Why have Liverpool overtaken Tottenham again this season?
PUBLISHED: 12:24 26 March 2014 | UPDATED: 13:15 26 March 2014
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Sunday’s trip to Anfield was supposed to be a key fixture in the fight for fourth but, instead, Spurs are clutching at the last remnants of hope and Brendan Rodgers’ side are battling for the title, let alone the last Champions League spot.
That was Tottenham’s dream at the start of the campaign – their spending spree was supposed to take them forward, right into the war for the Premier League crown.
Since their last appearance in the Champions League, Spurs have finished fifth, fourth – typically, in the one season when fourth wasn’t good enough – and fifth.
Tottenham were clearly next in line for a spot at Europe’s top table, waiting hungrily for anyone to slip up – and Manchester United have obliged with a stunning fall from grace under David Moyes.
But, instead of the Lilywhites gratefully taking advantage, Liverpool have roared through the pack and, barring a calamity in the final straight, look set to reclaim the coveted place among the elite.
Tottenham seemed to have little to fear from the red half of Merseyside at the end of last season. They had just finished above them for the fourth season in a row, having won five and drawn one of the eight meetings during that time – including a 4-0 thumping at White Hart Lane in September 2011.
So how has this happened?
The Europa League has clearly had an effect, but stability looks like a key factor. Most of last season’s top seven teams changed their managers during the summer – Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Everton all brought a new man into the hot-seat.
That should have given Spurs an edge, along with Arsenal and Liverpool - and City and Chelsea both had teething problems early on, as expected, while United’s problems have increased.
Having just recorded their best ever points tally in the Premier League, the Lilywhites could have taken advantage if they had had a quiet summer, or made a couple of improvements here and there.
Instead, they arguably made more changes than any of their rivals, selling Gareth Bale and replacing him with seven players who had never been tested in the Premier League – and then they also switched the man at the top.
Of course, it was Liverpool who delivered the final blow to Andre Villas-Boas when they triumphed 5-0 at the Lane in December.
By contrast, Liverpool have benefited from a second full season under the same manager and, although Rodgers finished seventh in his first campaign at Anfield, the ideas that he implemented and the relationships which were formed have clearly paid dividends this term.
Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge sometimes seem to have a telepathic understanding, while Spurs have often looked like strangers.
With all of this said, Liverpool have made their mistakes. They had four managers in two years between June 2010 and June 2012, sacking Rafael Benitez and then having ill-fated spells with Roy Hodgson and Kenny Dalglish before appointing Rodgers.
It would be overstating their case to hail the Merseysiders as the model of patience and longevity – and they have made costly errors in the transfer window as well.
Even if you ignore the likes of Stewart Downing and the £35million spent on Andy Carroll, Rodgers splashed out £48m last summer on Luis Alberto, Iago Aspas, Simon Mignolet, Mamadou Sakho and Tiago Ilori, while Kolo Toure arrived on a free transfer.
None of these recruits are being credited as key players in the Reds’ resurgence. Instead, they are relying the stars who were already at the club last season – particularly Sturridge, Suarez and captain Steven Gerrard.
At the weekend, Vertonghen was asked why Liverpool have overtaken Spurs and he replied: “Suarez. Suarez is the reason for that. At the moment he is up there as one of the best strikers in the world. I think he is the difference between the teams.”
Of course, Spurs could have signed Suarez in 2010-11, but that is ancient history. More relevant is the fact that the Uruguayan has underlined Liverpool’s wisdom in rejecting Arsenal’s £40m offer in the summer.
Indeed, Suarez’s success this season has shown the value of keeping your best player – a point which will not be lost on Tottenham fans after the sale of Bale.
Yet it would have been interesting to see whether Liverpool would have rejected an £85m bid for Suarez – and Spurs’ mistake was probably in how they spent the money, rather than accepting the enormous world record offer.
Of course, Liverpool may well find themselves in a similar position this summer, if Real Madrid come knocking.
But the fear for Spurs will be that Liverpool will continue to go from strength to strength and that they will reclaim their former position in the top flight’s hierarchy.
Spurs certainly look a long way behind at the moment – and the gap could be highlighted again on the Anfield turf on Sunday.
Yet, at the same time, Liverpool can provide inspiration for Spurs, showing how much progress can be made in a couple of seasons.
It is worth remembering that Tottenham rose from the bottom of the league to Champions League qualification between September 2008 and May 2010.
Liverpool finished eighth in 2012 - 17 points behind Spurs - but less than two years on, they are fighting for the title.
It is also worth pointing out that Jordan Henderson was branded a £20m underachiever in his first two seasons at Anfield but, now 23 years old, he has more than played his part and put in a stellar display at the Lane earlier this season.
It is a soothing thought for those with fears over some of Spurs’ signings - particularly 21-year-old Erik Lamela.
Yet Rodgers has clearly been instrumental in Henderson’s development and Liverpool’s rise, and Spurs must also find a manager to put their trust in – even if the early signs are not encouraging.
The point is not lost on Sherwood, who said earlier this month: “Liverpool is a good example. They gave Brendan time. Seventh, they finished last year and look at where he is now. It is a great example.”
Unfortunately for Sherwood, there are also parallels with Dalglish – the former player who returned to a role in the youth academy and ultimately appeared from behind the scenes to take the top job.
Spurs fans may point out that Dalglish was also the last man to try and fail before Rodgers arrived – and call for Levy to twist again this summer.
Perhaps Tottenham already have the right man and need to give him time to install his philosophies, or perhaps the long-term heir to the throne is just around the corner.
Whatever happens, Liverpool’s resurgence means Tottenham have a lot of catching up to do – and if Manchester United use financial muscle to return to the top table next season then Spurs may even lose their place at the top of the waiting list. Indeed, they sit sixth today after being overtaken by Everton last night.
Levy must think very carefully about his next decision.
Follow me on Twitter @BenPearceSpurs