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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Tottenham v Liverpool takeaways: Jurgen Klopp's men emerge as genuine title contenders

A 2-1 win over Spurs at Wembley maintains Liverpool's 100 per cent start to the Premier League season

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp celebrates with Jordan Henderson after securing a 2-1 win over Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley. Reuters
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp celebrates with Jordan Henderson after securing a 2-1 win over Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley. Reuters

We look at the main talking points to come from Liverpool's impressive 2-1 victory at Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday.

Klopp’s men signal title intent

Five matches into the season, and Liverpool hold 15 points from a possible 15. A flawless formbook represents the third time in the club’s history they have opened a top-flight campaign with five victories. On the two previous occasions, they finished as champions (1978/79) and as runners-up (1990/91). Their start this time has been all the more impressive given Liverpool have not been at their blinding best. Wins against West Ham United, Crystal Palace, Brighton & Hove Albion and Leicester City were perhaps expected, but the deserved dispatching of a perceived title contender, and away from home, constitutes a firm endorsement of their title credentials. Yes, Liverpool need to be more clinical than they were against Tottenham and, yes, they should have seen out the game to secure another clean sheet. But they outplayed and outfought Spurs. A strongest start in 27 years suggested a first league crown in 29 feels realistic.

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Georginio Wijnaldum, far right, heads in Liverpool's first goal. The last three goals Tottenham have conceded have been from set pieces. Reuters
Georginio Wijnaldum, far right, heads in Liverpool's first goal. The last three goals Tottenham have conceded have been from set pieces. Reuters

Sloppy Spurs shoot themselves in the foot

Mauricio Pochettino was positively livid following his side’s surrender to Watford before the international break. A goal to the good, they conspired to lose 2-1. Against Liverpool, Spurs never enjoyed a sustained period of real superiority. Again, their sloppiness cost them. Passive for large spells, they were poor in possession, their performance error-strewn. In the first half, Eric Dier almost gifted a goal to Mohamed Salah. Liverpool’s opener came courtesy of mistakes from Toby Alderweireld, Christian Eriksen, Michel Vorm and probably Dier once more. It continued a theme. Spurs have repeatedly given up too many chances this season to their rivals, while five of the six goals they have conceded have been headers. Pochettino’s progression of the team has been built upon a machine-like precision, with each player knowing perfectly his role. At present, they look uncharacteristically disjointed. Key players Hugo Lloris and Dele Alli were missing, but that cannot be used as an excuse. Spurs were well below par.

Virgil van Dijk, right, has made Liverpool's defence much sturdier since joining from Southampton in January. Reuters
Virgil van Dijk, right, has made Liverpool's defence much sturdier since joining from Southampton in January. Reuters

Liverpool’s leakiness has been eradicated

Last season’s 4-1 evisceration at the same venue prompted a forensic analysis of Jurgen Klopp’s side. Given a torrid afternoon, Dejan Lovren was hooked before half time. However, since then Liverpool have become sturdier and therefore stingier. Since that Wembley wobble, they boast the meanest defence in the division, conceding 24 goals in 34 league matches. This season, the defence has been breached twice, with the first a product of Alisson’s carelessness against Leicester. Irrespective of that, in the Brazilian they have strengthened substantially an obvious weak area, while the January arrival of Virgil van Dijk has proved inspired. OK, Liverpool set world records when signing those two players, but they identified problem areas and rectified them. Already, they possess a front three the envy of most clubs in the league, even if Salah has yet to hit top form thus far this season. Now with a backline to balance the attack, it spells danger for the rest.

Harry Kane failed to trouble the Liverpool defence. EPA
Harry Kane failed to trouble the Liverpool defence. EPA

Kane clearly needs a rest

Last season, this fixture showcased Harry Kane’s expert centre-forward play. He scored twice, created another and generally ran Liverpool’s defence ragged. Kane rushed the channels, too, displaying how there was much more to his game than simply deadly finishing. Yet he is some way short of that at present. This time, Kane was mostly ineffectual, lacking the sharpness that has made him arguably the league’s most-feared marksman. He wore the armband in Lloris’ absence, but did not provide his team much of a lead. He never troubled Alisson, his link-up play was laboured, his overall impact limited. Injured in March, Kane has not seemed the same player since, although with Lucas Moura in attack this season his role has altered slightly. More than anything, though, he looks spent. And not just physically: viewed as talisman for club and country, the elevated status appears to have taken its toll. It would be a brave call, but Pochettino should lighten Kane's load.