Jurgen Klopp’s sheer elation at Liverpool’s outstanding return to form was illustrated seconds before the final whistle at a rain-sodden Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
As a clearance was lashed high into the empty stands and referee Martin Atkinson checked his watch, Klopp knew victory was assured. The manager turned towards Liverpool’s bench to pump his fists in understated fashion: a moment of quiet celebration.
Seconds later, the formalities of this impressive 3-1 win were completed – and even though we have hardly been talking up a Liverpool crisis during arguably the rockiest little spell in Klopp’s reign, there was no doubting the significance of the manner in which they put away a very disappointing Spurs side.
The defending champions had gone five Premier League games without a win, failing to score in four of those matches and seeing their 68-game unbeaten home league run end with a shock defeat by Burnley. They had also gone out of the FA Cup in the fourth round at Manchester United.
For the first time in a very long while, there were questions around Liverpool.
Defeat in north London would not have ended their ambitions to retain the title but the notion of being seven points behind an ominous-looking Manchester City, having played a game more, would have presented a colossal challenge.
As it was, Liverpool overcame even more central defensive complications to run out very comfortable winners against a Spurs team who ran out of ideas early on, their situation made worse by the loss of main marksman Harry Kane to an ankle injury at half-time.
Klopp was understandably overjoyed as he said afterwards: “What I saw was not about shape or form. It’s about who we are – that was us and the second half especially it was us.
Liverpool’s injury problems have offered mitigation for their recent drop in standards, and Klopp was wrestling with another dilemma even before the team bus pulled up at the stadium. He was then presented with yet another at half-time.
Fabinho, excellent as an auxiliary central defender in the absence of Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez, was ruled out of this game with a muscle injury. The increasingly fragile Joel Matip, meanwhile, lasted only 45 minutes, having started alongside Jordan Henderson, another emergency selection at the heart of Liverpool’s rearguard.
Sadly for the gifted but injury-prone Matip, Klopp did not exactly deliver an optimistic bulletin on his injury. While the manager’s public request for someone to send him a central defender may have been delivered with tongue slightly in cheek, Liverpool’s situation in that department is now at crisis point and may need to be resolved with a dip into the markets.
It meant Liverpool’s central defensive partnership in the second half was Henderson, helping out in an unaccustomed position once more, and 23-year-old Nathaniel Phillips. It was testimony to Liverpool’s superiority that they were barely threatened.
In other aspects, this was a perfect night for Liverpool as they showed why only fools would dismiss them as title challengers.
The champions were on their game from the first whistle as they scored in the league again after a goalless run of 482 minutes and 93 shots. They did it in the simplest fashion, when Roberto Firmino tapped into an open goal with virtually the last kick of the first half.
Liverpool’s second goal may prove even more significant. Trent Alexander-Arnold took advantage of very poor work by Hugo Lloris just after the re-start to drill a thunderous finish into the far corner. The Spurs keeper had not only failed to hold Sadio Mane’s routine effort but also pushed it invitingly into the scorer’s path.
It was a fitting reward for Alexander-Arnold’s finest display this season. He has struggled at times after spells out with injury but here, rather like Liverpool themselves, he was right back to his best, giving Klopp’s side the extra attacking dimension they have lacked during his recent downturn in form, as well as his natural defensive ability.
Spurs, much to manager Jose Mourinho’s obvious annoyance, barely raised a gallop in the second half, not even when a fine strike by Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg put them back in it at 2-1.
Mourinho spent much of the second half vocally exhorting his players but looked like a man shouting at a car with a flat battery. No matter how hard he tried, no matter how loud his voice, there was no sign of life.
Liverpool, in contrast, will feel this result and performance is just the tonic to bring them out of their bleak spell – and to deliver a reminder, if needed, that they are still around in the title race.
As Klopp himself said in summary: “It was good, it was necessary and it was a good moment to show it. We are still here and that’s good to know.”