Mauricio Pochettino used to wince when his pressing game was compared with Jurgen Klopp’s but Tottenham and Liverpool share more than just a love of the chase in their recent fight to join Europe’s elite. With star players sold and the proceeds, largely, squandered, Pochettino and Klopp were each tasked with restoring a sense of direction to clubs clearly wandering off course. Only this year have Liverpool soared ahead, their 26-point advantage over Spurs in the Premier League testament to a team that turned last year’s Champions League run into a start not a finish.
Now it is up to Tottenham to do the same. Liverpool, a year behind, were mourning the loss of their star player too as Luis Suarez left for Spain and the 81 million euros earned was frittered away, leaving Klopp with his own clear-out job in 2015. Fabio Borini, Sebastian Coates, Iago Aspas, Christian Benteke and Mario Balotelli were discarded by Liverpool. Paulinho, Nacer Chadli, Roberto Soldado, Etienne Capoue, Vlad Chiriches and Emmanuel Adebayor ditched by Tottenham. After the demolition, came the rebuild. Pochettino brought in Dele Alli, Eric Dier, Toby Alderweireld and Son Heung-min. Klopp added Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Georginio Wijnaldum. Piece-by-piece, each club’s identity sharpened again and Champions League qualification became not just a target, but the norm.
“We need to make that step,” Pochettino said this week. “We realise we can continue in this process, we can put Tottenham with the best teams in the world.” Liverpool have pushed on. Aided by bigger budgets and free of the strains imposed on Spurs as a result of their new stadium, Klopp saw the moment after last year’s loss to Real Madrid and grabbed it. In January 2018, they sold Philippe Coutinho for 160 million euros and used the money to strengthen a weak defence by signing Southampton’s Virgil van Dijk. In the summer, they acquired an outstanding goalkeeper in Alisson Becker as well as greater strength in mid-field with Fabinho and Naby Keita.
In Coutinho, they sold a star but this time made it pay. Even winning the Champions League might not guarantee the futures of Tottenham’s own dithering gems, with Christian Eriksen and Toby Alderweireld still to commit and on contracts that are running out. The club’s chairman Daniel Levy will need to answer Pochettino’s repeated calls for a show of faith, one that reflects the unwavering belief Pochettino enjoys from his players. In that sense, a Champions League final could prove cathartic too, offering Spurs the chance to shake off their nearly-men tag, and assume fully the bold, brave, uncompromising mentality of their coach.