Tottenham Hotspur put in its best performance of the English Premier League season Sunday and showed the attacking masterclass it can create when its offense is on top of its game, and its opponent's defense isn't.
Spurs defeated Liverpool 4-1 in front of a Premier League record-setting crowd of 80,827 at Wembley Stadium. The win puts Spurs level on Manchester United in second place, five points behind league leaders Manchester City. The win is Tottenham's second this season at Wembley, its temporary home, after failing to win at the Home of Football in their first three matches there. Between this new confidence at home and a renewed belief in their attacking prowess, Spurs once again has the look of a title-challenger.
Just four minutes into the match, Harry Kane gave Spurs a 1-0 lead on wonderful bit of team play. Some tight quarters passing off a throw-in deep in the Liverpool area put Kane in behind the defense. Keeper Simon Mingolet charged the England international, but only got a piece of the ball, allowing Kane to apply the half-volley into an open net.
Tottenham's second goal displayed two of the keys to its eventual rout of the Reds: Spurs' ingenuity on the counter-attack, and Liverpool's shambolic defending.
In the 12th minute, Spurs keeper Hugo Lloris saw an opening deep down the pitch and opted for a long kick instead of playing out of the back. Kane was lightly marked along the left flank as Liverpool was still getting itself sorted in defense, so it was a smart pass. But it's also a pass that would have been dealt with by a disciplined defender.
Dejan Lovren is not a disciplined defender. Lovren made the rash decision to attempt an interception of Lloris' pass. When he missed, only one defender stood between Kane and goal. A hard-charging down the middle of the pitch run from Son Hueng-Min opened up an opportunity, and Kane placed his cross perfectly for Son to hit it in stride and give Tottenham a 2-0 lead.
Liverpool wasn't out of it quite yet, though. In the 24th minute, Mo Salah scored his fifth Premier League goal of the season on a fine counter of his own. After dispossessing Tottenham of the ball at midfield, Jordan Henderson threaded a pass through the Spurs' defense, setting up Salah to bring Liverpool back to 2-1 down.
Trailing just a goal with the bulk of the match still in front of them, Liverpool looked very much in the running for a draw or win at this point in the match. But they would need to limit the defensive lapses to keep the match from getting out of hand.
The lapses didn't end, though, and Dele Alli gave Tottenham a 3-1 lead moments before halftime. Liverpool defender Joel Matip attempted to clear a free kick into the box, but didn't get much power on the header. Five Liverpool defenders moved in the box on the free kick, and no one marked the trailing Alli. The 21-year-old Englishman got a free shot on goal, and players of his caliber don't waste moments like that.
With that, the match was pretty well in hand. But another goal from Kane -- and more poor defending from Liverpool -- put the result on ice. Once again, Liverpool conceded on a free kick. Following the delivery, a number of Reds scrambled for the ball, but no one could make the clearance. Eventually the ball fell to the feet of Kane, who nicked his second goal of the afternoon
Kane is hunting his third consecutive Golden Boot, given to the English Premier League's top goalscorer. So far, he looks up to the task. Kane's brace gives him eight Premier League goals for the season, good enough for the league lead. In his last 40 games in all competitions, he has 45 goals to his name. That's Ronaldo/Messi levels of scoring output. If Kane's on top of his game, as he was Sunday, there isn't a team Spurs can't beat.
Of course, he was on top of his game in part because of Liverpool's disastrous defending. Jurgen Klopp's decision not to sign a central defender over the summer is looking worse and worse by the day. Sitting 12 points off first-place Manchester City, it's safe to say any title hopes the Reds have are already dashed. And unless they figure out a way to fix their defensive woes, the top four will be a stretch as well.
Cy Brown writes about football, golf, soccer and other stuff for Sports on Earth. Follow him on Twitter @CEPBrown.