There has been much to admire about Liverpool in the 18 months or so that Brendan Rodgers has been in the Anfield hot seat, but there was one thing that had been lacking until now, and that was a "signature win" against one of their main rivals.
The Reds have been free-scoring in 2013 and recorded several thumping victories against sides in the bottom half of the table, but against the top seven it had been much more difficult for Liverpool to show their quality. Narrow victories over Tottenham last season and Manchester United earlier in this campaign represented the only two successes for Rodgers against the rest of the top seven in 15 attempts (league and cup), and there appeared to be something of a psychological barrier that needed to be overcome.
- Walsh: Liverpool midfield come out on top in rout
- Crace: Abject Spurs destroyed by Reds
As the saying goes, to be the best you have to beat the best, and that was the hump Liverpool needed to get over, for their own self-belief as much as anything, especially with the fixtures they have to contend with this month.
Whilst Tottenham are not exactly the best, they've certainly been one of the top sides in recent years and they've generally been better than Liverpool. The loss of Gareth Bale levelled the playing field somewhat, but this still looked all set to be a very difficult test for a Liverpool side that had slipped to fifth in the table following results the day before. Defeat would have put a significant dent in Liverpool's top-four challenge, especially with trips to Manchester City and Chelsea on the horizon.
Even at this early stage of the season, there was pressure on both sides to get something from this game. It was a real test of Liverpool's credentials and they passed with flying colours. To go to Tottenham and win as emphatically as they did should do wonders for the confidence and belief of Liverpool's players, as this was a truly remarkable display. The performance and result will have sent some shock waves around the Premier League, that's for sure. I was genuinely stunned by what I saw, and while he'd never admit it, I'm sure Rodgers will have been too.
With key men such as Daniel Sturridge, Steven Gerrard and Jose Enrique sidelined, not even in his wildest dreams could the Liverpool boss have expected his side to produce such a dominant, rampant and thoroughly comprehensive performance as they did. As poor as the home side were -- and they were absolutely dire -- the fact is that the Reds were simply brilliant. It was close to perfection, and I can't remember the last time I saw Liverpool play this well away from home.
The scoreline may speak volumes but it doesn't even tell the entire story. Liverpool were actually even better than the scoreline suggests. Defensively sound, dominant in midfield and vibrant in attack, this was as good as it gets. Spurs didn't manage a single shot on target in 90 minutes and found it incredibly difficult to get anything going against opponents that pressed, harried, chased and tackled like men possessed. This was the "death by football" Liverpool fans have been waiting for since Rodgers first spoke of it this time last year.
While the Reds have had numerous impressive victories and multiple-goal performances, much of that has been about individual brilliance (usually from Luis Suarez) rather than dominant team displays. The result at White Hart Lane was just about as clear an example of a complete team performance as you will see. Yes, there were massive sprinklings of individual brilliance on show, but more than anything "the star of the team was the team" in this game. That's a mantra Rodgers has often used, and while it makes for a nice soundbite, let's face it: more often than not the star of the team has been Suarez. Not this time.
Suarez still scored twice and had a hand in the other three goals, but he wasn't even man of the match in the eyes of many. For most, Jordan Henderson was the pick of the bunch, but you could just as easily make a strong case for Joe Allen or Raheem Sterling. With the ball, all three were outstanding, as was the impish Philippe Coutinho (the touch to play in Henderson in the build-up to the second goal might be the most exquisite piece of skill of the weekend), but without it they were just as impressive. That was as much of a key to this win as anything the players did in possession. When Liverpool press as well as this, they are very, very hard to play against. The mystery is why it happens so infrequently.
Tottenham are a big, physical, powerful group of players, especially in midfield. The fear beforehand was that Liverpool would be bullied and unable to cope with the behemoths in the middle of the Spurs midfield. Yet the opposite happened: Sandro, Paulinho and Mousa Dembele were simply harried out of the game by the high-energy, high-tempo pressing game of Liverpool. Allen was like a little Jack Russell terrier snapping at the heels of the Spurs players all afternoon; he was phenomenal, as was Henderson.
As a result, Gerrard's absence was barely even noticed, other than on set pieces, where the delivery was nowhere near the standard of the captain's. In general play, however, this is unquestionably the best the Liverpool engine room has looked all season. The midfield set the tone for the performance, but they were matched by other areas of the side.
The front three led a makeshift Spurs backline a merry dance, whilst the defence performed well and kept a rare clean sheet. Daniel Agger has a problem now, doesn't he? Unless Rodgers opts to either play two left-footers together or revert to three at the back -- and neither seems likely right now -- then it looks as though Agger is fighting it out with Mamadou Sakho for a place in the side. And Sakho does not look like he loses many fights. I'm a big Agger fan, but even I can't make a case for him playing ahead of the Frenchman right now.
And what of Jon Flanagan? The young Scouser produced another rock-solid display and kept the dangerous Aaron Lennon well under control. And if that wasn't enough, he then popped up at the other end with a brilliant finish to kill off Tottenham. If Enrique were available next week then it would be Glen Johnson, not Flanagan, most under threat from the return of the Spaniard.
Flanagan's strike was the highlight of a wonderful day. Not only was it a fine goal, but just look at the reaction of the rest of the players. There was a genuine joy among them for their young teammate and it was wonderful to see, especially from Suarez, who seemed happier for "Flanno" than he was for himself. This was a great day for Liverpool; they should enjoy it and take a lot of confidence from it, especially when they run out at Stamford Bridge and the Etihad in the next couple of weeks.
It's just as important, however, that they remember what happened at Hull. There's a fine line between confidence and complacency, and it's a line Liverpool have occasionally stepped on the wrong side of. Had they done their job against Hull then Liverpool would be sitting pretty at the top of the table this week. They failed that day because they were complacent and didn't match the intensity shown by the Hull players.
Winning at White Hart Lane has significantly reduced the damage of that Hull defeat, and Liverpool will now have the opportunity to go to the top of the Premier League next weekend, providing they can beat Cardiff. With the difficult away fixtures coming up over the Christmas period, there's a danger that the players may overlook Cardiff, especially if they think they've done the hard part by winning at Tottenham. It's imperative that Rodgers does not allow that to happen, and with the Hull defeat still fresh in the memory, he should have no problems making sure his players don't get too full of themselves this week.