Sometimes a relationship blows up and both parties end up locked in a contest to show the other what they could have had. The last time Liverpool faced Spurs in London the Reds were thoroughly and unmercifully dumped. Since that painful day, the main source of the drama, Dejan Lovren has been buried, resurrected and replaced. The man taking over for him was the right back on that October afternoon, Joe Gomez.
Simon Mignolet was the man in goal, was benched for Loris Karius, and now gets more action peeling pears than he does between the sticks for Liverpool. Roberto Firmino was still an experiment with supporters calling for a “20 goal striker.”
Virgil van Dijk was still six weeks away. Andy Robertson was still a kid from Hull who was firmly behind Alberto Moreno. Emre Can was still in the middle, with those Juve rumours just ITK fodder. A magician manned the left instead of Mané.
We think of ourselves as just having improved since Spurs 4, Liverpool 1, but it has really been wholesale change that has fueled the change since then. At a minimum, seven of the eleven will have changed. A Fabinho debut would make it eight. Liverpool haven’t just joined a gym since Tottenham threw our clothes out on the lawn. We’ve hired a Hollywood personal trainer, spent our savings on hair replacement surgery and took a trip to Peru for an ayahuasca retreat.
John Aldridge on Liverpool vs. Spurs: "The defeat at Wembley last year was hard to take but we’ve come a long way since then. We’re a better team now than we were then. "We’ve got a leader at the back and a goalkeeper who is a leader as well." [Echo]#LFC pic.twitter.com/T8dvTIde0x
— RedsBet (@Reds_Bet) September 11, 2018
Spurs are still pretty. They’ve stayed on basically the same trajectory, steadily remaining in the top-four, but Liverpool have jumped up several levels in eleven months. Their squad, nearly unchanged, will be eyeing our new look in the Wembley tunnel. We’re more muscular, more worldly and have more expensive tastes than we did before.
In 33 Premier League outings since that brutal defeat, Liverpool have the best defensive record in the top-flight. At the time we were in the bottom half of the league. The record is 23 goals allowed, 79 goals for since October 24th. Spurs may not even recognize us anymore.
There are two possible outcomes. They’ll either be so stunned at how completely we’ve moved on that they will hide behind a lamp-post and pretend they didn’t see us. We’ve got a date with PSG after all, so we can’t be bothered to waste our time with these. Or… the more likely scenario is that Spurs try to show us what we’re missing, and 90 minutes later we end up in a spectacular drunken fight in front of half the town. There have been pictures of them in Barcelona’s clothes for god’s sake.
Barcelona's training kit and Tottenham's new away kit.
Spot the difference. pic.twitter.com/8DNu48taOO
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) July 20, 2018
Spurs may not be a true rival for the Reds. Maybe we never thought of them as the ones we would bring home to mom. Dad certainly never thought they were good enough for us. But they have become a measuring stick, a marker of our progress. In the context of this season they’re the toughest test we’ll have faced so far. Salah wants to show Kane who the best goalscorer in the land is. The managers want to get the better of each other. The fullbacks may have made a side bet while on England duty.
Yes, our aim is now much higher than Tottenham, but they have tormented and teased us, finishing higher than Liverpool for the better part of a decade. In such a short time Liverpool have gotten their proverbial shit together, but until we show the Lilywhites how far we’ve come there will be lingering feelings. Saturday we know we need to break London hearts and move on for good.