Liverpool's rout of Tottenham at White Hart Lane lifts them to second in the Premier League but highlighted Spurs' frailties
At full-time Luis Suárez spent a few minutes waving at Liverpool's support before walking across to André Villas-Boas, who had stayed back – graciously, even a little oddly – to shake the hand of the man who had just inflicted a horribly traumatic afternoon on his Tottenham team and quite possibly a decisive neck-wringing on Villas-Boas' own time at the club. It was that kind of afternoon.
Where Villas-Boas goes from here will be the subject of much fevered speculation. But the match itself belonged to Suárez, who was giddily, hilariously irresistible throughout.
If Tottenham were vague in attack – and Liverpool have now scored more Premier League goals from open play at White Hart Lane this season than Spurs themselves – in defence they looked like what they were: a team with a makeshift left-back and a central midfielder at centre-half. In the programme Etienne Capoue had let slip, graciously if unwisely, that Suárez would be the "most formidable" striker he had ever come up against. Oh dear.
Villas-Boas may as well have hung an enormous glazed Iberian ham in the centre of Spurs defence, so ravenously did Suárez bear down on Capoue right from the kick-off.
It had been tempting to cast this as a meeting of two strikers, with Roberto Soldado buoyed by a fine hat-trick in the Europa League on Thursday. There was an extra-loud cheer for Soldado from the home fans before the start, with Spurs record signing cast again as a dutifully waddling lone striker. When Spurs have to fight for possession it is not a position that flatters Soldado, who shuttles after the ball with an air of bovine compliance but whose best qualities are lost when the game is stretched.
Suárez, of course, is quite the opposite, Liverpool's own lord of chaos and a player who feeds gleefully on moments of broken play, as he did in scoring the opening goal after 18 minutes. Dawson slipped and Suárez reacted quickest to take Jordan Henderson's pass, switch his feet brilliantly and finish with a delicious sense of ease. It was one of those moments – there were plenty here – where he seems to have his own personalised little envelope of 33rpm time where everyone else is on 45, able to take three steps to Capoue's one as he shaped to shoot, absolutely certain in his mind what was going to happen next.
The comparison with Soldado is unfair, of course: not only are they different players – Soldado's lone rifleman versus Suárez's relentless machine pistol – but Soldado is finding his feet just as Suárez took time to reach his own current state of Peak Rapacity, scoring twice in his first nine games for Liverpool.
Still there is a stylistic contrast that points to both men's strengths. If Suárez is the ultimate improviser, a man who goes looking for the game with the intention of ripping it to shreds and refashioning it in his own image, then Soldado is the opposite, a close-quarter craftsman of unbendingly specific requirements. Three times in the first half the Spaniard found space in the penalty area only for his team-mates – too slow, too laboured – to prove incapable of finding him.
After which Suárez took over. Jordan Henderson scored the second after 40 minutes, set up by Suárez and the brilliantly composed Philippe Coutinho. This is another aspect of Suárez's net effect: he clearly has had a hugely invigorating effect on Henderson, who played superbly again. With the receding prospect of a Spurs revival stilled by Paulinho's sending-off with 25 minutes left, and defeat sealed by Suárez's second goal to make it 4-0 – a glorious a dink on the run with the outside of his right foot –no doubt Villas-Boas will have felt as powerless as he looked on.
There is a slight misconception over Tottenham's extravagant spending in the summer. In fact they finished pretty much even for the window, with Villas-Boas required instead to respond to the departure of £100m of high-end talent. Similarly if Spurs are still noticeably post-Bale, new attacking patterns yet to establish themselves, Liverpool were able to operate in the full flush of a team built around its one outstanding attacker. Afterwards Villas-Boas talked about how the sending-off had changed the game: a standard managerial response but in truth this match belonged to Suárez from start to finish, a reminder to Spurs of what they once had, and for Liverpool another sighting of a gloriously more-ish world-class talent playing at the peak of his powers.