Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool come full circle to show Jose Mourinho the long road ahead at Tottenham
Klopp returned to the same London office where he held his first squad meeting as Liverpool manager four years ago, though that journey looks set to bear fruit much more than what the future holds for Tottenham and Mourinho
The space, with floor-to-ceiling windows in a ritzy Canary Wharf hotel, was the same one in which he had conducted his first game-day address as Liverpool manager.
The opponents were unchanged as was the layout of the room and the furniture.
“It was like I was in a time machine,” the German said after his league-leading charges toiled to a 1-0 victory over Spurs.
“Nothing had changed,” Klopp continued and while that may be true of the basic details like the venue and the purpose of the presentation, Liverpool have undergone an astonishing transformation in the near 51 months that separate both matchday presentations.
The Merseysiders arrived in north London 10th in the Premier League standings then and are now 14 points clear at the summit with a game in hand, on course to end a painful three-decade wait for the title. They are already champions of Europe and world champions.
The triumph at Spurs saw Liverpool post the best start to a campaign of any team in the history of the continent's top five leagues with 61 points from 21 matches.
The story of their metamorphosis has been well documented. Klopp, famed for his long-term reconstruction work with Mainz and Borussia Dortmund, arrived in October 2015 with a crystalline vision.
He unified the club’s football operation – from Melwood and Kirkby to Boston – giving greater responsibility to staff and installing an unmistakable on-pitch identity and an all-round culture of excellence.
That has resulted in surgical recruitment, headed by sporting director Michael Edwards, and some exceptional forward planning with Trent Alexander-Arnold a perfect example.
Liverpool’s academy director Alex Inglethorpe and Neil Critchley, who had been coach of the Under-18s, knew from their discussions with Klopp and the backroom team at Melwood that the Scouser’s clearest pathway to the first-team was as a right-back.
Then 17, he was operating on that flank as a wide midfielder after two years of being the metronome for the U16s. Alexander-Arnold had all the tools to thrive in the centre of the park, but Inglethorpe and Critchley were convinced he could develop into an explosive full-back and rigorously conditioned him for the role
The 21-year-old is now not only underlined as the current best in his position, but is one of the early favourites to pick up Player of the Season honours.
“We've tried to do it piece by piece,” Klopp said of the entire process. “I have no idea how long it usually takes. Maybe it took us too long or maybe we were there in time.
“We played well last season and the season before I was happy, to be honest. We played a lot of good football games, but it's not just about the game, it's about how you can build the character for these boys to become how they are.
“It can be about having defeats – and we’ve had massive defeats.
“Getting a proper knock and not staying down and getting up again. It's all character building. That's how we did it.
“I couldn't write a book about it, we just try to develop every day, sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t.”
There was, of course, another major difference to Klopp's throwback. He had to outwit Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham on Saturday and not that of Mauricio Pochettino.
During the goalless draw against Spurs in the Liverpool manager’s first game at the helm, his men were the only side to outrun the opponents in the division.
That was Pochettino’s high-pressing, aggressive outfit, with Mourinho providing an antithetical test. It was the most evidence to date of his tactical fingerprints on Tottenham since being appointed on 20 November.
Mourinho instructed Spurs to sit deep and frustrate Liverpool, allowing them the ball with the intention of punishing mistakes.
Tottenham, though, were too passive in the first half and went 1-0 down to a fine Roberto Firmino finish. The hosts attempted 98 passes to Liverpool's 347 – their lowest figure in the opening 45 minutes of any league match since a derby with Arsenal in April 2010.
However, Liverpool didn’t translate their dominance to the scoreboard and gifted Mourinho what he wanted: Spurs to still have a shot of striking a sucker punch with 20 minutes to play.
Son Heung-min and Giovani Lo Celso snatched at and spurned glorious chances to do just that during an uncomfortable finale for the division’s pacesetters.
“We' done it (stayed in control) better than we did against Tottenham,” Klopp admitted. “We go for the biggest prize, we’ve said that. If you can get that by playing a little bit of football here and there, that's not interesting for me.
“You have to give your all and that's what we do. But there's still more to come. That's what we have to ask ourselves for, and that's what we do.
“I’m not surprised we fought hard, that's what we expect from the boys and the boys expect from themselves.
“I don't think we needed a lot of luck, but without any luck you cannot have the numbers we have.
“It was not our best game we played so far, but it was a very good one. In the end, it was a proper fight.”
Mourinho reminded post-match, as he had done in the build-up to the clash, that Klopp has had just over four years to craft Liverpool in his image.
He is right. The teams are in disparate cycles largely owing to Tottenham not adequately refreshing the squad in recent seasons, but if this has been the Portuguese’s greatest stylistic influence on Spurs so far, would such an approach be tolerated longer term?
"We used to call these kind of performances Mourinho masterclasses, but I think the game has changed now," Gary Neville analysed on Sky Sports.
"With Pep Guardiola's introduction, with what we've seen from Klopp and Pochettino and all the progressive styles of football, I'm not sure that fans are accepting a pragmatic style of play. They want entertainment week in, week out.
"One thing I would say is that Liverpool do like it when teams come onto them. I think Mourinho realised that if he had thrown his full-backs forward and left his centre-backs exposed, they would probably have got beaten two or three nil.
"But how many teams have we seen sit off Guardiola's Manchester City in the last three or four years and do well? Not many. We've seen it work less and less against Liverpool too. This tactic of dropping deep passively does seem to be working less and less and fans are accepting less and less."
When Klopp arrived in England, Mourinho was the reigning Premier League Manager of the Season after his Chelsea side won the 2014-15 title with three games to spare.
The 56-year-old will soon want to feel like he’s in a time machine too, returning to the days when he had the golden touch and the game in awe of his genius.
Because this Mourinho is now the one with it all to prove.