There was nothing unpalatable about what was witnessed on a quite superb Sunday of Premier League football. While there may not necessarily be a definitive changing of the guard, the importance of nurturing stars, utilising sustainability, and implementing coherent tactical systems were on full display.
The merciless thrashing of a hapless and rudderless Aston Villa side might not be the potential restoration that it appeared to be. Fans often resort to the convenient adjective "gutless" to garnish the players with in the aftermath of a defeat such as the one that was inflicted upon a Premier League stalwart. The more galling prospect would be to accept that the players wearing claret and blue actually tried their best but lack neither the quality or organisation to succeed.
Three of Liverpool's last four Premier League opponents either reside in or hover just above the relegation zone. Norwich City were bested 5-4 at Carrow Road, Sunderland fought back from two goals down to draw level late on at Anfield, and it would be a kindness not to revisit what happened to Aston Villa. Chopin's popular Étude Op. 10, No. 3 would have been a fitting soundtrack for the sorry affair. Relegation undoubtedly beckons. The Championship is far less forgiving than some Premier League purveyors care to recognise.
It was heartening, however, to see Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho back in action. The duo both arrived in January 2013 and have developed a capacity to combine for the sublime. That relationship was in bloom on Sunday afternoon, which lifted a side that has struggled against the top flight's lesser lights throughout the season. Too often Jürgen Klopp's side would pound the ground with little to show for it. Running and struggling endlessly with little in the way of invention -- be it robust or delicate -- will not improve Liverpool's lot.
Although the former Borussia Dortmund manager should be commended for giving the players bequeathed to him a chance to prove themselves worthy of his jocular affections, it is slowly becoming clear that some players are not as good as many Liverpool fans thought. They're certainly not (yet) accomplished enough to thrive for more than a stingy handful of games without their best players, and such a state becomes more painful when a manager has a particular tactical framework that requires time and patience to truly blossom.
To elaborate further, there are managers who possess a firm tactical and philosophical approach to the game that can create stars within a system that accentuates the qualities of certain players. Such players need to be the right fit, of course, but even decent ones who may not be the league's leading lights can shine. This is what Klopp proved at both Mainz 05 and Borussia Dortmund. Mauricio Pochettino is a fine proponent of such way of working at Southampton and Spurs. Interestingly, Claudio Ranieri has built upon the work undertaken by Nigel Pearson and tweaked it slightly for maximum returns.
Liverpool's game was sandwiched between two fine contests where Tottenham and Leicester underlined just how excellent they've been this season. Ranieri's side may have lost in the final moments against Arsenal but largely continued in the vein every fan has seen all season. They are truly astonishing. For those keeping track, the Foxes were the other side that Liverpool have played in the last four league games. Whether they have better individual players or not, there can be no question as to which team is better right now. No team has scored more goals, including those attacking aristocrats Manchester City.
Tottenham are the youngest side in the division and they press. And press. And press. Their Belgian centre back pairing is currently the best in the division with the talented Hugo Lloris behind them. Dele Alli is as big a story as Riyad Mahrez. One rose from Ligue 2 and the Championship in his early twenties, while the other took his experiences in League Two to star in his first Premier League season before his twentieth birthday. The leaps both these players have taken to be the primary attacking support for Jamie Vardy -- another story of the season -- and Harry Kane is quite remarkable indeed.
With just twelve games to go, the league's best attack alongside Manchester City and the league's best defence occupy the top two slots in Europe's most financially bloated and frustratingly myopic league. This has been the season where the unexpected is to be expected, but the rise of these two sides isn't galling for those who believe in Jürgen Klopp. The Swabian has constantly spoken of the need to wait, be patient, and work. He has eschewed from focusing on who and what can be acquired with money. This was the way Brian Clough made history in English football and how Klopp made his name in Germany.
The response from Manchester City under Pep Guardiola will be as financial as it will be tactical. Manchester United and Chelsea -- both almost guaranteed to walk in the wilderness without Champions League football next season -- will spend enormously as a result of this season's miscalculations. Arsenal no longer need to pinch pennies, although Arsène Wenger can still be relatively a frugal operator. Liverpool will be part of the summer of sums too but need more than just signings to bridge the gap. The right player is not always the most expensive one, but often the most expensive ones that would fit will be beyond Liverpool's reach. The task will be to find a different way.
Pochettino spent his first season implementing a plan refined on the South Coast along with assessing and clearing out a bloated squad before making strides in season two. Ranieri -- widely viewed as a disastrous appointment -- lifted the mood around a club where his predecessor's pugilistic nature was deemed ultimately too distracting for the owners. Like Ranieri, Klopp has already changed the atmosphere surrounding the club and sought to look at the fruits of Rodgers' tenure before presumably undertaking what Pochettino accomplished last summer: a necessary cull of the existing squad. There is some quality in the squad, but the more must follow the canny signing of Joël Matip.
Liverpool's chase for the title was unsuccessful in 2013/14, but for a while, Brendan Rodgers' side looked set to become surprise title winners. Leicester and Spurs could possibly fulfil the promise that was in evidence on Sunday. For those who believe in Klopp's approach to the game, the success and development of the Premier League's top two this season shouldn't even be slightly unbearable at all.