Simon Hart explores the history between these sides – including their only previous European meeting, which proved the start of something special for Liverpool
Pat Jennings makes a save during the 1973 UEFA Cup semi-final
When Virgil van Dijk promised that “This is just the start” in the wake of Liverpool’s semi-final triumph against Barcelona, he could have been reading from an old Anfield script, one penned after a different semi-final more than 40 years ago.
It was the last hurdle on the road to the 1973 UEFA Cup final – and the only previous tussle between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool in European competition. Two teams who had first crossed swords in November 1909, Spurs prevailing 1-0, were about to shift their domestic rivalry to the international stage. At the time, it was Spurs who came steeped in continental success. Victors in the European Cup Winners’ Cup a decade earlier, Bill Nicholson’s side were also the UEFA Cup holders, having conquered Wolverhampton Wanderers in the previous year’s all-English decider. Liverpool could only look on in envy. And after losing two semi-finals and a final in UEFA competition, they were hungry to paint Europe red.
What followed was a contest which, according to the Daily Telegraph, served as both “a reminder of Spurs’ European history and a testament to Liverpool’s current power”. It was also a frenetic affair, with Alec Lindsay’s close-range goal proving scant reward for Liverpool’s heavy pressure in the Anfield first leg. The visitors, noted the Daily Mirror, were “hanging on by the skin of their teeth”.
Two weeks later, it was Liverpool’s turn to suffer. The Reds arrived in north London having all but clinched the league title two days previously, but their European hopes were dented shortly after half-time. Martin Peters hooked the ball in from Alan Gilzean’s clever back-header and suddenly Spurs were level in the tie – until Steve Heighway responded five minutes later.
Spurs were not done yet. Peters hit the crossbar at the other end, and he eventually restored Spurs’ lead on the night following a scramble. It was not enough. Liverpool resisted a late barrage and squeezed through on away goals, the Daily Post hailing their “seemingly inexhaustible reserves of courage and resolution”.
“It was all hell’s fire at the end,” said Bill Shankly, Liverpool’s relieved manager, his team having emerged from the furnace with their ambitions intact. “I’m confident that we at Liverpool can win our first European prize and complete the championship-UEFA double.” He was right, and the Reds went on to defeat
Steve Archibald holds off Alan Kennedy in the 1982 League Cup final
Borussia Mönchengladbach 3-2 on aggregate in the final, lifting the first of six major European trophies in a glittering 12-year golden era.
If that marked the start of Liverpool’s love affair with Europe, another 1970s joust showed that not every romance begins with roses and chocolates. When Spurs travelled to Anfield in September 1978, they were a club freshly restored to the top flight and featuring that summer’s two highest-profile recruits to the English game – the Argentinian FIFA World Cup-winning pair of Osvaldo Ardiles and Ricardo Villa.
“What a waste of money,” chanted the home crowd as Bob Paisley’s men scored seven unanswered goals – including Terry McDermott’s header at the end of an electric counterattack, dubbed by Paisley as “the best goal Anfield has ever seen”. As it happened, Ardiles and Villa survived that 7-0 defeat to become White Hart Lane heroes, and both would feature in the 1982 League Cup final against Liverpool, the only previous final the clubs have contested in their 170 past meetings.
Mauricio Pochettino and Jürgen Klopp
For Spurs, that Wembley showpiece would prove a painful occasion. They plundered an early goal through Steve Archibald and led for 76 minutes before Ronnie Whelan’s 87th-minute equaliser past Reds old boy Ray Clemence. “They looked like they had the game won,” admitted Whelan, who added a second goal as Liverpool triumphed 3-1 after extra time.
Spurs have celebrated a trophy of their own after beating Liverpool, though not in the traditional sense. They paraded the league trophy following a 3-1 success against the Reds at White Hart Lane in May 1951, but by that time all the hard work had been done, the hosts having secured their maiden top-flight title the previous week.
Hitting the fast-forward button, a less auspicious recent milestone was Mauricio Pochettino’s first home defeat as Spurs manager – 3-0 against Liverpool in August 2014. As for Jürgen Klopp, his first match as Liverpool boss came in the same fixture the following campaign, a 0-0 draw in October 2015.
Overall, the German has lost only one of nine encounters with Pochettino’s Spurs, and it was Liverpool who ran out 2-1 winners in both Premier League fixtures this term. However, it could not have been closer at Anfield in March. With the teams tied at 1-1, Moussa Sissoko and Dele Alli both missed late opportunities to cap an impressive Spurs display before Toby Alderweireld’s 90th-minute own goal. “Sometimes you need to accept that football is cruel,” reflected Pochettino, albeit with the rejoinder that “This performance makes me feel very optimistic.” Just nine weeks later, the chance comes to make amends – and this time it is Spurs seeking the European first.