LONDON: A mistake-ridden Liverpool looked all at sea in a 4-1 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur last October but just 11 months later, they have confirmed that this year’s Premier League title challenge is built on altogether more solid foundations.
Saturday’s 2-1 victory in the same fixture represented a total transformation. Since that calamitous defeat by Spurs last year, Jürgen Klopp’s side boast the best defensive record in the league, with more clean sheets than any other team. “For all the plaudits for the club’s improved defence, the moment of truth beckons,” former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher, had warned in his Daily Telegraph column in the run-up to the game.
“We will soon know how equipped their defence is to sustain a title challenge.”
By neutralising Spurs with consummate ease at Wembley on Saturday, Liverpool’s moment of truth came and went as they extended their 100% winning record to five games, matching Chelsea’s 15 points at the top of the table.
In Virgil van Dijk, Liverpool have the multi-faceted defensive linchpin they have been craving. The Dutchman has gradually become more and more assured while keeping things simple. No player made more clearances at Wembley on Saturday.
“Van Dijk makes this defence so much better,” former Liverpool midfielder Jamie Redknapp told Sky Sports after the match. “He was worth the wait.”
Alongside van Dijk, Joe Gomez has stepped up and surprised many with how comfortable he has looked at the heart of the Liverpool defence. Such form saw him start for England in their UEFA Nations League opener with Spain.
Everyone has chipped in. No player in the Premier League has won more tackles than left back Andrew Robertson, who produced another fine display against Spurs, while James Milner, at the age of 33, covered 13 kilometres at Wembley, more than anyone else.
“I would not give it [last year’s match] a second thought if you [the media] would not remind me of it,” Klopp said after the match.
Those reminders will now certainly disappear. The frantic final few minutes after Erik Lamela’s late goal for Spurs show there remains work to be done, but the foundation is now there for Liverpool to mount a significant quest for a first Premier League crown.