Beware Mourinho: Liverpool’s main enemy has regained Tottenham

Two years after his lowest ebb, the Portuguese has returned to Anfield, back at the top of the table and looks like he wants a title challenge with Spurs.

Just when you thought he was done, he pulls you back.

The last time Jose Mourinho managed at Anfield, it seemed as if his days as an elite manager could end.

His Manchester United team was beaten and beaten well. Liverpool, 3-1 winners thanks to two goals from substitute Xherdan Shaqiri, were highest on the table and flew, superior in every department against a side that lost its spark, lost its legs and, apparently, fell in love with its manager.

Mourinho left the ground that day humiliated, unable to gather even a sad comment in his post-match press conference. Liverpool, he admitted, was the team he wanted United to be.

Maybe we knew then that the concert was over.

He was fired within 48 hours. United were sixth in the Premier League, closer to the bottom of the table than the top.

It looked like the dream wedding – a box office club with a box office manager – but it ended in a divorce. And messy, at that.

Wednesday will mark two years since that punishing afternoon before the Kop and guess what? Mourinho has returned, ready to resume his role as Liverpool’s main enemy.

Reports of his death, it seems, have been exaggerated.

Humiliated at United, he regained his boast at Tottenham. The Londoners arrive on Merseyside at the top of the table, over Liverpool with a goal difference and play with purpose and structure that suggests they are preparing for a title challenge.

You can tell they are in fact the way their manager says they are not. Don’t believe him, not for a second.

“We’re not even in the race, so we’re not a horse,” Mourinho said after the unbeaten draw at Chelsea last month. “We’re a pony.”

Who is he joking about? Spurs may not have been many people selected for the title this season – not after the way they struggled last term, before and after Mourinho replaced Mauricio Pochettino last November – but they grew a lot of momentum in the early months of the season .

They lost their opening league game of the campaign, a terrible 1-0 home surrender to Everton, but are unbeaten in 11 thereafter.

Harry Kane and Son Heung-min, with 19 goals and 12 assists between them, gained the glory, but their success was built on some of Mourinho’s classics; aggression, defensive organization and counterattack threat.

Spurs, with 10 goals given, have the best defensive record in the league this season. Hugo Lloris and Toby Alderweireld are working on the form, Eric Dier and Serge Aurier have also improved, while the signings of Sergio Reguilon and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Mourinho’s classic midfielder, if they ever existed, have solved clear problems.

They are not perfect. They don’t dominate games like Liverpool or Manchester City can. Or even how Pochettino’s Spurs could. They are certainly less comfortable in possession.

Not that that will bother Mourinho. “There are a lot of poets in football,” he once said, “but poets don’t win a lot of titles.”

Harry Kane Son Heung-min Tottenham GFX

Mourinho of course won titles – three of them in England. His record, as he regularly reminds us, deserves respect.

However, five and a half years passed after his last. He has since been sacked twice, chased by two of the “Big Six” of the Premier League. Neither Chelsea nor United shed many tears as he left.

Tottenham felt like a gamble, of all. For Mourinho it was an opportunity to show that he is a man today as well as yesterday that he can still mix it with the Jurgen Klopps and the Pep Guardiolas of this world; for Spurs it was a dice, an attempt to throw that “almost masculine” mark with the nomination of a proven winner. You can say what you want about the north Londoners, but they have never lacked ambition.

They have already beaten United, City and Arsenal this season, and drew with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, but on Wednesday bring the newest and biggest examination of their title credentials.

Liverpool have not lost in the league at Anfield since April 2017, running 65 matches. In that period, only 11 teams left with even a point.

Spurs was one of those, drawing 2-2 thanks to a late Kane penalty in February 2018, but they lost both visits later, both by a 2-1 score.

Liverpool have a lot of issues, with almost an entire starting 11th sidelined due to injury. There will be no Virgil van Dijk or Joe Gomez to protect them from Kane and Son, no Thiago Alcantara to control midfield. Diogo Jota, the signing of the summer, will be absent, while James Milner’s experience will also be lacking. Naby Keita and Joel Matip, replaced over the weekend, remain in doubt.

Both sides dropped points on Sunday, Spurs throwing out a lead at Crystal Palace shortly before Liverpool were sent off to struggling Fulham. Neither side was best, though both will feel they could, and possibly, win.

It means they are entering this collision neck, separated only by a goal difference, and narrowly away from Leicester City, Southampton and Chelsea, the surprise pursuers. Win, and Tottenham will really start believing. And we know how much Mourinho loves to transfer Liverpool – who could ever forget his master class with Chelsea in 2014?

It is created as a classic under the lights, with 2000 noisy Liverpudlians sounding themselves. Their side responds. Every great competitor needs an enemy, they say, and Liverpool have not had many like Mourinho over the years.

Two years after his lowest ebb, Mourinho returned at Anfield and returned to the top.

To stay? We’ll find out soon.

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