Football Features

The XIs from Klopp’s first game show why Liverpool have left Spurs in the dust

By Steve Jennings

Published: 17:05, 8 October 2020

October 8, 2015. A day that many Liverpool fans will never forget.

No, it’s doesn’t signify any cups or titles, instead it was when Jurgen Klopp was announced as the Reds’ new manager, replacing Brendan Rodgers with Liverpool in limbo.

Shortly after he would take charge of his first game, a goalless draw against Tottenham Hotspur who were also going through an interesting patch, but in an arguably better position than Liverpool.

But since that day, Klopp has overseen nothing short of a revolution at Liverpool, leading them back to the top of Europe in 2019 and finally, after 30 years, England. In stark contrast, Tottenham have faltered despite their Champions League final appearance in 2019, being beaten by Liverpool.

One look at the starting line-ups from Klopp’s first game in charge is enough to recognise why one of these clubs is flourishing and the other is fading. Liverpool have made drastic changes to a team that simply didn’t possess the quality to challenge for major trophies. Spurs, on the other hand, already boasted the bones of an elite team, but they have since failed to add any flesh.

Below, we’ve dived into those XIs from October 2015 and compared them to the current crop of players at each club to determine exactly why Liverpool have left Spurs in the dust.

Goalkeeper

One of the biggest upgrades Klopp has made over the last five years is between the sticks. Too many mistakes saw Simon Mignolet replaced by Loris Karius, who proved to be even more costly in the calamity department, with his two horrendous errors costing Liverpool Champions League glory in 2018.

Klopp knew he had to act and swiftly brought in Alisson from Roma. The Brazilian has emerged as one of, the Premier League’s best goalkeepers, if not the best, rapidly overtaking Spurs captain Hugo Lloris among the world’s leading players in his position.

Sadly, Lloris is arguably more comparable to Karius than he is to Alisson these days. Numerous high-profile mistakes have blighted his otherwise impressive performances over the last couple of years, yet Spurs have opted against pursuing a short-term or long-term replacement. The Frenchman’s status as captain has likely played a part in that decision, but the goalkeeper is a position the club must now begin looking at, and not just by signing Joe Hart as back-up.

Defence

Full-backs

An accomplished utilisation of full-backs was once the cornerstone of Mauricio Pochettino’s side, culminating in the excellence of Danny Rose and Kyle Walker for two seasons at White Hart Lane. The pair often provided the majority of the attacking drive for Spurs, overlapping the forwards and causing havoc for the opposition.

It’s ironic, then, that full-back became Pochettino’s biggest problem position at Spurs following the sales of Walker and later Kieran Trippier. Serge Aurier was often disastrous defensively, while Juan Foyth and Kyle Walker-Peters weren’t trusted enough, and the latter eventually allowed to leave under Jose Mourinho. They have, however, looked to improve that with the signing of Matt Doherty from Wolves, though it remains too early to judge the success of the move.

There have also been improvements on the left, with the patience surrounding Rose and Ben Davies running out, and Spurs opting to sign Sergio Regulion. Meanwhile, Klopp has replicated the Tottenham of old at Anfield, making his brilliant full-backs a vital component of Liverpool’s attacking play.

The Reds have come a long way in that department since the average displays of Nathaniel Clyne and Alberto Moreno, with both Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson proving two of the continent’s most dangerous attacking full-backs.

Centre-backs

As recently as two seasons ago, Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen’s partnership was considered one of the best in Europe. But now just one remains at Spurs, with Vertonghen leaving in the summer while Alderweireld is forever being linked with a move away.

Davinson Sanchez has stepped up to fill the gap left by Vertonghen, but Alderweireld also appears to have been replaced in the starting XI by Eric Dier, having to settle for the bench. Centre-back is arguably the main position in which Spurs have been made to pay for their transfer inactivity over the past few years.

And once again, Liverpool’s transfer activity makes a mockery of Spurs’ idleness. Klopp had to ride out some woeful defending in his early days at the club before Virgil van Dijk arrived and changed everything. The Dutchman has proven that sometimes spending big is the best way forward.

Midfield

Holding players

Pochettino settled on a central midfield pairing of Eric Dier and Mousa Dembele in 2015/16, though Dele Alli (more on him later) dropped deeper to play against Liverpool for the match in question as Dier was injured. Dembele and Alli were up against a midfield three that wasn’t capable of transitioning the way Klopp’s current trio is.

James Milner’s experience and professionalism means he is still an important part of the Liverpool squad, but an ageing Lucas Leiva was shipped out before Emre Can let his contract run down. And then there was the signing of the wonderful Thiago Alcantara over the summer. Over at Spurs, Dembele was used until his legs couldn’t take it any more and the Belgian left for China in January 2018.

 

Tottenham moved to resolve their midfield issues over the past two summers, first by breaking the club’s transfer record to sign Tanguy Ndombele, and adding Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg recently. Ndombele endured a tough season both under Pochettino and Mourinho but his talent is clear to see. A reliance on the useful yet limited Moussa Sissoko continues to both help and hinder Spurs.

Attacking midfielders

Further forward in the more attacking midfield roles, Spurs are beginning to stagnate. Alli looks lost under Mourinho and Christian Eriksen joined Inter Milan in January, with Pochettino’s Spurs continuing to be stripped.

Mourinho has found a man he trusts to step in when necessary, in Erik Lamela, but the Argentinian is loved more for his fight than on-the-ball abilities. Giovani Lo Celso could make an impact when he returns from a hip injury. A less predictable form of creativity is required if Spurs are to get back to their best.

Conversely, Klopp transformed Liverpool by dispensing with traditional attacking midfielders. Philippe Coutinho’s sale gave Klopp one fewer attacking option, but it resulted in the forming of a regular, consistent front three. The German can also choose to throw in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Xherdan Shaqiri or Takumi Minamino when he does want more of a link between the holding midfielders and the forwards.

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Forwards

On the face of it, up front is where Spurs’ lack of major change has been a positive rather than a negative. Despite a few worrying ankle injuries, Harry Kane remains one of the most reliable goalscorers in the game, and his leadership qualities have only got better since he began leading the line, not to mention his assists.

Son Heung-min’s improvement has made Spurs even more potent in the final third and Lucas Moura and Steven Bergwijn have given the squad strength in depth. They have also brought back a hero in Gareth Bale, but how well he does is yet to be seen.

Although Spurs’ trio is good, Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane have formed one of Europe’s best goalscoring tridents. Their interplay makes all three players undroppable, often giving Klopp the easy decision when naming his starting XIs.

Despite Spurs’ improvements over the summer, it’s yet another example of Liverpool acting on their problems while the North London club stood still, all of which has resulted in the clubs experiencing very different trajectories.

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