Seven months on from last season’s Champions League final, Liverpool and Tottenham lock horns again on Saturday as two clubs heading in very different directions.
Victory in Madrid, Spain, last June has propelled Liverpool onto even greater heights. The Reds’ manager Jürgen Klopp can do no wrong as his side travel to London 13 points clear at the top of the Premier League with a game in hand and seemingly cruising towards their first league title in 30 years.
Tottenham, on the other hand, are under new management with Jose Mourinho having replaced Mauricio Pochettino.
The Argentine’s achievements in transforming Spurs’ fortunes over the first five years of his time in charge did not spare him the sack after a run of three wins from the opening 12 games of the Premiership season.
Mourinho’s appointment provided a short-term bounce as Spurs won four of his first five games in charge, albeit against limited opposition in West Ham United, Olympiakos, Bournemouth and Burnley.
But if Tottenham chairperson Daniel Levy believed Pochettino was the problem, recent weeks have laid bare the much deeper malaise Mourinho is tasked with turning around.
Spurs have climbed from 14th to sixth position since the Portuguese took charge in mid-November, but remain six points adrift of the top four and have won just twice in their last seven games in all competitions.
In stark contrast to Mourinho’s most successful spells at Porto, Inter Milan and Chelsea, he has been unable to organise Tottenham into a team that is at least difficult to beat. Spurs have kept just one clean sheet in his 12 matches in charge, conceding more goals in that time than any other Premier League team so far.
Mourinho now has problems to solve at both ends of the field with the news that Harry Kane will be out until April after undergoing surgery on a hamstring injury.
Kane adds to a mounting injury list with influential midfielder Moussa Sissoko also out until April and club captain Hugo Lloris expected to be sidelined for another month due to a dislocated elbow suffered in October. Ben Davies, Danny Rose and Tanguy Ndombele could also miss the visit of Liverpool.
After years of beating the odds under Pochettino with lesser resources than their rivals, the stresses and strains on Spurs’ squad have been exposed over the last six months.
The concern for Tottenham is that their fall from grace may not be over yet. Christian Eriksen looks set to leave the club on a free transfer if not this month on a cut-price deal.
Jan Vertonghen is also out of contract at the end of the season. Levy reportedly told Mourinho when he took the job that he would not have funds to spend during this window.
Just months on from being one game away from winning the Champions League for the first time in the club’s history, qualifying for it next season now represents success.
Liverpool on the other hand look set for a historic season. After also claiming the Uefa Super Cup and Club World Cup since lifting their sixth European Cup, the only doubt appears to be over how many more trophies they will lift by the end the season.
Even Klopp’s gamble of fielding a team largely composed of youngsters paid off last weekend in a Merseyside derby win over Everton in the FA Cup to keep the possibility of winning five trophies in the same season alive.
“The passion and ambition of these players is from another planet,” Klopp’s assistant Pep Lijnders told The Athletic. “Winning something big puts more conviction, more trust into everything. Subconsciously you feel stronger. There’s a real hunger to fight for more prizes.”