Harry Redknapp's assertion that there will be his team plus Liverpool and Arsenal jostling for fourth place in the league this season may be greeted as common sense but, increasingly, the evidence points to his Tottenham side as the ones who could make that final Champions' League berth their own.
Arsenal's woes are already well documented but Liverpool, who looked so bright before the recent international break, are showing alarming signs of tailing off already. Kenny Dalglish's outfit lost at Stoke, a little unluckily, last week, but here they were a pale shadow of the team that appeared last month to have not just fourth place but Manchester City and Manchester United in their sights.
This was their first 4-0 defeat in eight years, since losing by that scoreline against Manchester United in April 2003 at Old Trafford. Admittedly, Liverpool did have two men sent off, the first, Charlie Adam, with less than half an hour played, by which time they were a goal down. But even with 11 men, they showed little cohesion and displayed a lack of control almost from the start.
Dalglish was not to be drawn on the two sendings off or any accusations of indiscipline. However, the red cards for Adam and Martin Skrtel speak for themselves. For the Liverpool manager, the way his players started the game dictated what followed. He said: "We started short of the level we have been recently. They started better than us and [Luka] Modric scored a great goal. That was the start of our downfall. We have to look at ourselves and the start we had in the game."
Liverpool's performances last month had some wondering whether Steven Gerrard would need to be brought back in as soon as he is fit. On this evidence, the England midfielder cannot complete his comeback from injury quickly enough. Adam's absence through suspension – it will be one game, although it probably should be three, given what he did to Scott Parker after 28 minutes – will increase the pressure on Dalglish to recall his best player after six months out. The Scot said: "It's logical everyone'll be chasing for him after a 4-0 defeat. He'll play when it's right for everyone."
Spurs, too, have had a missing midfielder, but for them the problem was not fitness but Modric's transfer saga. He wanted to go to Chelsea, but when Spurs refused to sanction a £40 million deal, Modric lost focus. Given that reaction, Spurs may have wondered whether they would ever have the "old" Modric back, but here those doubts disappeared.
Combining with Parker, who was excellent on his home debut, Modric was dictating play from the first whistle. Then, after seven minutes, Daniel Agger's tackle on Jermain Defoe pushed the ball to the Croatian and after one touch he drilled his shot into Pepe Reina's top left-hand corner from 25 yards. Redknapp, who was as pleased with his team's high-tempo start as Dalglish was disappointed with his side, said: "That's why we were offered £40m for him because he's a top player."
Redknapp added that Modric could soon be offered a new deal. He said: "Hopefully the chairman [Daniel Levy] will sit down with him and discuss his contract. I think it would be soon."
Liverpool barely mustered a response to Modric's strike before Adam's horrendous knee-high challenge on Parker that merited a straight red card. Never mind, it was the Scot's second yellow and with that Liverpool were reduced to a walk-on part.
Any doubt over the result ended when Skrtel, who had already been booked, showed incredible stupidity to dive in on Gareth Bale from behind after 63 minutes for his second yellow card.
The goals that followed were icing on the cake for the hosts, first on the counter-attack in a swift move involving Modric and Rafael van der Vaart and finished off well by Defoe on the turn. Emmanuel Adebayor, also on his home debut, then got in on the act, taking advantage of Reina's fumble from Defoe's dipping shot to first chip the Spaniard deftly and then roll the ball into the empty net. The former Arsenal forward, on loan from Manchester City, made sure he won over the fans who used to hate him by lashing in his second in stoppage time.
Substitutes: Tottenham Van der Vaart 6 (Krancjar, h-t), Bassong (King, 83), Giovani (Defoe, 83). Liverpool Coates 4 (Agger, 27), Spearing 5 (Downing, 71), Bellamy 5 (Suarez, 71). Booked: Tottenham Adebayor. Liverpool Coates, Suarez. Sent off: Liverpool Adam (28), Skrtel (63).
Man of the match Modric. Match rating 8/10. Possession: Tottenham 64% Liverpool 36%. Attempts on target: Tottenham 16 Liverpool 2.
Referee M Jones (Cheshire).
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