flapping at whatever came into the six-yard box, punching the ball straight into the path of Jan Vertonghen whose shot later fell to Kane to extend Spurs’ lead. Even Mo Salah struggled.
It was the perfect depiction of men against boys and a wake-up call over the strides required for Jürgen Klopp’s side to truly challenge at the top of the Premier League. However, there was to be no repetition this time.
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In place of Lovren’s calamitous errors was the blossoming figure of 21-year-old Joe Gomez. Yes, he had his moments – scrambling against Lucas Moura was one – but he rode the rapids well and came out unscathed.
Having overcome the psychological blow of a cruciate ligament injury and Achilles tear under Brendan Rodgers, combined with an ankle injury that saw him miss England’s World Cup, he’s grasped first-team opportunities with both hands this season, making clear improvements particularly in a positional sense.
Alongside him, the colossal figure of Virgil van Dijk. This was the type of game the Dutchman thrives in; utilising his aerial dominance, he was equal to everything Spurs threw at him (albeit very little), marshalling the defence and exuding confidence in an afternoon where Liverpool’s front men had forgotten their shooting boots.
It marked the change in style of Klopp’s side; rather than blowing teams away in short bursts before holding on for dear life in the second half, there is a collective aura of control about Liverpool’s play.
The very fact Alisson Becker has yet to truly be tested speaks volumes in itself, with his one aberration coming in a game Liverpool were able to see out.
While Mignolet and Loris Karius would always be at the forefront of the headlines, the Brazilian has happily retained a backward seat, showing confidence and discipline to marshal ever-improving foundations.
The best of times. The worst of times.
The Reds showed the conviction required to retain their superiority throughout the course of the game. Each and every player stood up and was counted, when they’d previously managed neither at Wembley, while an increasing balance sees them primed for a title challenge.
Often maligned for failing to back the team with necessary funds, now seems the perfect time to give the owners some gratitude. Kicking on from successive top-four finishes and retention in the Champions League, a huge summer investment has given Liverpool the platform to build.
Tottenham now lie in their wake having failed to take a progressive step forward in the transfer market – something Liverpool have been culpable of in years gone by.
Mauricio Pochettino has even himself admitted his side aren’t fit to challenge this season, reflecting the opposing fortunes of both clubs since that gloomy evening in London.
With six wins from six, the collective sense of “bring it on” rather than a fear of failure reflect the changing attitudes of Klopp’s men over the last year.
Strides have been made, only three league games have been lost since and the team are now equipped with a defence to add to their exhilarating attack.
Liverpool are primed and ready to mount a serious challenge on several front. The proof is there for all to see.
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“It was a statement performance from Liverpool… we’ve gone to Wembley and dominated.” ✊
— The Anfield Wrap (@TheAnfieldWrap) 17 September 2018