The last time Jose Mourinho managed a team at Anfield, he beat a hasty retreat after Manchester United were outclassed by Liverpool before receiving the long brown envelope of dismissal from Old Trafford executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward.
Here, a bristling and defiant Mourinho exchanged words with Reds manager Jurgen Klopp after another defeat, Roberto Firmino’s last-gasp header giving the champions a 2-1 win that enabled them to leapfrog Spurs at the top of the table.
Mourinho was apparently telling Klopp that the better team lost – or at least that is what Liverpool’s manager thought, a claim that would have been a long stretch – but this was a different, defiant manager in a different place to the one he occupied after United were swept aside in December 2018.
It was a vignette that showed Mourinho has that spiky feeling again, even in defeat, the dog days of misery at United behind him. This was only Spurs’ second league defeat of the season, the first since the opening weekend home loss to Everton – a sign of their rapid and impressive progress under a revitalised manager.
The problem Mourinho has is that Liverpool are still in the same place they occupied that dismal day (for him at least) in December 2018, when the win lifted them over Manchester City into top spot.
And, despite being stripped of the likes of Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez, Thiago Alcantara and Diogo Jota, Liverpool just roll along. They displayed everything here that makes them the obstacle Mourinho and any other pretenders must navigate around if they are to win the title.
Klopp’s side simply refuse to lose Premier League games at Anfield. It is now 66 games since they last tasted defeat and the problem for opponents, even those as efficient as Spurs, is that they refuse to draw either.
Liverpool’s delight at this win was illustrated by the reaction of Klopp at the final whistle. He had spent much of the night raging at officials, who turned a blind eye to his theatrics, before exploding in joy after the final whistle, chest-bumping with his staff before fist-pumping in front of the Kop.
He has built Liverpool into a winning machine and no amount of absentees appear to change that habit.
This was the meeting between the two top sides in the country, based on current league placings – and it showed in an intriguing game of quality and tactical discipline.
Liverpool threatened to sweep Spurs away in the first 30 minutes, their only fault being an unerring tendency to shoot straight at Spurs keeper Hugo Lloris.
Mohamed Salah’s fortunate goal was deserved but Spurs’ status as “a counter-attacking monster”, as Klopp described them, was demonstrated when Son Heung-min caught the hosts cold with a swift equaliser.
And then the game was really on.
There will be the usual jibes about parking the bus, but what was Mourinho supposed to do? Throw everything at Liverpool in a manner that would ensure defeat? It is a fine tactical balance that invites criticism when it ends in defeat but would be labelled a masterclass in victory.
If Spurs had taken the better chances they created in the second half, with Steven Bergwijn missing the target and hitting a post when clean through and Harry Kane somehow heading down and over the bar from eight yards, then this could have been classic Mourinho.
It was not – and if it Spurs had won it would have been harsh on Liverpool, who made the running and spent long spells camped in their opponents half – but Mourinho’s team is a growing force and the return of the feisty one suggests he knows that, even while suffering the pain of this late loss.
Spurs defend with steel and block crosses with relish, then have the blistering counter-attacking threat of Son and Kane, who also had Alisson scrambling to save after the keeper’s misplaced clearance.
And yet Mourinho will know that against this current Liverpool side, especially at Anfield, the chances they missed simply must be taken because there is the very high risk you will pay the heaviest price. So it proved.
It was high-quality stuff that was only ever going to be decided by the finest margin. The difference in the end was Firmino’s towering header at the start of four minutes of stoppage time, the Brazilian running almost the length of Anfield to celebrate with supporters gathered on the Kop, who had earlier paid a moving tribute to former manager Gerard Houllier, who died earlier this week aged 73.
Klopp will take even more confidence – not that he appears to require it – from this win. There is a remarkable winning mentality in this Liverpool side to complement world-class talent.
Spurs, meanwhile, are growing under a manager who has never been to everyone’s taste but is the master of efficiency and tactical wisdom – priceless qualities when he also has the likes of Son and Kane at his disposal.