It might be a remnant of Fergie’s now infamous exhortation to his charges: “it’s Tottenham, lads”. It might be the simple inertia of a generation of big clubs winning when they are supposed to, Leicester and Blackburn to the contrary. It might be the knowledge that St Totteringham’s Day is, sad to say, a fixture in the spring firmament. It might be classic pack journalism. Or all of the above.
Whatever the reasons, we all know this script: whatever Spurs’ standing in the table or recent form, it doesn’t really change the narrative. We can’t be Top Four. We can’t challenge for the title. We had the chance last year, and blew it. We don’t have the experience, the character, the money, the pedigree. When we back into a draw vs an inferior side, that is proof positive of our inferiority to five other teams who do it all the time. When we get tripped up at an away ground, well, we’re simply not good enough. When we thrash the likes of Chelsea or Man City or Man United at the Lane, the response is let’s see you do it in the reverse fixture, and never mind that almost nobody ever does.
The current disbelief—and I will use that term rather than the more standard and overused noun disrespect—has reached almost comical proportions. Let’s look at this dispassionately:
- Only two teams in the Big Six have played consistently well throughout the past two seasons—Arsenal and Spurs. While the final standings may disagree, all Spurs supporters and most Gooners know that the better of the two teams for the vast majority of last season was the more northern-based of the two. This year they appear evenly matched. Granted Chelsea and Liverpool under new management have responded magnificently and City continues to excel no matter who sits on their bench, but since when is sustained excellence a bad thing?
- The ability to defend is unquestionably a proper formula for most league winners in the Premiership era. Chelsea and Spurs are clearly superior to their closest competitors at this skill—it may be enough to keep the Blues on top for five more months, but if one accepts that logic then why wouldn’t the same value be given for Spurs’ chance of finishing in the Top Four?
- Spurs have the youngest side of all the Top Six. Hugo Lloris turned 30 three days ago—he is the only key performer on this team not in his 20s, with most 25 or under. Such youth can bite you (Newcastle, anyone?) at inopportune times, but in terms of fitness, energy, and room for improvement, give me a young team on the rise over an old team about to falter every day and Sunday. Just as they increasingly perform better in second halves of games under Pochettino due to superior fitness, look for them to perform better in the second half of this season as well.
- With the possible exception of Liverpool, who were forced into a series of early away fixtures because of the Anfield renovation, no other top side has played as many tough away games in this first half. Spurs have played at Chelsea, Arsenal, Man Utd, Everton and Southampton—5 of the 7 best teams in the league besides themselves. Those all become home fixtures in the second half. In its last season expect White Hart Lane to become a veritable cauldron as winter turns to spring, particularly against the giants of the league.
- Against the above, one can point to lack of European distraction for Liverpool and Chelsea, the managerial pedigree of Mourinho and Guardiola, and the Wengerian ability to fail at every other challenge save pipping us in the final weeks for 2nd, 3rd or 4th Thursdays in the Europa League have challenged Spurs before—the Champions League/Wembley failure sends us down that same road.
But the simple truth is we are as good as all of them. The Chelsea game could easily have been drawn or won. We have thumped both Manchester teams at the Lane in the past year. Arsenal have yet to beat a Poch-coached Spurs side in a league fixture. And while Liverpool seem to have our number in recent years, every game between the two is played at the type of intense level that suggests equity and similarity—and we defend better. This past weekend Spurs were handed the toughest task—an away fixture vs an always competitive Southampton side—knowing each of their rivals had already won. And they responded with a 4-1 victory.
More importantly it is time for the side supposedly always “under the radar” to basically tell the world of the Premier League—journalists, commentators, opponents, and the like—to bugger off. What began at Stamford Bridge last May must continue. We may have lost—or drawn, actually—that battle but not the war. On that night these players stood up to some bullies and said “we ain’t going anywhere”. Feed off the disbelief. Use it. Show them once. Twice. And again and again. There’s nothing to lose because if we fail, we’re Tottenham, lads. But if we break through it might just be a sea change and they won’t be able to send us away.
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