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Remember when Tottenham were miles better than Liverpool? How the humiliation of 2017 changed both clubs forever

Tottenham 4-1 Liverpool
(Image credit: Getty)

After thrashing Liverpool 4-1, Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino was eyeing the title. The Premier League had never seen a bigger attendance – and the attendance had arguably never seen quite a smash-and-grab.

"Manchester City are doing very well… they have one of the best managers in the world," the Argentine teased, looking up rather than down at his just-beaten opposition and throwing down a gauntlet to Guardiola. Jurgen Klopp? He wasn't even in wing mirrors of those battling for the big prizes. 

Tottenham had just a third of the possession that day, yet they ran the Reds ragged. Harry Kane pounced on two mistakes for a ruthless brace; Son Heung-min and Dele Alli (remember him?) snatched the other two. Liverpool's back five of Simon Mignolet, Joe Gomez, Joel Matip, Dejan Lovren and Alberto Moreno left the Wembley pitch dizzy; Lovren after just half an hour. 

Tottenham Hotspur 4-1 Liverpool, 2017

(Image credit: Getty)

And it wasn't a massive surprise, either. Tottenham had by far the better squad back then, having pushed Leicester and Chelsea for titles while Liverpool were still cooking. Kane, Son, Alli and Christian Eriksen all started that day in a compact, robust 3-5-2: Kieran Trippier, Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen all lined up too. Detractors will claim they won nothing – boy, were those last lads of the Lane a cult Prem side looking back, though.

But that balmy October afternoon was the first time that Wembley felt like home, really, for the Lilywhites – and it was the last time that Tottenham really looked up the table as genuine contenders for a title under Pochettino. Just a week later, that same bunch who smashed Liverpool would falter to the Reds' rivals, losing 1-0 to Manchester United (opens in new tab), before further defeats to Arsenal and Leicester in November practically anointed the unstoppable Manchester City as champions-elect at the halfway point of the campaign. 

For Liverpool, that 4-1 walloping was a splash of water to the face.

"It's not about confidence," Klopp snapped, dissecting his team's woeful defensive shape for three of the four goals. "It's just about being 100% spot on. It was a really average day for us today."

Back to the laboratory went the gegenpress maestro, to concoct new formulas and tinker with high lines and leaders at the back. Merseyside was set for a shake-up, too – as Virgil van Dijk arrived that January. Never again with the Dutch destroyer in tow would Liverpool be so mercilessly and easily carved apart. 

The rest is history and it's strange to think how much has changed since that afternoon. 

Top-six clashes come around seemingly every week and most are ephemeral enough; box office instalments to keep our attention for a few hours, at least, and give us something to discuss on Monday mornings with colleagues. It's hard to remember the last three times Liverpool and Spurs met; you're forgiven if it occasionally slips your mind that this pair met in a Champions League final (opens in new tab), given everything that's happened since. 

Yet this particular week was a turning point in English football; a moment when the metronome began to twitch in the opposite direction. Tottenham were the challengers at this point; only for Liverpool to rip the rug from under them in the months that would follow.

Tottenham Hotspur 4-1 Liverpool, 2017

(Image credit: Getty)

Spurs still finished above them that season – but with Klopp's boys in the ascension, looking to a Champions League final. Liverpool have finished above Tottenham every season since – and beat them, as heavy favourites, in Madrid in 2019. 

It's just another one of those "what could have been" moments, perhaps, had Liverpool conquered that day in October 2017. Maybe Lovren may have kept up appearances; perhaps in another universe, Trent Alexander-Arnold – on the bench that day – never becomes the undisputed starter, if pundits point back to the afternoon that he kept Son and Kane quiet. Maybe Philippe Coutinho had been the matchwinner – and subsequently unsellable in the months that followed – and maybe it's Tottenham who needed the rebuild after all.

Oh, what could have been. Football is a funny old game. The record-packed Wembley maybe didn't realise it was witnessing history at the time… but neither side, nor English football, were to be quite the same again.

Liverpool and Tottenham transfer stories

Antonio Conte has been vocal in recent weeks about the direction that Tottenham need to head in, claiming that Steven Bergwijn needs to believe in himself a little more and stating just how important it is to win the race for the top four. Spurs have been linked with a number of youngsters, too. Hugo Ekitike is reportedly on the radaras is Charles De Ketelaere

Transfer rumours about incomings at Anfield, meanwhile are going into overdrive ahead of the summer. One Barcelona wonderkid has turned down a contract, ahead of a sensational potential Reds moveArsenal star Gabriel Martinelli has been linked with Anfield and one youngster dubbed "better than Erling Haaland" could arrive.

The longer sagas are ticking over too. Liverpool are in the hunt for French star Aurelien Tchouameni, while one report suggested that Kylian Mbappe could still be set for Anfield, after 'radically changing his mind' over Real Madrid.

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Mark White has been a staff writer on FourFourTwo since joining in January 2020, writing pieces for both online and the magazine. Over his time on the brand, he has interviewed the likes of Aaron Ramsdale and Jack Wilshere, written pieces ranging on subjects from Bobby Robson's season at Barcelona to Robinho's career, and has been to the FA Cup and League Cup finals, working for FFT