The Colossal Underestimation of Tottenham Hotspur

Image: SpursWeb

I believe that Sunday’s Wembley match against a depleted but still dangerous Chelsea XI may begin to open some eyes about the precise quality of the team directed by Mauricio Pochettino. At the very least, it should begin to put to lie any notion of a Wembley jinx that will cost Spurs’ Top Four honours or deny them a third consecutive title challenge.

Because you see to the Lilywhites’ credit, there isn’t much precedent for a team that played as well as Spurs did last year, but what there is suggests they ain’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Since the Premier League contracted to 20 teams and the current 38 game schedule in 1995, there have been 15 teams that have amassed at least 86 points (Spurs total last year), three of which also had a goal difference of at least +60 (also Spurs total in 2016-17). Consider that simple fact for a moment: of the 420 teams that have competed in the Premier League since 1995, only four have done what Spurs did last year. And if you wish to lay it on the 6-1 and 7-1 routs of Leicester and Hull, note as indicated below the others had some pushovers too.

The first 8 teams that amassed at least 86 points all finished 1st or 2nd in the league the following year:

                Man United        1999-00                91 Pts        Next Season: 1st

                Arsenal                 2001-02                87 Pts                                    2nd

                Arsenal                 2003-04                90 Pts                                    2nd

                Chelsea                  2004-05                95 Pts                     1st          

                Chelsea                2005-06                91 Pts                                    2nd

                Man United        2006-07                89 Pts                                    1st

                Man United        2007-08                87 Pts                                    1st

                Man United        2008-09                90 Pts                                    2nd

                Of the most recent 7, four finished 1st or 2nd the following year:

                Chelsea*             2009-10                86 Pts                                    2nd

                Man City*           2011-12                89 Pts                                    2nd

                Man United        2011-12                89 Pts                                    1st

                        Man City*             2013-14                                 86 Pts                                    2nd

  • At least +60 Goal Difference


So 12 of the 15 teams—80%– followed their 86+ point season with a title or a runner-up finish. Interestingly, not one of the three others finished in the Top Six, let alone the Top Four. And to go down Pushover Lane, the three other +60 goal difference sides also had multiple routs—2009-10 Chelsea scored 7 goals three times, all at home (v Villa, Stoke and Sunderland), 2011-12 City scored 6 goals twice, though their victims were Man U (at Old Trafford—the game that basically won City the league) and (oops) Spurs, and City two years later scored 7 at the Etihad v Norwich and 6 there v. (oops—here we are again) Spurs.

The vast majority of teams who achieved what Spurs did last year came back strong. The three exceptions were Chelsea in 2015-16, as they quit on Mourinho and finished 10th; Man Utd in 2013-14, the first year post-Fergie under David Moyes (they finished 7th); and the intriguing case of Liverpool in 2009-10 (also 7th). Like Spurs, in the season before Liverpool finished 2nd (to United), were knocked out by Chelsea in their strongest Cup challenge (quarter finals of the Champions League), and played indifferently in the other Cup competitions. Spurs were a big part of the Liverpool story, as a contentious transfer of Robbie Keane in the previous summer helped “spur” the Reds on to a strong season (Keane returned to Spurs at the end of the January window) and Liverpool began the 09-10 season with a controversial loss to Spurs which resulted in Manager Rafa Benitez being disciplined by the FA.

We are clearly not Man United—an aging team—dealing with no Fergie. It is very unlikely that we are Chelsea rebelling against their imperious manager. So could we be Liverpool 2009 or is it more likely that we, like the other 12 teams, will follow up last season with another title challenge and Top Two finish? 

If you answer that question for the former, basing it on Spurs’ lack of transfer activity, I would simply remind you that a) the window won’t close for a fortnight more (see Davinson Sanchez) and b) show me the weaknesses in Spurs’ current roster that will cause them to plummet in the table this year. After all, Spurs did as well as they did last season despite missing the following players for multiple games due to injury or suspension: Hugo Lloris, Danny Rose, Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen, Moussa Dembele, Erik Lamela, Harry Kane. Chelsea were the side blessed by near-perfect health. Perhaps we still lack the depth to make either/or deep domestic or European Cup runs, but will Pochettino sacrifice the League and a Top Four berth for them? His history says no.

So it really comes down to three factors. One—It’s Spurs. They will, as that soon-departed Rachel Riley put it, “bottle” it in the end. Winning 12 of the final 13 games last year makes me skeptical of this claim. Two—It’s Wembley. The sample size of a truly analogous situation is small (actually non-existent)—Arsenal played 6 Champions League matches there in the autumns of 1998 and 1999. They never attempted to play a full home season at the national stadium. If the issue is lack of familiarity and distraction from the normal routine, well, that was undoubtedly true last season when Spurs struggled there but will not be this year when Spurs will become quite familiar each fortnight  with the Wembley pitch, dressing room, and overall ambience.

The final factor is the only one I give any credence to. And that is the quality of both the managers and personnel at the two Manchester clubs might just be too good for Spurs. I won’t attempt a full analysis here, except to state that Spurs have bested both Mancunian sides in both of the last two tables. One could easily argue Spurs will beat one or both of them as say they will top Spurs. We’ll just have to see. But for the pundits—very few of whom have Spurs finishing as high as 3rd position, and almost none placing them 1st or 2nd—I would simply say that most believed the same thing last year. One of these years you’ll see the light.

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Paul is a respected U.S. political pollster (Democrat) based in Madison, Wisconsin and Los Angeles. His love for Spurs began when the Premier League games started appearing regularly in the U.S. and an American lover of football had to choose a side. Bale, Rushdie, Adele, Shakespeare, the Spurs faithful, The Lane, etc. were all irresistible attractions and have made Maslin a Spur for life.


  1. Good article based on facts not delusional hype,better to be under the radar ,this will be the first time ever I put cash on us at the bookie. This is our year ,,finally

    • True dat.

      One thing I noticed that is missing from the analysis, and it adds further weight to the conclusion: when Liverpool finished second they didn’t have any European football. The next season, when they failed to match or better their second place, they had European football. There is no such contrast with Spurs, having competed in both CL and Europa last season. Another interesting and related point is that Leicester and Chelsea both won the title while not having the added workload of European football. Liverpool finished second and fourth the two seasons they didn’t have any European football. This season, the top six all have European football. So, unless anyone comes out of the pack ala Leicester there won’t be anyone with that undoubted advantage. I suppose the biggest threat from that angle might be Everton, but with virtually a new team to integrate, I can’t see it.

      Add this to the analysis above and it really is bizarre just how much this team is being underestimated. Kinda reminds me of the season Chelsea won the title for the first time. Everyone was so fixated on the Ferguson versus Wenger dogfight that they kinda didn’t notice that Mourinho had been assembling an extremely competent and affective squad at huge expense. This Spurs side is still young and energetic but has the consistency of familiarity and the experience of two title challenges. I’m quite happy for it to be so far under the radar.

  2. An interesting article. One thing to be wary of, of course, is that past events have no bearing on what happens next. Just because teams have done X and that has been followed by Y does not guarantee that will happen again for any team.

    In regard to squad, I largely agree with much of what you state, but we are carrying passengers, three of which cost around £80 million and who are taking huge sums in wages. I would like to get rid of Sissoko, Lamela and Janssen and get one – just one – attacking midfielder who is to quality *now*. Not a prospect. By top quality, I mean someone with proven end product in goals and assists. I would be happy to trade-off each of these against the other. Eriksen, for example, is not the most prolific midfielder in regard to goals. In my view he provides more than enough assists to make up for that. All the other factors – skill, speed, strength, etc, are just proxies. It is only end product that counts.

    Having stated all that, it is clear that the likes of Barkley and Meyer simply do not make the cut. They may be great prospects but that is as far as it goes – for attacking midfielders. Of course there are not lots out there, but we may have missed one or two opportunities.

    The thing is, whilst I agree with much of what you say, assuming Son, Eriksen and Dele as starters, if any of those were injured, who would have the quality from the bench to replace them? I suggest we have not got that depth.

    We have enough depth to finish in the top four. To win the PL we need just a little more.


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