In recent months, the amount of covetous glances directed at Tottenham Hotspur by Liverpool fans has disheartened this particular wordmonger. I can never understand it, you see. Yes, they have spent a shed-load of the cash they received for Welsh trademarking expert, Gareth Bale, on players like Roberto Soldado; yes, over the course of a few seasons, they have bought all the midfielders, beating Liverpool to the punch more than once in the process; and yes, they have sampled Champions League football more recently than the Redmen. Yet, even after you factor in all of that, it's still just Spurs and for some reason I could never take them seriously, until recently.
André Villas Boas has started to change my perception of the north Londoners. The thirty-six-year-old Portuguese has divided opinion amongst fans even more than Brendan Rodgers since both men stepped on to the Premier League stage at around the same time. Villas Boas cuts a dashing figure on the sidelines of England but his intensity and often po-faced earnestness have made him an easy target for derision in the press, not unlike a certain Northern Irishman, oft-discussed here at TLO Towers.
A serious-minded man, with little time for frivolity or the beloved British banter, the Tottenham manager makes even Rodgers look like a stand-up comedian. His press conferences have been spiky affairs of late, Villas Boas having taken umbrage at what he perceived as petty, unjustified and needlessly personalised criticism from several prominent journalists. In the wake of pointedly barbed assessments from the likes of Neil Ashton and that most notable Little Englander, Martin Samuel, he will have enjoyed the three points won against Sunderland at the weekend very much indeed.
Speaking in his characteristic unbroken monotone rumble, the young boss was very complimentary to Liverpool ahead of the White Hart Lane clash on Sunday. Villas Boas is a sedulous student of all aspects of the game, however, and his praise will have had another purpose. In fact, as I read his quotes, I was reminded of Bob Paisley's old idea of deliberately displaying extreme courtesy to upcoming opponents. A quiet man of perspicacious judgement, Paisley was not given to the kind of bluster and belligerence favoured by the more pugilistic likes of Brian Clough or Alex Ferguson. Instead, he would disarm his quarry with kind but ultimately cynical words. He called it giving them toffee, and it worked.
Villas Boas may be trying something similar. He is all too aware of how a win for his side would change the somewhat unfair perception of their season as a failure thus far and he is desperate to present a different kind of reality, one which buys time for the manager himself and also for his array of new faces. He describes the potential achievement of drawing level on points with Liverpool in glowing terms.
"Those results [against Fulham and Sunderland] have put us one point better off than what we had [at this stage] last season, so again it puts us back on track," said Villas-Boas. "We have this wonderful situation against Liverpool that if we win we go level on points with them, a team that has started so brilliantly. So straight away we have a comparison there.
"After all we have been through, to go level on points with a team that has been so magnificent shows that, in the end, we are not so far off. Also, bearing in mind the season before, it was in this fixture [last December] that we lost against Everton so, if we win, we will be four points better off than we were last season, which would be outstanding."
Brendan Rodgers is far too wily to be drawn in by the flattery of Villas Boas and will relish the chance to turn around Liverpool's lamentable recent form at Spurs. If he is to do that, he will have to overcome the losses of nailed-on first teamers like Steven Gerrard, José Enrique and Daniel Sturridge. Jordan Henderson too, is a doubt.
When one considers the dearth of midfield options available to Rodgers in comparison with the assembled masses of central players Villas Boas has to choose from, it's not a stretch to say that the odds are not in the Antrim man's favour. However, in Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho, he is possessed of two sublime talents, capable of turning any match in Liverpool's favour, and if Joe Allen and Lucas Leiva can hold the middle then perehaps Rodgers will be in a position to thank his counterpart for the delicious pre-match toffee and return to Merseyside with all three points.