Tottenham and Liverpool no longer equals: Mourinho forced to play the role of party-pooper

The two sides met in the Champions League final just seven months ago but the two clubs have gone in very different directions since Madrid

The contrast could hardly have been greater.

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As Liverpool’s players strutted, medals round their necks and smiles on their faces, for Tottenham’s the world seemed a much crueller place.

The mixed zone at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium is long and winding, and no place for losers – especially after a Champions League final. For Harry Kane and Dele Alli, Son Heung-min and Hugo Lloris, those memories still linger.

Liverpool, of course, could relate to those memories. Whatever Spurs experienced in Madrid, the Reds had been through in Kiev a year previously.

Remember that? Loris Karius’ howlers and Gareth Bale’s magic, Mo Salah’s injury and Sergio Ramos’ grin. Dua Lipa and Salt Bae, Cristiano Ronaldo’s final game for Real Madrid.

It seems a long time ago now, doesn’t it?

In fact, such has been the progress of Jurgen Klopp’s side since, that defeat now feels less like a setback, more a necessary stop-off on the road to success.

“It was massive,” Virgil van Dijk told Goal recently. “It was an experience for all of us that we didn’t want to experience again.”

And an experience that the players used before the following year’s final.

“What I felt before the final in Madrid was that I don’t want to walk through that guard of honour and get my silver medal,” Van Dijk added.

“That feeling is the worst feeling you can have. I thought about it before the [Tottenham] game that we have to do it; we have to get the trophy no matter what.”

They got the trophy, of course. Salah got his redemption, Divock Origi confirmed his place in Reds folklore and Klopp delivered No.6. Memories of that night in the Spanish capital will last a lifetime.

And since then? Well, that’s the interesting part. Seven months is a long time in football, it seems.

Twelve is even longer. When 2019 started, the talk was of Liverpool and Tottenham as peers, clubs with the same ideas and the same ambitions. The Reds were top of the table, but Spurs were seen as contenders. They’d finished 2018 strongly, and the talk was of a three-horse title race.

Indeed, when Manchester City beat Liverpool on January 3, Spurs were just six points behind Klopp’s team having played the same number of games. By May, that gap had risen to 27 points, and it will be 31 (plus a game in hand) if the Reds can win at the Tottenham Hotspur stadium on Saturday.  

Liverpool arrive in North London as European and world champions, 13 points clear at the top of the Premier League and unbeaten in the league since that City loss. Spurs, by comparison, sit sixth in the table, below the worst Manchester United side in a generation and six points off the Champions League spots.

They may have met as equals in Madrid, but on current form they are anything but. From their last 38 games, Tottenham have taken just 53 points, compared with Liverpool’s 104. Since Liverpool last lost a Premier League game, Spurs have been beaten 15 times.

They’ve also changed their manager, replacing Mauricio Pochettino with Jose Mourinho in what looked, both then and now, as the ultimate marriage of convenience.

Mourinho’s impact has been mixed. There was the initial upswing, with three straight wins to kick off the Portuguese’s reign, but it has plateaued since. Spurs have lost to every good team they have faced, and have failed to beat even the average ones of late.

Mourinho arrived promising a new Mourinho; chirpy, funny and preaching the importance of “humility”, but with results patchy the 56-year-old has already begun to revert to type.

He clashed with a member of Southampton’s coaching staff on New Year’s Day, he has publicly criticised Spurs’ record signing Tanguy Ndombele over his injury record, and after Sunday’s FA Cup draw at Championship club Middlesbrough he complained about not only the referee but, bizarrely, the match ball too.

So much for ‘The Happy One.’

He would, however, love to get one over Liverpool this weekend, make no mistake. Reds fans will remember his wild celebrations when Chelsea destroyed their title dreams at Anfield back in 2014.

Whether Mourinho has the team to cause an upset remains to be seen. Tottenham have kept just one clean sheet in 12 games since his arrival, and will be without captain Harry Kane, as well as influential midfielder Moussa Sissoko, through injury.

Lloris could return after three months out with an elbow injury and the brilliant Son is back from suspension, but the form of key players such as Christian Eriksen, Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld is a source of concern.

Spurs were ripped apart at home by a vibrant, counter-attacking Chelsea side before Christmas, and seem to lack the steel that, for many seasons, made them such formidable foes for teams such as Liverpool.

Klopp’s respect, naturally, remains. He was, and is, a huge Pochettino fan and hugely admired the work the Argentine did there. He is also the last manager who would dream of underestimating a Mourinho side.

For Liverpool, this is one of the biggest hurdles remaining in their league season. Their first visit to the Tottenham Hotspur stadium is a significant one. Win there and it is hard to see them faltering. They’d need just 36 points from their last 17 games to be champions.

As for Spurs, they must be content for now with the role of party-poopers. It wasn’t always like that of course, but things change quickly in football.

Just ask Pochettino.

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