It would have been only natural for Jose Mourinho to look to stick the boot in to Liverpool amid their recent woes. Jurgen Klopp's side travel to north London on Thursday outside the top four and without a win in their last five top-flight matches. A win for Tottenham would send them above last season's title winners and prompt further questions over whether Liverpool might even miss out on Champions League qualification.
A wounded beast after consecutive losses to Burnley in the Premier League and Manchester United in the FA Cup, Liverpool have been feeling the burden of injuries across their side this season but none has been more transformative than Van Dijk's anterior cruciate ligament ailment, one that will rule him out for much of the remainder of the season. Coupled with Joe Gomez's own troubles, Liverpool have been forced to redeploy midfielders, imbalancing their side further.
Mourinho seems to have found some kinship with Liverpool's refusal to open their checkbook and "resolve their defensive problems with money," reflecting on the similar problems he faced early in his first season with Tottenham, when a raft of injuries in his attack left him relying heavily on Lucas Moura. Even those challenges were perhaps not as extreme as those faced by Klopp, whose only senior center-back, Joel Matip, requires careful management of his minutes.
"We played last season, half of the season, without any attacking players," Mourinho told CBS Sports. "We had a period where we played Lucas every minute of every match. We lost [Heung-min] Son, we lost [Harry] Kane, we lost [Steven] Bergwijn, we lost everybody. How did we manage? Miracles. You cannot do it. To make strikers from right-backs, left-backs, goalkeepers, Joe Hart can he play striker because he's very tall and strong.
"You cannot make miracles. You have to try to compensate with what you have. Liverpool when you speak about Van Dijk, you cannot replace. There are some players you cannot replace. When Harry Kane was injured, you cannot replace Harry Kane. You cannot replace Van Dijk. You can only replace Van Dijk with Van Dijk.
"They have good players, experienced players. Fabinho can play everywhere, everywhere. Matip back, experienced player. Jordan Henderson is another guy with experience and knowledge of the game, he can play everywhere too. Then they have a couple of young players that they did OK."
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Still, it is not the same for Liverpool, who have felt the knock-on problems of Van Dijk's absence throughout their side. Their defense may not be as leaky as one might assume it would be without the world's top center-back, but that is in no small part because Klopp has had to tighten the leash on his marauding full-backs, in particular Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Meanwhile Fabinho and Henderson's moves into defense have robbed Liverpool's midfield of the same consistent service lines that fed their front three last season, particularly with Thiago having missed most of his first season since joining from Bayern Munich.
"They got some very good players. They lost a fundamental player," said Mourinho. "We can say what we want. We can try to hide things. But there are some players that are special and impossible to replace. Even some times the defensive process has a relation with losing an attacking player. The attacking process sometimes has also relation with the defensive player you lost. It looks a contradiction but it's not. A team that is very stable defensively is a team with much better conditions to attack and vice versa.
"They lost Van Dijk. He's very, very important for them. If they had one or two results that weren't the best, they didn't score as many goals as they produce, it's normal that they went into a phase of a little less confidence and bad results."
Mourinho, who won back-to-back titles with Porto, Chelsea and Inter Milan, refused to bite at any suggestion that Liverpool might be a spent force nor that if Klopp fails to defend his crown this season his achievement is in any way diminished.
"There are leagues where the champion is decided in pre-season," Mourinho said. "This is not the Premier League, at all. Only one team is going to be champion, only four teams are going top four. Only two more are going to the Europa League. You cannot say other people failed.
"People react. Manchester City didn't win last season. They reacted in a very strong way. Manchester United is not winning in quite a long time for such a big club. They reacted. Leicester is building, Tottenham is building, Chelsea was not happy too, it is a team that used to win the Premier League five or six times in 20 years.
"For me Liverpool is an amazing team and they can still win the Premier League, of course they can."