Three things we learned: Tottenham v. Liverpool

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LONDON — In a battle between two Premier League title contenders, Liverpool proved they’re the real deal and Tottenham showed they are perhaps on the slide this season.

Jurgen Klopp‘s Liverpool were comfortable throughout as they beat Tottenham 2-1 on Saturday at Wembley, with a goal in each half from Georginio Wijnaldum and Roberto Firmino doing the trick. Erik Lamela pulled a goal back but it was too little too late for Mauricio Pochettino‘s sluggish Spurs.

Tottenham have now lost back-to-back PL games and concerns about them sustaining a top four challenge this season are starting to linger.

Here’s what we learned from the clash at Wembley.


LIVERPOOL UNDERLINE TITLE CREDENTIALS

Five wins from five so far this season, and this was the best of the bunch.

Liverpool defended resolutely, dominated midfield and launched searing counter attacks as they beat title rivals Tottenham with ease at Wembley. Klopp’s side set the tone early on, with James Milner, Naby Keita and Georginio Wijnaldum forcing Mousa Dembele, Harry Winks and Eric Dier into several giveaways.

The only question mark remains is about Liverpool’s composure. They had the chance to put the game to bed multiple times but failed to score again on the break and were almost made to pay after Lamela’s late goal, then some pressure from Spurs. Klopp looked frustrated on the sidelines as his team failed to manage the game effectively, but they’d done enough over the course of the 90 minutes to ease to victory.

Liverpool have only started a top-flight season with five victories on two previous occasions (1978-79, 1990-91) and on both occasions they finished in the top two that campaign, winning the title in 1979. There’s still a long way to go but ahead of a pivotal two months where they face Chelsea in the PL and League Cup, Man City in the league and PSG and Napoli and the UEFA Champions League, Liverpool have put down a marker as they continue to lead the Premier League.

Their display at Tottenham proved their early season promise can correctly be converted into talk of a serious, and sustained, title push.


POCH’S CONCERNS COMPOUNDED

Mauricio Pochettino raised plenty of eyebrows when he called out his team for not being at their best in the aftermath of their big win at Manchester United late last month. Prothetic Poch knew exactly what was coming up.

A defeat at Watford arrived just before the international break and Spurs’ sluggish start and finish to the first half handed Liverpool the initiative as Tottenham lost back-to-back PL games for the first time since May 2016.

There are a few factors to explain this sticky patch for Spurs: 1) most of their squad had no preseason and Pochettino’s high-pressing tactics need a rigorous preseason. 2) there is still some uncertainty in the air over their delayed move back to their new White Hart Lane home. 3) injuries to Dele Alli and Hugo Lloris were huge in this loss to Liverpool.

The latter reason is something which will be sorted out in the next few days when Dele and Lloris return. Without the former they lacked a presence between midfield and attack and Harry Kane in particular was isolated. Without Lloris, well, they probably wouldn’t have concede the first goal as Michel Vorm flapped at a corner and couldn’t keep out the header.

The other issues are more difficult to solve. Only three of Spurs’ starting lineup didn’t play in the latter stages of the World Cup this summer and fatigue will continue to creep in over the next few months as the busy Champions League and cup schedule intensifies. Harry Kane once again struggled through and doesn’t look to be at his best.


SALAH QUIET AS FIRMINO, MANE SHINE

Mohamed Salah isn’t quite having a Sophomore slump, but he isn’t the main man right now for Liverpool. And that’s great news for Klopp. So often last season Liverpool ran out of ideas if Salah wasn’t on form.

With the Egyptian star feeling his way into the new season with just two goals to his name so far, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino carried the threat against Spurs.

The former didn’t score but opened up so much space behind Tottenham’s usually stout defensive line. He took a little too much time to supply a finish or a pass for his teammates on a few breakaways, but Mane’s pace caused all kinds of problems and his cross led to Firmino’s goal.

As for the Brazilian striker, he continues to almost, quite amazingly, fly under the radar. He looked sharp throughout with his twists and turns and almost flicked home twice in the opening two minutes.

Mane and Firmino are carrying Liverpool’s main offensive threat right now but the good news for Klopp is that Salah is just getting warmed up.