All roads lead to Wembley then. In a game initially billed as the inauguration of a new home and a new era in north London, familiar foes are to face-off 12 miles west of the intended battleground.
This change of scenery will have little impact on proceedings, though. For when Michael Oliver’s first whistle reverberates around The Home of Football come mid-noon Saturday, fiery temperament and fervent support is sure to surge in an encounter often depicted through binaries.
As aside from the conventional narrative of Tottenham versus Liverpool, it’s also: Pochettino against Klopp, Kane contesting Salah, one team’s prensa combating the other’s gegenpress, and Dejan Lovren battling, erm, Dejan Lovren. Whatever way in which the media behemoths sell the game to paying spectators, for fans of both clubs it’s a contest highly charged with conflict. But why is that?
With some 200 miles separating both clubs geographically, the fixture represents a feud difficult to define. Just as there’s no element of locality, neither has this discord developed out of a head-to-head hunt for titles à la United-Chelsea or Tottenham-Leicester. Of course, rivalries in the Premier League can now be manufactured purely out of fan-fuelled “banter”, but it seems the angst between Tottenham and Liverpool goes deeper.
Some will say the source of this bad blood stems from February this year when Harry Kane and Erik Lamela took a tumble to the Anfield turf in the dying minutes; earning their side — whisper it quietly, folks — a merited draw on Merseyside (and with it a legion of enemies in the process).
To come to this conclusion is to be expected. Kane’s late conversion certainly ushered in months of profound spite; exemplified from ceaseless Harry Claim jokes to a raging debate of who, out of Van Dijk and Vertonghen, is the best centre-half in the Premier League (FYI: it’s Vertonghen).
But rather than light the spark, February’s 2-2 draw served as the tipping point in this fractious relationship; years of suppressed resentment bubbling over in the aftermath of two just penalties being awarded in one team’s favour. And while it’s something both set of supporters are still hesitant to accept to this day: Tottenham and Liverpool are indeed rivals — and have been for some time now.
To compare trophy cabinets would be to misdiagnose what this rivalry represents entirely. It’s ultimately two teams who have been on a collision course since Tottenham’s meteoric rise in Premier League standings has coincided with Liverpool’s stunning fall from star-spangled supremacy.
To provide further backstory, Red and Lilywhite fortunes have often run parallel of late. Both have evolved together from Champions League hopefuls, to Champions League stalwarts aiming to go one better. And to go beyond recent history, there’s something uncanny in the fact the two clubs have, at some point in Premier League history, found themselves in the role of “title challenger who falls short after imploding against Chelsea” as well as the “team with cash to burn (literally) following a star player’s departure”. Now on Saturday, Tottenham and Liverpool meet with their objectives firmly aligned again in the form of an ardent desire to usurp Manchester City, not to mention one other.
Perhaps the most jarring aspect of this rivalry doesn’t come from the admission of its existence, but the acceptance of it being necessary. Tottenham and Liverpool are undoubtedly the best of rest after Manchester City. Just as the pair are trying to attain silverware via a defined blueprint, both ultimately are pushing each other to be better challengers — often using games against another as a barometer to judge their own standing.
Naturally, a win on Saturday won’t decide the title, nor will it define one another’s season. That being said, and courtesy of some hefty bragging rights, a win for either would mean just that little bit more than the three points on offer.
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