Liverpool and Tottenham meet as divergent paths since 2019 Champions League final come into sharp focus

The Reds have gone on to be a force since that victory in Madrid while Spurs need a reset and could do worse than following their opponents’ model

Tony Evans
Saturday 07 May 2022 09:17
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<p>Liverpool meet Tottenham on Saturday evening in a high-stakes Premier League clash </p>

Liverpool meet Tottenham on Saturday evening in a high-stakes Premier League clash

The timing of Tottenham Hotspur’s game against Liverpool FC tonight emphasises the depth of disappointment and the confounded expectations in north London. Anfield will be buzzing.

Jurgen Klopp’s team appear in front of the Kop for the first time since sealing their place in the Champions League final. The 54-year-old has extended his contract to stay on Merseyside until 2026. The sense of wellbeing is palpable.

Liverpool are chasing a quadruple, Spurs are scrambling for fourth place in the Premier League. The paths of these teams have diverged since they met in Madrid in the Champions League final three years ago. The heat has gone out of a rivalry that was bubbling up to be one of the most competitive in the top flight.

Within six months of Tottenham’s 2-0 defeat in the Wanda Metropolitano, Mauricio Pochettino was gone from White Hart Lane. The bright young thing of English football was replaced by Jose Mourinho and the bright young team that the Argentine had fashioned began to fade. In truth, Spurs were on the decline before they reached European football’s showpiece game as Pochettino’s relationship with the dressing room and the boardroom became increasingly tense.

Losing finals is always painful but there are two routes that a team can take afterwards. They can use the experience as part of their progression into winners – as Liverpool did after being beaten 3-1 by Real Madrid the previous year. Or it can start a slide that is hard to arrest.

The defeat in Kiev was a staging post for Klopp’s side en route to becoming European champions and winning the Premier League. Now they have earned another crack at Real in Paris in three weeks’ time. Tottenham’s post-Champions League final experience has been much more chastening.

Employing Mourinho was a massive, avoidable mistake. Sacking the former Chelsea manager and bringing in Nuno Espirito Santo was even more surreal. The 48-year-old lasted just three months into the new season. Antonio Conte came to White Hart Lane because there were no better options available. The odds are that the Italian will leave next month, probably to take Pochettino’s job at Paris Saint-Germain. By the end of the summer Spurs could be back to where they were in 2019, with Pochettino at the helm. Or it could be Graham Potter. Either way, there is not much evidence of a plan at work.

Antonio Conte and Jurgen Klopp offer contrasting styles of management

Tottenham need a result tonight. On Thursday they host Arsenal in a game that could determine who qualifies for the Champions League next season. Mikel Arteta’s side are inconsistent but they are likely to beat Leeds United tomorrow. If Spurs lose at Anfield, Arsenal could go into the north London derby seven points clear of their great rivals.

Conte said yesterday that he would have no hesitation staying at White Hart Lane if he was backed in the same way as Klopp. The Italian said that he has a “very, very, very big shopping list.”

The 52-year-old is perhaps missing the point and the reasons for this go a long way towards explaining the different directions the clubs have gone in since 2019. Fenway Sports Group, Liverpool’s owners, believe in Klopp. He is their man and while he does not get everything he wants, they do their best to meet his needs. There is little sense of Daniel Levy, the Tottenham chairman, operating in the same manner. It’s not just about spending money – although that is important. Trust between Levy and his managers tends to be fragile.

Over the past five seasons – starting at a point when it was questionable which team would emerge as Manchester City’s biggest competition – Spurs have a bigger net spend than Liverpool. At Anfield they have bought more wisely and targeted players who suit Klopp’s mindset. It is impossible to emulate this with the turnover of managers who have been through White Hart Lane.

Liverpool and Spurs meet after a 2-2 draw back in December

It irritates Levy that two of Klopp’s recruitment team were poached from Tottenham. Michael Edwards, the sporting director who is leaving the club this summer, and Ian Graham, the head of research, have played a big part in Liverpool’s success, though it should be noted that both were in place before the German’s arrival and involved in some very questionable signings. Klopp’s presence brought greater focus throughout the club.

Spurs, by contrast, have lacked a central idea, a driving force – a philosophy, for want of a better phrase.

Levy likes to think of himself as a top-class negotiator in transfers but sometimes his methods rebound on Tottenham. The Spurs chairman thought he had signed Luis Diaz from Porto in January but was gazumped at the last minute. The add-ons in a deal like this can be complicated and Liverpool were happy to agree a set of targets that would be more easily triggered that those suggested by Levy.

In the pre-Klopp era Liverpool were on the wrong end of situations like this – Chelsea’s swoop for Mohamed Salah in 2014 when the Egyptian seemed to be heading for Anfield is one example. Tottenham’s footdragging over Diaz is likely to prove more costly than the expense involved in doing the deal quickly. Once Liverpool appeared on the scene, the Colombian was only ever going to go in one direction.

Mo Salah has helped symbolise Liverpool’s ascent over the last half-decade

For Tottenham to compete with tonight’s opponents on a regular basis, there needs to be a reset in thinking at the Lane. Liverpool under Klopp provide a good template of how it can be done: get the best manager available, support his judgement and recognise that, on occasion, it may be necessary to pay more than you want to get the right player.

There is about as much chance of this happening at White Hart Lane as there is of Spurs getting back to the Champions League final anytime soon. Trust is a vital component at a successful football club and nothing Conte has said in his short tenure at Tottenham suggests there is much of it knocking around this part of north London.

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