Jose Mourinho has, at various points throughout his storied managerial career, dismissed possession as little more than an obsession of football’s ‘philosophers’ and ‘poets’.
And, on Wednesday, the Portuguese so nearly had the perfect example of why he favours his own starkly contradictory ideology.
Entering the 90th minute at Anfield, Tottenham were heading for a point that would not only keep them at the summit of the Premier League but also strengthen their credentials as challengers.
Yes, they had not seen much of the ball – they ended the match with 24 per cent possession, in fact – but they had scored as many times as their hosts and arguably created the better chances overall.
And as Spurs have frequently proven in the early stages of this season, they are remarkably good at turning what few attacking opportunities they have into goals.
BB B Y pic.twitter.com/tDITsGpxPk
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) December 16, 2020
They showed as much in the first half here, Son Heung-min finding the back of the net with the visitors’ only effort across the entire 45 minutes.
In fact, Tottenham’s 75 completed passes in the opening half were the fewest by a Mourinho side in a league match since his Real Madrid managed just 54 against Barcelona in 2012.
But such statistics are irrelevant when you aren’t concerned about aesthetics, and Spurs knew they had at least done enough to give themselves a platform in the game.
The visitors used that foundation to step things up creatively in the second period, with Harry Kane missing a gilt-edged headed chance and Steven Bergwijn hitting the post at the Kop end.
And the relevance of one of Mourinho’s barbed pre-match comments became apparent as the game grew on, helping strengthen his team’s status as the more likely victors.
The Portuguese had suggested in his press conference to preview this visit to Merseyside that Liverpool’s recent injury problems had been severely exaggerated.
But it certainly didn’t feel that way as legs began to tire in the final half-hour at Anfield.
With a well-stocked bench behind him, the visiting manager was able to introduce the class of Lucas Moura, Sergio Reguilon and Dele Alli as he pushed for the win.
By contrast, Klopp had the only recently fit-again Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, the struggling Takumi Minamino and Divock Origi, and three players from his academy to choose from.
As such, he didn’t bother using his substitutes at all.
It was for that reason that, as time ticked down, it felt that Mourinho was going to earn the vindication he so craves.
So often described as yesterday’s man in recent years, a point here would no doubt have been presented as proof that his brand of football can win leagues in this era.
Yet, as a three-time winner of this division, he knows as well as everyone that it takes much more than tactics and a collection of brilliant players to clinch championships.
And the current holders proved that in cruel fashion as they popped up with a set-piece winner just seconds before the game reached injury time.
𝗙𝗨𝗟𝗟-𝗧𝗜𝗠𝗘: A late goal sees the hosts take the points.
— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) December 16, 2020
Of course, the feeling that an injury-hit Liverpool can be got at will sustain in the aftermath of a game that saw them presented with more problems than they have faced in some time at Anfield.
Klopp needs to start getting players back from the treatment room soon if his team are to walk away with the league title in similar fashion to last term.
But for the champions this was at least proof they are going to take some shifting and, if Tottenham are to do it, they themselves have plenty of work to do.