They shuffled out of Anfield muttering. “That’s five points we dropped against Bournemouth,” one said. “Bloody sh*te,” said another. This is the Liverpool that fans had hoped they wouldn’t see but still probably half expected. Add those five lost points to Liverpool’s season total and they’d be level on points with Tottenham who are in second. But this is a Liverpool side living down to expectations. There are fewer hypotheticals to the Spurs season.
Earlier, there had been a sense of dread despite the positive – albeit precarious score lines. The Reds were winning 2-1 but retreating. At the Liberty Stadium, Tottenham were 1-0 down against Swansea but advancing.
Liverpool’s problem is that they just cannot keep out the more modest teams in the Premier League whereas Spurs have relentless momentum; they are not in the habit of dropping points against teams they shouldn’t be dropping points against. There is too much defiance in this Tottenham team – imagine, Tottenham defiant – and too much brittleness in Liverpool. And so it proved.
Goals flew in left, right and centre and order was restored. Josh King pegged Liverpool back - playing on their same old defensive failings - and Klopp wanted to vomit.
Eighty-nine minutes had elapsed in south Wales before Spurs first levelled and subsequently overtook Swansea in injury time. It was a night when Spurs stretched the distance between themselves and third-place Liverpool by two points and fourth-place Manchester City by three.
“To create that winning mentality it is about that type of win,” said Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino after. “It’s about belief and character. I think we are in a good way and it is important to show that we learn from last season.
“Today is a good thing because maybe last season it is a game we maybe would have lost. It wasn’t a physical problem, but a mental problem. Today we got the three points because we believed. I’ll always try, I’ll never give up.”
It will be Spurs and not Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United or Arsenal who will be the closest team to Antonio Conte’s at the end of the season. They are the most successful team in the Premier League this calendar year having taken 29 points and are on a winning streak of their own which now stands at five matches.
While Jurgen Klopp could well point to the absences of Jordan Henderson, Adam Lallana and Sadio Mane as possible reasons for the dropped points – not to mention the illness suffered by Philippe Coutinho - Pochettino had problems to match Liverpool’s.
He had no goalkeeper and no captain because Hugo Lloris was absent. They didn’t have their top scorer because Harry Kane was injured. Their left-back Danny Rose was also laid up as was midfield lynchpin Victor Wanyama. Blood was nonetheless drawn from the stone.
Pochettino has wrung every last drop out of his squad and yet it’s hard to find the praise for it anywhere. They appear to be a team in the way; an obstruction between the superstar clubs – and superstar managers – and the top of the table.
Maybe it’s the Hollywood factor of Jose Mourinho, Klopp and Guardiola – not to mention the Arsene Wenger soap opera – which means Pochettino and his team often get overlooked. There is no see-saw narrative to Spurs as there is elsewhere. Instead there is consistency, concentration and an upward trajectory. They’re not the type of team to drop five points to Bournemouth but then go and smash Arsenal and Chelsea; they simply get the job done.
There is one aspect of this Spurs story that seems to grate their fans more than anything else; the latent disrespect in how they’re discussed.
Their players are not spoken about simply as great Tottenham players but great transfer targets for bigger clubs – bigger clubs that are below them in the table and who have struggled to put together anything like the Londoners’ form.
Their manager is indeed recognised for what he’s done at White Hart Lane but is spoken about like he already belongs to Barcelona. The work he’s doing at Spurs is seen to be preparation before he lands a really big gig.
But what if this team – with its clutch of emerging international stars tied to new contracts and a shiny new stadium around the corner – are building something for themselves? There appears to be sustainability to their current form that just isn’t present elsewhere.
Klopp is four or five players short of a side capable of doing what Spurs are doing. Guardiola will need another year and another couple of hundred million to sort City out. Manchester United are a mess and Arsenal are quite literally fighting among themselves and fighting to keep their stars on board.
So maybe it’s time to sit up and take notice.
Maybe it’s time to stop talking about Kyle Walker and Danny Rose as Manchester City’s next full backs. Maybe it’s time to end the speculation around Eric Dier and Harry Kane going to Manchester United. Maybe it’s time to stop with the chat about Dele Alli becoming the next Galactico or stepping into a major role at Chelsea.
And maybe that was part of what was "sh*te" in the minds of the Liverpool fans. They were hoping their team would hold out, that they could somehow fly up the table in spite of the problems that they have not yet addressed.
What stands Spurs apart from the attention-seekers below them in the table is their ability to put unfussy sequences of victories together. Tottenham don't hope. Tottenham expect.