LONDON — Jurgen Klopp has spent recent years talking about Liverpool’s “monster mentality,” but Ange Postecoglou’s Tottenham are emerging as the Reds’ rival for billing as the team with the greatest fighting spirit in the Premier League.
Make no mistake: Liverpool still possess that fearsome never-say-die attitude that has seen the team win every major honor (except the Europa League) that Klopp has competed in since taking over in October, 2015. But Postecoglou is displaying those same qualities under Spurs this season, which has fueled their climb to second in the Premier League, one point behind leaders Manchester City, after another performance that was defined by their refusal to give up hope of a positive result.
Joel Matip needed a 96th-minute own goal to give Spurs a 2-1 victory over a Liverpool side on Saturday after red cards for Curtis Jones and Diogo Jota, which still speaks to Klopp’s commitment and desire. The side though, Spurs’ persistence proved crucial.
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For so long, Tottenham have dismissed a team with repeated errors of not going the extra mile to win when it mattered. Last season, in that short spell they finished eighth in the Premier League and missed out on European qualification. This resulted in Antonio Conte losing his job as head coach and paving the way for Harry Kane to leave to join Bayern Munich.
Considering Tottenham’s peerless potential after leaving Scottish champions Celtic to take over the club this summer, Postecoglou clearly had a job on his hands. But the former Australia coach has already changed the mood around Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, off the field as well.
When he arrived, supporters were protesting against ownership and chairman Daniel Levy, but now they’re singing “Big Angel” along with a reworking of Robbie Williams’ “Angels”.
On the pitch, the 58-year-old’s humility and integrity are being mirrored by a group of players who now possess a personality that has been missing at Spurs for so long. For the first time in a while, Spurs have a manager who doesn’t feel he’s doing the club a favor by being there and his personality is rubbing off on the players. They clearly want to play for Postecoglou, and their faith in their manager has been shown in their performances.
Spurs have picked up points from losing position 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 draw in the north London derby at the Emirates against Liverpool. The story was, Klopp’s side disallowed Heung-min Son’s opening goal — Luis Diaz had already scored with a goal wrongly ruled out as offside by VAR, an error that was later lauded — while reduced to 10 men with Cody Gakpo equalizing.
Then, when Liverpool were forced to play with nine men for the final 20 minutes after Diogo Jota was sent off for two quick yellow cards, Klopp’s team organization and work rate threatened to deny Spurs the 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 tough for Liverpool that made it difficult for the home team.
“You want to put the game to bed earlier than we did,” Postecoglou said. “But when you score late, it can help build spirit in the team.”
After just seven games into 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. Losing Kane’s goal could eventually haunt them when Son stops scoring, or Richarlison fails to find consistent form in front of goal.
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For his part, Postecoglou, who led Celtic to a successful league title in two seasons with the club, said he has yet to set goals for his new team.
“I don’t have a timetable to mark progress,” he said. “I’m sitting here thinking we’re ahead of some schedule. For me, it’s just not a matter of interest. I don’t know how far we can go with the group, we just have to keep kicking.”
But in a game that showcased the very best of the Premier League, with two teams playing at the peak of their powers, Spurs emerged victorious. That hasn’t happened much in the past, and it’s a tribute to Postecoglou that, soon after his arrival, his players now have the mentality that succeeded where their predecessors failed.