Spurs could point an early goal from Heung-min Son – ruled out for a fractional offside – and Liverpool’s crucial opener through Roberto Firmino – when Sadio Mane was onside by the same margin – but the decisions felt incidental as Jurgen Klopp’s returned to form on a bad night for Mourinho and his players.
The Portuguese’s tactics were again exposed as Spurs’ porous defence cracked under pressure while attempting to execute his contain-and-counter approach.
All three of Liverpool’s goals, scored by Roberto Firmino, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Sadio Mane, were the result of Spurs’ defensive errors, while there are familiar problems up-front too as their reliance on Son and Harry Kane to work miracles has caught up with them.
Liverpool were coming off the back of five League matches without a win, in which they have scored just once, and they played the second half with Jordan Henderson and Nat Phillips at centre-half after Joel Matip was forced off.
Spurs could hardly have wished for a better opportunity to get at the champions, but barely laid a glove on them for most of the second half and appeared to lose heart long before the final whistle.
The gap between the clubs seemed to have narrowed this season and Spurs came close to beating Liverpool at Anfield last month, only to slip to a last-gasp 2-1 defeat.
Mourinho can point out that Rome was not built in a day, but this game felt like a reminder of how far his Spurs side still have to come to match the best teams in the country.
Reguilon absence felt as defence fails again
Mourinho took aim at his defenders’ “individual quality” after the 1-1 draw with Fulham, but even a change of system could not iron out the errors that are proving a scourge on Tottenham’s season.
Mourinho’s back three/five should be more secure but Spurs were the makers of their own misery again, with Firmino’s goal in first-half stoppage-time the first of three wholly preventable Liverpool goals.
Ben Davies played Mane onside and from the winger’s cross Eric Dier and Hugo Lloris both seemed to leave the ball for each other, allowing Firmino the simplest of tap-ins.
It was a wretched goal for Spurs to concede at a wretched time, and they were still asleep at the start of the second half, when Alexander-Arnold capitalised on hesitation by Matt Doherty and Lloris to double the visitors’ lead.
Joe Rodon was then at fault for Mane’s clincher, failing to clear an Alexander-Arnold cross and leaving the Senegalese to smash home.
To make matters worse, Doherty did not work as a replacement for the injured Sergio Reguilon at left wing-back, consistently giving the ball away and failing to offer any thrust down the flank. Can that system work without the Spaniard fit?
Given the quality and confidence of Spurs’ back line, it hardly seems to matter at the moment. All three goals and the performance in general will have further reinforced Mourinho’s view that his current crop of defenders are simply not good enough – no matter what systems or combinations he tries.
The loss of Kane at the interval is a major concern for Tottenham given his history of ankle injuries and Mourinho would have been forgiven for spending the second half worrying if their season was about to be derailed again by an injury to the team’s talisman.
Kane twice needed treatment on his ankles in the first half, although it was encouraging that he played on for a the final ten minutes until half-time, suggestion the damage was not serious. Spurs face crucial matches against Chelsea and Manchester City in the next few weeks, as well as the FA Cup fifth-round at Everton. Without Kane fit, their season could quickly be reduced to the Carabao Cup.
If Kane is sidelined for any period of time, it will not only further decrease Spurs’ goal-threat but cut off the supply-line to Son, who thought he had opened the scoring from the England captain’s pass early on.
The loss of Kane visibly drained Spurs at the start of the second half, and they quickly conceded a second goal to Alexander-Arnold.
With one leader down, Hojbjerg stepped up, attempting to drag Spurs back into the game with a brilliant goal, his first for the club. Spurs may need leaders like the Dane more than ever in the weeks ahead.