Liverpool loss illustrates Tottenham's lack of leadership
Then came the reality check. It wasn't the humiliation of last year's 5-0 thrashing, and Spurs could argue the penalty awarded against them early in the second half that put the game out of reach was about as soft as they come, but it was still a comprehensive defeat.
Tottenham were outclassed in every area of the field. There is still a great deal of work and improvement to be made if manager Mauricio Pochettino's Spurs are to challenge for a top-four place. They may have learned how to swat away inferior teams more convincingly, but against really good sides they are still finding their way.
Make no mistake, this was a very good Liverpool side. If they continue to play like this, they will trouble any team.
The pace of Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling was a constant threat, and Jan Vertonghen and Younes Kaboul had tricky afternoons. Kaboul, in particular, looked unsettled -- both failing to contain Liverpool attacks and giving the ball away needlessly. He could soon find playing time hard to come by with the additions of Eric Dier and Federico Fazio, the improvement of Vlad Chiriches and Kyle Walker returning from injury.
But Sunday's game was far more than just a story about the speed of Liverpool's strikers. Pochettino was given a masterclass by Liverpool in the high pressing game he wants Spurs to play. The Liverpool midfield seldom allowed Spurs a moment on the ball, and Tottenham were given few chances to dictate the pace or style of the game. Nabil Bentaleb and Etienne Capoue spent more time fighting fires than creating problems for Liverpool.
As a result, the Spurs attack was left to feed on scraps. Erik Lamela put in a good shift but was mainly contained in areas where his threat was minimal. Nacer Chadli and Christian Eriksen were almost entirely anonymous, while Emmanuel Adebayor was reduced to running into wide channels, which meant Spurs rarely had anyone to challenge for balls inside the area. Simon Mignolet was called upon to make just one save in the course of the game -- that isn't good enough.
It's also fair comment that everything that might have gone wrong for Spurs did go wrong. When Pochettino brought on Andros Townsend midway through the second half, it felt like a good substitution. Spurs were 2-0 down and needed someone with pace who was prepared to attack Liverpool down the flanks.
Pochettino couldn't have guessed that Townsend's first touch would be to give the ball away to Alberto Moreno on the halfway line. Moreno was allowed to run though unchallenged to fire home the third. After that mistake, Townsend's head went down, Spurs' head went down and there was no way back.
And that is a concern. Pochettino will undoubtedly coach his team to play in his style more fluently; they will learn how better to counter top-class teams that run at them and leave them little time and space.
But what is clearly missing -- and can't be rectified in the transfer window -- is a charismatic leader on the pitch. Steven Gerrard may be fast approaching his sell-by date and -- the penalty aside -- was one of Liverpool's least effective players against Spurs, but he adds to the team by driving them forward. When the going gets tough, Gerrard is shouting at his teammates, telling them what to do, where to go and not to give up. Almost as a talisman alone, he is worth his place in the side.
Spurs could certainly have done with someone like him yesterday. When they went 2-0 down just after the interval, they had no one who could inspire or lift them. They started playing like 11 individuals who knew the game was up and sensed the impending anxiety of a repeat 5-0 hammering.
They needed to play as a team. At present Spurs have no club captain, with Michael Dawson having moved to Hull. Pochettino needs to appoint one quickly. More importantly, he has to make it clear that being captain is not just an honorific title. The captain has to lead by example, bend people to his will and not allow heads to go down. Spurs need to find that man, and quickly.
John Crace is a columnist and feature writer for The Guardian. He is also a THFC season-ticket holder. Follow him on Twitter @JohnJCrace.