This observer got grounded this week, attending on successive blustery afternoons in the Northeast League Two relegation-threatened Hartlepool gaining a second half equaliser vs Carlisle and then Premier League relegation-doomed Sunderland doing the same—near the death—vs West Ham. In between, at a pub two blocks from the Stadium of Light, I watched a football game from a different planet, full of crisp attacking, deft passing, wingback thrusts and marvelous play. I refer of course to Spurs’ thrashing of the Cherries—one additional “we got four but it could have been more” Spurs masters class in a semester full of them.
And then on the way to the Manchester airport by train, I received the cherry on top of the sundae as my mate informed me that first Rashford, then Herrera had scored and that Jose had outwitted Conte from opening whistle to the end. And my friends we have a title race after all.
But first comes only the biggest Spurs game of this year, and any recent that I can remember. A rubber match for a spot in the final of a trophy, a statement game between the fox and the hound, with the baying beginning to crest into something meaningful. A game that might just define the rest of the season, but several to come. One cannot downplay this game, no matter how much we all seem to scoff at the competition. For once the FA Cup has given us a powerhouse matchups between intense rivals at an inflection (dare I say tipping?) point in a season where each have staked their claim on English superiority. Wembley will be the cauldron of noise it couldn’t have been for our woebegone European campaign, and will perhaps herald a season of brilliance at England’s national football home to come for this previously slighted team from North London.
Or not. Chelsea will be itching to right the ship, to stuff the challengers in their proper place, to prove once and for all just who the true champions are. But if that is our opponents’ mindset, surely our motivation will be equally intense. Poch has already set the table by choosing yesterday to sound off on how the entire league wanted to kill his team last year in order to produce the fairytale winner. His charges don’t need to be reminded which side swung that final sword to ensure the desired outcome. The hype means nothing—if we have learned anything these past six months, it is that this particular Spurs’ collective has “it”—grit, stick, steel—whatever Keeno and Vieira and all the rest had, these lads may just possess as well. If anything Poch will have to tell the likes of Dier, Dele and Dembele not to be too demonized for this one.
Selection questions will arise, but with Courtois and Alonso both missing today at Old Trafford, perhaps more for Conte. Poch will presumably still not have Danny Rose at his disposal, so he must decide between yesterday’s offensive minded-lineup with Son, or a more Mourinho-esque grouping that features Wanyama. Today the latter seemed to work—Ben Davies will be tested on the left at some stage which probably means that Spurs’ attack may tilt a little more to Walker’s right (and at Azpilicueta)—but what do we know? Poch will figure it out.
As for the aftermath, should Spurs win this, do they relax, knowing they are just one win away from a trophy and that they beat the probable league champions two of three? Or are they “spurred” on to try the double? The away tests could read as very difficult—two Derbies, resurgent Leicester, and Hull perhaps fighting for survival on the season’s final Sunday. But then again all four of those teams with the possible exception of the Foxes are crap compared to Spurs—let’s be honest. The two extraordinary home games could also be viewed as huge tests—a Mourinho side that beat Spurs last fall and has not lost in 22 league games, A North London rival presumably itching to show someone, if not their manager, that they DO deserve to wear the shirt and what better way than to ruin our title hopes? Leicester may have been eliminated from the Champions League by that final midweek contest, but their goal may be to return Chelsea’s favor from last May. Remember—we’ve played 19 at the Lane this year—with 17 wins and two lonely draws—with a title possibly at stake in the Lane’s final breath, could they really bottle it?
A month of thrills awaits. Thank you, Special One, from our very special ones.