Tottenham Hotspur – Champions of England? Is that enTITLEment?
It has more than likely been spoken in hushed tones since our penetration into the top four this season. At the end of November the club was still in fifth, two points behind the Woolwich (whilst the red Mancs enjoyed the luxurious tenure of third place and their sky blue rivals were top of the table). However, despite the frequent and sometimes frustrating draws along with a bizarre home loss to a hapless Newcastle United, Tottenham had scrapped their way into the top four in December after a prosperous holiday season, and by the end of the month were four points clear of Crystal Palace (!) whilst the aforementioned United were languishing in sixth place. Fast forward to a frenetic January and the Lilywhites were steaming up in to third place, despite a six-pointer loss at home to those wily Foxes. On the back of a five run winning streak that sees us in the thick of February, Tottenham Hotspur find themselves sitting in second place, two points behind Leicester City and level on points with the hated enemy and firmly entrenched in a title race. Deny it, discount it, scoff irreverently at the prospect or not, but this club we love has not enjoyed these giddy heights in years – not even the defining Redknapp season and the ten point ‘Mind The Gap’ disaster compares – let alone seeing the team play with such gusto and belief in themselves that it is daft to even think that this is a flash-in-the-pan moment that will see us crash back down to earth and the reality of failure again. That last sentence alone defies all that supporting Spurs represents.
So what is a title race? It is such a rare and uncommon experience for this club and its supporters that we have only watched from afar and envied the ‘Big Four’ in recent years (AKA as half a century) as they have either jockeyed for position from week one of the season or simply run away with the title. Think back to the start of last season: two opening wins see Spurs sitting in first place on six points and a plus five goal difference…. Everybody was giddy and Pochettino was the new Messiah. After our pants were pulled down by Liverpool at the Lane in the next match, Chelsea took over top spot and stayed there for the remainder of the season whilst we struggled to keep pace with the top six! Poch later fell under much scrutiny on the back of dodgy home defeats to teams deemed to be too inferior to even grace the hallowed turf of White Hart Lane. How fifteen months can make a difference.
Sadly, Tottenham Hotspur have had very little to celebrate in the way of silverware in the last twenty-five years since they last won the FA Cup: two League Cups, some top five finishes and a nice run in our debut Champions League season. There have been many promising signs and then complete fucking meltdowns. But I would like to think despite the eternal hope that at no point has any Spurs fan felt that it is our God-given right to return to the threshold of top-flight glory just because we were once the best team in England. Ladies and gentlemen, that was fifty-five years ago. A few close runs in the Sixties and Eighties don’t even appear close should you look back on the final standings of those seasons. I clearly recall the mid-‘80s sides led by Burky, Shreeves and Pleaty, and at times we were seriously challenging the Merseyside stranglehold on the old Division One but it was always a tough ask with fixtures piling up towards the end of the season due to knackering cup runs that left us either totally exhausted or crocked. We inevitably could not finish the job. We were fortunate to bring in a cup or two but that somewhat resembles our history: a great cup side but with no legacy of championships. In seasons prior to probably the Premier League era, it was always considered more prestigious to win the FA Cup than the league. Listen to Greavise or Jonesy or Stevie P and they’ll all tell you that Wembley in May was the real deal. Sadly, TV and money and the Champions League have changed that and the top four takes precedence. I’ve always shared this belief though that achieving top four is only of any benefit if you actually go on to do something with that final league standing. Of course that money benefits the club by allowing them to continually bring in the talent to bolster the chances of advancing in the lucrative Champions League, but shouldn’t you at least strive to win the Premier League versus win the ‘Fourth Placed Trophy’? Something our local rivals seem to relish in recent years with us nipping at their heels. It has to be great being in the Champions League for almost twenty straight years, but perhaps you should try winning it to gain some credibility.
Which is a great segue into the matter at hand: the title. For Tottenham Hotspur, we should not feel entitlement to the league by any stretch of the imagination. Firstly, at the time of writing the club still have twelve matches to go with some proper dogfights in there: Liverpool, West Ham and Chelsea away being some notable tough clashes. Clearly the only home match we should really fret over would be the team sitting on the same points as us: the club whose name we shall not utter. March 5th is a pivotal day and probably will be the most hotly-contested North London Derby in years. That much is hanging in the balance. Should the football gods smile fortuitously on N17 that day, there will still be significant runway ahead of us before the season concludes. However, for every supposedly ‘soft’ fixture we encounter (re: banana skin), the South Londoners face a tough one and vice versa through to the final fortnight of the season. But let’s not become too fixated with the noisy neighbours; this is not a two-horse race and we should keep perspective and garner respect not just for the team that Spurs disposed of on Valentine’s Day but the club currently sitting in first place. Leicester are clearly the Cinderella story of the season racking up some impressive results; none other than their victory at the Etihad prior to Tottenham visiting City. That result alone had me believing that lightning could not possibly strike twice, given our poor record in Manchester in the last five years and City’s impressive home form in Pellegrini’s tenure (not ever having experienced back-to-back home losses).
So, as much as Leicester have trail-blazed their way to the Premier League summit, City have unimpressed after at times looking unbeatable; United are boring and inconsistent; Liverpool are just inconsistent; Chelsea? Despite their woes under Mourinho, they are unbeaten in the League under Hiddink and are starting to look like their old selves and may well continue to climb the table (albeit probably too late to capture a top four spot). So does that leave three title contenders? Probably. City still have an outside chance, but champions don’t normally lose seven games at this stage of the season so they have to be the rank outsiders. Outside of the top four though, I don’t fancy anyone to be honest.
I can sit and wax lyrical about computing fixtures and predicting outcomes but the truth of the matter is the spirit in each camp. Clearly the ‘Tinkerman’ – a nailed on contender for first manager to meet the Spanish Archer at the beginning of the season – has turned around a club that last season had narrowly escaped relegation with a DIFFERENT manager! Who would have put a marker down for Leicester to be title-contenders back in August? Vardy, Mahrez, Kante, Schmeichel, Drinkwater et al have been phenomenal so far. Do they have the bottle to persevere in the long run is the question? We’ll need to see. This season has been so erratic so who can predict it. The ‘club with the white sleeves that are a nod to Tottenham’ have – regrettably – some pedigree in winning stuff so they are in as good a place as they can be as the final quarter of the season approaches. This is the time of the year they start to wobble though. But let’s talk about the club that matters, the club we follow through thick and thin: Tottenham Hotspur. Like my favourite band, they are the only club (band) that matters…
Tottenham so far this season have gone from strength to strength. Pochettino has demanded the highest standards of discipline in fitness in every training session and it shows week in, week out. The team is clearly the youngest, fittest and arguably, the most cohesive team in the Premier League; the team that will run through walls for each other and for the boss, every game. The spirit exhibited in the recent five match winning streak is testament to the philosophy that Mauricio has instilled in not just the first team, but throughout the entire club. The fact that John McDermott from the Academy elected to stay in London with Spurs, versus moving to Manchester United implies that the tide may well have turned….
The true test of our league credentials approaches with three matches in eight days, all in cup competitions – as in years past, we need to deal with the distractions of cup competitions. City & the Woolwich have European and domestic cup competitions to deal with too, but Leicester do not. So Will Poch rotate the squad? With only Vertonghen and N’Jie out with long-term injuries, we have some depth to enable healthy rotation. Fiorentina will be no pushover and they are flying in Serie A, but I believe our experience playing them last year will put us in good stead to produce a better result over both legs to see us through to the round of sixteen. Let’s face it, we probably won’t see the Soldado miss we saw last year (bless his cotton socks). I believe we will prevail against Fior over the two legs as well as win the ‘Juju Final’ on Sunday when Palace visit the Lane. A nine match winless streak will have Pardew’s Eagles up for the challenge and surely Adebayor will be absolutely up to prove a point. I’m sure all of the Spurs lads who ended up pissed off with Ade’s antics will be equally up to shut him down so I see Tottenham winning that tie at an easy cantor. That will then bring Tottenham back to the League with three top matches in seven days: Swansea at home, West Ham away and then the North London Derby at the Lane. What a couple of weeks. So I think if we are serious in discussing our title credentials, we need to revisit this blog in about a month’s time to see how the club has fared in these six fixtures as I believe they will be pivotal to the club’s title credentials. Of course, win three cup games and you add in three more! But, if we are to eradicate the ghosts of 81/82 or 84/85, this team has to draw on their reserves and prove to a previous number 23 that there ARE winners on this team and we see SOME silverware lifted this season. We are all craving for the league trophy to be placed at the Lane, but the question has to be asked: will you be happy with second in the league, an FA Cup win AND a Europa League hoist, or would winning the Prem and nothing else provide the same satisfaction? Maybe you are the greedy bastard that wants the whole fucking lot! Prem, FA Cup and Europa League! That’ll be me but as an eternal optimist all I really want is for this heady journey to not shatter my hopes and expectations: progress. What that produces, we’ll have to wait and see. This IS a title race and that is great to see, it’s been way too long. Patience is required from all of us and I think as we have been starved of glory for so long, we need to ensure perspective. So absorb the whole ride, inhale it, and get high on it. I just hope there is no downer.
At the end of the day, let’s believe and trust that Mauricio Pochettino, Daniel Levy, Harry Kane, Hugo Lloris and the rest of the squad will succeed in their mission and achieve their goals.