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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