Their fifth consecutive defeat at Tottenham saw them finish with nine players and a scoreline that might have been more embarrassing. Kenny Dalglish was smiling ruefully by the end, having struggled to contain his frustration at the dismissals of Charlie Adam and Martin Skrtel, and the Liverpool manager must have felt that everything which could have gone wrong for his team, did so. Spurs were excellent, playing passing football that was extremely easy on the eye as they stated their case for a top-four finish.
They had plenty of top performers, too, from Ledley King at the back to Luka Modric, Scott Parker and Gareth Bale in midfield, but it was Emmanuel Adebayor who stole the headlines. On his home debut, the former Arsenal centre-forward allied a fierce work ethic to no little class, and the goals that completed the rout bristled with self-assurance, particularly the first, when he impudently flicked the ball up and over the diving goalkeeper Pepe Reina before rolling it home.
Love was in the air. "I knew the fans already love me," Adebayor said, with a nod towards his debut goal at Wolves the previous weekend. "They've always loved Adebayor," said the manager, Harry Redknapp, with tongue in cheek. Liverpool felt only misery.
Dalglish could not explain why his team made such a sluggish start although he promised to investigate and with Andy Carroll winning the prize for his poorest player, against strong competition, the visitors unravelled. The Spurs crowd had fun at more than Liverpool's expense.
"Are you Arsenal in disguise?" they sang. "The boys are upset and so they should be," Dalglish said. "The football club expects more than that." If Liverpool were slow out of the blocks then Tottenham exploded out of them and Modric gave them the lead in sumptuous fashion, picking out the top corner from the edge of the area. Modric was held against his will to the terms of his contract in the summer – when Chelsea tried to sign him– and so in some respects this represented the beginning of a new chapter for him.
Redknapp said that his chairman, Daniel Levy, would now look to give the Croat a pay-rise. "That's what I'd like to happen," he added. Tottenham dominated the first-half and it was one that could not end quickly enough for Dalglish, who was reduced to tactical reshuffles and rage at the referee. Adam was a little unlucky to receive his first yellow card for a pull at Modric but he could have no complaints about the second, for a reckless lunge at Parker in the 27th minute.
Adam, who got away with an ugly tackle on Bale at Spurs last season, when he was a Blackpool player, has to ask himself why he flew in at Parker when he was already on a booking. It was a measure of Tottenham's superiority that Redknapp admitted that he "didn't want the sending-off to happen". "We were way on top," he said, "and I thought it could change the game. I'd give Adam the benefit of the doubt.
I can't see him trying to do Scotty [Parker]. But I have no sympathy for the right-back [Skrtel]." Dalglish lost Daniel Agger to a rib injury and the Dane's replacement, the debutant Sebastián Coates, was booked for a foul on Adebayor and only saved from a red card by the presence of José Enrique alongside him. Liverpool also saw Luis Suárez given a yellow card for sarcastically applauding the linesman and Dalglish waited to harangue the referee in the tunnel at half-time.
Fuelling his anger, perhaps, was the 18th-minute effort the Uruguayan had pulled back for offside, although the decision was correct. Dalglish muttered darkly about things being "best unsaid" with regard to the referee, but it was difficult to criticise the official. Bale had ripped into the makeshift right-back Skrtel and Tottenham might have had more to show from the first-half had Adebayor not missed an early gilt-edged opportunity and Reina not stretched to save low from Modric.
The second-half brought more thrills and spills – the former from Tottenham, the latter from Liverpool. Jermain Defoe missed a sitter but he then finished smartly after rolling Enrique and by then, Liverpool were down to nine men. Skrtel had been booked in the first-half for a check on Bale and he suffered an aberration when he decided to plough into the Tottenham winger from behind. The last word went to Adebayor. He swooped after Reina had fumbled Defoe's shot and his second was dispatched in injury-time from Benoît Assou-Ekotto's cross. Liverpool's team bus already had the engine running.