LONDON -- Not many people would have backed Liverpool to win at White Hart Lane on Sunday, especially given its recent run of losses in north London. But not only did it claim three points against Tottenham in devastating fashion, Brendan Rodgers' side did something more important: it sent a message that it must be taken seriously in the race for both the top four and the title.
The Reds, full of swashbuckling audacity and adventure, steamrolled their way through an abject Spurs side. The home team's meek surrender will garner plenty of coverage, but it was forced into submission by a ruthless visiting attack. This was a match in which Liverpool's brilliance far outweighed its opponent's ineptitude.
It was not supposed to be this easy, though. Tottenham had returned to form, drawing against the reigning champions and picking up back-to-back away wins, while Liverpool had lost its last match on the road to Hull City and was without an away win since September.
Yet Liverpool played as though it was taking to the field in front of the Kop. It took control of the flow and tempo of the match immediately, something that has not happened to Spurs even when they have underperformed in the past. In defeats against Arsenal and Manchester City, they had the lion's share of possession, but against Liverpool they mustered just 43 percent.
This was a display of belligerent dominance from a side keen to lay down a marker, and it bested Tottenham at its own game. Andre Villas-Boas' midfield has been constructed to be powerful, athletic and mobile, yet they were made to look ordinary, ponderous and feeble.
Jordan Henderson, once a figure of ridicule, was at the center of that control. His performance pulsated with grit and power, but also oozed class. He scurried around the pitch, winning possession and getting in the face of a Spurs midfield that is used to being the aggressor, but also offered more nuanced touches and cerebral thinking.
There was movement and runners everywhere, as if the Tottenham midfield were being split apart by the red arrows – Henderson seemed to operate with a pummel of smoke bellowing behind him.
That fight and work rate was evident across the team, and while certain individuals shone, this was a display that was characterized by a collective virtuosity. Joe Allen, against a side normally lauded for its power, was as tenacious as anyone (and won more tackles, eight, than any other player) while John Flanagan got himself on the scoresheet – a goal which was cheered by Rodgers and the Liverpool bench more than any other.
“It was probably our most complete performance,” said a delighted Rodgers afterwards. “I loved our arrogance on the ball. We looked a real threat while retaining our solidity. Look at the midfield three, the energy, the pressing.”
And this, of course, was without Steven Gerrard. If Sunday's game was billed as a test of how the club will survive when the Anfield legend hangs up his boots, then it is a test Liverpool passed with flying colors. There was strength in depth, movement, speed, invention, quick thinking. The Reds seemed to think and act quicker than Tottenham in almost every area.
Luis Suarez, captaining the side, was magnificent once more. The Uruguayan is, unequivocally, the best player in the Premier League and, on this form, is simply impossible to stop. In north London they are all too aware of the manner in which a brilliant, match-winning player can drag a side upwards, and in Suarez Liverpool has a banner around which it can mount a serious assault this season.
Liverpool has frequently been labelled as a side that is reliant on certain players, but today proved it is capable of not just surviving in the absence of stars players, but thriving – a trait few teams can lay claim to. The Reds raced to the top of the league at the start of the year despite Suarez being suspended, scored for fun without Daniel Sturridge today, and obliterated a midfield noted for its strength.
A win would have seen Spurs move level on points with Liverpool, but the 5-0 rout shows that there is a far wider gulf between the two sides than that margin suggests. In one fell swoop the Reds have clicked away from home again, allayed fears over missing stars, rocketed back up the table and delivered a tour de force performance that should have the rest of the division very worried indeed.
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