LONDON — Time and money are the two most crucial commodities when it comes to building a football team and Jurgen Klopp has used both wisely since seeing his Liverpool side crushed 4-1 by Tottenham at Wembley last October.
Eleven months have passed since an inspired Spurs, led by Harry Kane, tore Liverpool apart last season in a game that left Dejan Lovren’s reputation in tatters and question marks over many of Klopp’s players. Yet on Saturday, Liverpool returned to the scene of their humiliation and avenged that defeat with a convincing 2-1 victory that extended their 100 percent winning start to the season and moved them to the top of the Premier League.
So what has changed?
A quick look at the teamsheets offers the first insight into the evolution of Klopp’s team, compared to the lack of change at Tottenham, since that day last season. Only four of Klopp’s team last October — Joe Gomez, James Milner, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino — started Saturday’s fixture while six of Mauricio Pochettino’s players started both games.
Not much difference on the face of it, but look deeper and you see that only Gomez remains from last season’s Liverpool defence that was given such a torrid time by Kane. Gomez, who played at right-back that day, played alongside Virgil van Dijk in Saturday’s win, with Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson as full-backs. Simon Mignolet has been replaced in goal by the £66 million summer signing Alisson Becker, while Lovren, Joel Matip and Alberto Moreno have all been dislodged in the months since.
Emre Can and Philippe Coutinho have since left Liverpool, too — Coutinho’s sale raised in the region of £142m — while Jordan Henderson started this game on the bench, with Klopp selecting £52.75m summer purchase Naby Keita ahead of his captain.
Spurs, meanwhile, were missing the injured Hugo Lloris and Dele Alli on Saturday — both players would almost certainly have started if fit — with the other starters from last season’s game, Davinson Sanchez, Heung-min Son and Serge Aurier named on the bench.
But while Klopp has been able to bolster his team by the signings of Alisson, Van Dijk and Keita, Pochettino’s only possible change from last year was winger Lucas Moura, who started this game ahead of Son.
Liverpool look and play like a different team to the one that was outplayed at Wembley less than 12 months ago, but Klopp has spent £245m in that time, compared to Pochettino’s outlay of £23m on Lucas, his only signing in 2018. So while Klopp has had time to change his Liverpool team and turn them into genuine title contenders, he has also had more than 10 times more money to spend than Pochettino since that day last October.
But Liverpool’s victory on Saturday and their surge to the top of table is about more than the money they have spent. Klopp has identified weaknesses in goal and in defence and sorted them out by investing wisely in Alisson and Van Dijk.
But while Klopp and Liverpool have built and prospered since last October, Spurs have gone backwards because they have stood still. Their lack of depth is now becoming evident and that’s down to the lack of investment in the squad over the past 12 months and beyond.
The reconstruction of White Hart Lane is clearly affecting the club’s ability to punch its weight in the transfer market, but the frayed edges are now showing. Without Lloris and Alli, they are not the same team and Kane’s search for form has also left Spurs short of firepower.
It is true that Spurs are a match for any opponent when they have their best team on the pitch, but how often can that happen in a long season in league and cup?
Liverpool now have the depth that they lacked a year ago, though, and they also have extra quality. Another summer signing, Xherdan Shaqiri, sat on the bench for this game, with the likes of Henderson and Daniel Sturridge alongside him.
Liverpool feel and look vibrant, but Spurs are beginning to look stale and predictable. Maybe it is just a case of early season mis-steps and nothing more than that, but these two teams have gone in opposite directions since last October and Liverpool are undoubtedly the one on an upwards trajectory.
They have used their time and money wisely, but the same cannot be said for Spurs.