Surviving the Month of Death

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When the fixtures are released at the start of the season, there’s always one month that causes fans to work out how many points they will hypothetically drop.

Between January 31st and the end of February, Tottenham were scheduled to play Manchester United and Arsenal at home, Liverpool and Crystal Palace away. Plus, likely an FA Cup 4th Round fixture and any potential Champions League knockout games.

Spurs found out in December that as a reward for winning the hardest group in the Champions League they would be playing last year’s finalists and 12-time Serie A champions, Juventus, in the Round of 16.

So how does one prepare for a month like this? Well, not the way Tottenham did.

We ended January with 1-1 draws against struggling Southampton and League Two Newport County.

As well as throwing an extra fixture into the mix, requiring best-striker-in-a-generation Harry Kane to come off the bench and salvage an 82nd minute equaliser against Newport did not fill many fans with confidence heading into a month where we faced some of the cream of Europe’s crop.

Spurs first hosted Manchester United, where former Arsenal hero/villain (delete as applicable, Gooners) Alexis Sanchez was set to make his Premier Debut for the Reds and almost certainly score against us.

But Tottenham laid down the third earliest marker in Premier League history when Christian Eriksen opened the scoring after 11 seconds, and Phil Jones’ own goal gave us one of our most comfortable victories over United for a long time.

Next, to Liverpool – a side whose front three have terrorised every single defence in the league this season – and found ourselves 1-0 down in under three minutes thanks to Mo Salah.

But a Victor Wanyama wonder-strike (nailed on Spurs goal of the season, by the way), missed Harry Kane penalty, Salah’s 91st minute probably-winner and finally Kane’s 100th Premier League goal earned us an absolutely mental point we probably had no right to take.

The replay against Newport at home was another potential banana skin and one we didn’t want to slip on just days away from a North London derby. Erik Lamela marked his return with the winning goal and would write himself into Tottenham lore on Saturday afternoon.

In the days leading up to the derby, Tottenham announced for what seemed like the first time this season that every player in the squad was fit. Mauricio Pochettino proved this by naming the same starting XI that faced United and Liverpool just over a week before.

It was a battering. Arsenal’s shiny new toys, Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, produced nothing against a rock-solid Tottenham defence and on a less slippery day Spurs could have netted three or four.

As it was, a 1-0 win with Kane getting the winner and Lamela calling Jack Wilshere a pussy after the final whistle was enough to bring the “Where’s your trophy” brigade out from their mum’s basements – a sure sign the South Londoners are worried about Tottenham’s dominance.

7 points from a possible 9 against United, Liverpool and Arsenal is a return many thought Spurs would not get. Grinding out vital results against top-four rivals who, including Chelsea, have also dropped important points in the last few weeks is something Spurs are not traditionally known for.

But in all of this, one thing has stood out. Mousa Dembele played all but roughly 15 minutes of those three games and looks better than ever. A player many, including myself, wrote off long ago has come back to the fore and has been key in dominating  some of the best midfielders in the league.

With Toby Alderweireld still getting match-fit after injury and Lucas Moura yet to feature in a Spurs kit, it’s starting to look like Tottenham have real quality in depth, something that has been lacking for a long time.

Tuesday’s opponents Juventus have won six straight Serie A titles, back to back Italian doubles, reached the Champions League final twice in the last three years and conceded just once in their last 16 games. It’s the biggest test of Spurs’ season so far by a long way.

But if Spurs have already survived the Champions League ‘Group of Death’, they may just come out of their ‘Month of Death’ unscathed.

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I'm a psychology and sports journalism graduate and the fourth generation of a somehow-still-supporting Spurs family. I can be found tweeting score updates from behind the goal at Wingate and Finchley FC, standing in goal at most five-a-side pitches in North London or talking about goalkeepers from behind a keyboard. Twitter: @ndygerlis

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