Tottenham 0 Liverpool 3: The same but different 2

Tottenham 0 - 3 Liverpool

The fear before this game was that Mauricio Pochettino and his new side could have done with a few more games before facing an opponent of Liverpool’s calibre.  Spurs are transitioning towards a system not dissimilar to the one employed by Brendan Rodgers at Anfield, and today showed just how further along that learning curve Liverpool are.

That’s really the takeaway detail from White Hart Lane:  two sides trying to play the same free-form, quick-paced football, but one being far superior to the other at actually executing it.  Whereas Liverpool’s swift breaks and incisive passing produced a steady stream of attacking opportunity, Tottenham found themselves labouring against banks of defenders and, as their belief ebbed away, so did the speed and intensity of their football.

On the surface, this result looks just one Paulinho red-card away from being a replica of last season’s humiliation, but there were actually very few parallels.  Liverpool’s win was very comprehensive and thoroughly, thoroughly deserved, but while last year was a triumph of quality over fragility, today was more the product of one side being smarter, wiser and more suited to their gameplan than the other.  Who really knows if Pochettino’s Tottenham will ever become comparable to Rodgers’ Liverpool, but the point at which it will become fair to measure the former against the latter is still many months away.

At times today, Liverpool even looked to have moved beyond the levels they reached last season.  Raheem Sterling is currently in a special stage of development, getting noticeably stronger every time he touches the ball, and in Daniel Sturridge they have a forward who has added a tangible intelligence to his impressive armoury of physical attributes.  Focusing on individual Liverpool players feels reductive, though, because truly they are a team approaching perfect harmony: every move seems to have a structure, every pass creates a degree of opportunity, and almost every attacking phase ends with the hint of a chance or more.

Rodgers, of course, hasn’t created success out of thin air and the quality at his disposal has been very significant, but the chemistry that binds his players is truly impressive and it’s that, rather than spending power or individual attributes, which has made Liverpool so formidable.  Managers need players with ability to win games, but the style and swagger with which they do so comes from the training ground and the pockets of understanding which exist throughout this team haven’t simply been paid for.

Liverpool have become very unforgiving, and they are a side who are capable of carrying out a thorough examination of an opponent’s weaknesses across a ninety period.  Tottenham just weren’t in a position to stand up to that today.

 

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