Late win vs. Liverpool confirms Spurs’ new-found strength

LONDON — Jurgen Klopp has spent recent years talking about Liverpool‘s “mentality monsters,” but Ange Postecoglou‘s Tottenham are emerging as the Reds’ rival for the billing as the team with the greatest fighting spirit in the Premier League.

Make no mistake: Liverpool still possess the formidable never-say-die attitude that has seen the team win every major honour (with the exception of the Europa League) that it has competed for since Klopp took charge in October, 2015. But Spurs under Postecoglou are displaying those same qualities this season, which have fueled their climb to second position in the Premier League, a point behind leaders Manchester City, after yet another performance that was defined by their refusal to abandon hope of a positive outcome.

That it needed a 96th minute own goal by Joël Matip to give Spurs a 2-1 win on Saturday against a Liverpool team reduced to nine players, following red cards for Curtis Jones and Diogo Jota, still speaks volumes of the commitment and desire of Klopp’s side. Though Spurs’ persistence proved crucial.

For so long, Tottenham have been dismissed a team with the recurring flaw of being unable to run the extra mile to win when it matters. Last season, that shortcoming saw them finish eighth in the Premier League and miss out on European qualification. It also led to Antonio Conte losing his job as head coach, and paved the way for Harry Kane to head through the exit door to join Bayern Munich in his search for a first major honour of a glittering goalscoring career.

Considering Tottenham’s peerless ability to fall short, Postecoglou clearly had a job on his hands after leaving Scottish champions Celtic to take charge of the club this summer. But the former Australia coach has already transformed the mood around the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, both on and off the pitch.

When he arrived, the supporters were protesting against the ownership and chairman Daniel Levy, but now they only sing in one voice to serenade “Big Ange” with their re-working of Robbie Williams’ “Angels.”

On the pitch, the 58-year-old’s humility and honesty is being reflected by a group of players who now possess the personality that has been lacking at Spurs for so long. For the first time in a while, Spurs have a manager who doesn’t give the impression that he is doing the club a favour by being there, and his persona is rubbing off on the players. They clearly want to play for Postecoglou, and the faith they have in their manager is shown in their performances.

Spurs have earned points from losing positions in away games against Brentford and Burnley, scored twice in stoppage time to beat Sheffield United at home earlier this month, and then went to Arsenal and twice came from behind to earn a draw in the North London derby at the Emirates. It was a different story against Liverpool, with Klopp’s team cancelling out Heung-min Son‘s opening goal — Luis Díaz had already scored with a goal wrongly ruled out as offside by VAR, an error that was later acknowledged — with a Cody Gakpo equaliser while reduced to 10 men.

Then, when Liverpool were forced to play with nine players for the final 20 minutes following Diogo Jota’s dismissal for two quick yellow cards, the organisation and work-rate of Klopp’s side threatened to deny Spurs all three points. Spurs were finally rewarded in the sixth minute of stoppage time, when defender Joel Matip turned Pedro Porro‘s cross into his own net, even if it was harsh on a Liverpool side that had made it so tough for the home team.

“You want to put the game to bed earlier than we did,” Postecoglou said. “But when you score that late, it can help build the spirit within the group.”

After only seven games of the season, it’s still too early to label Spurs as title contenders, especially when you factor in the club’s history of over-promising and under-delivering. The loss of Kane’s goals may ultimately come back to haunt them when Son stops scoring, or if Richarlison is unable to find consistent form in front of goal.

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For his part, Postecoglou, who guided Celtic to successive league titles during two seasons with the clubs, says he has not set a target for his new team yet.

“I don’t have a schedule on marking progress,” he said. “I’m not sitting here thinking we’re ahead of some schedule. For me, it’s just not of interest. I don’t know how far we can go with the group, we just have to keep kicking on.”

But in a game that showcased the very best of the Premier League, with two teams playing to the peak of their powers, Spurs came through as winners. That hasn’t happened too often in the past, and it’s a tribute to Postecoglou that, so soon after his arrival, his players now have the mentality to do what their predecessors only succeeded in failing to do.

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