Spurs beat Manchester City with shedloads of talent, a bit of luck and overflowing with heart and soul. They faced the challenge with clear heads and not a trace of fear in their eyes. Bring them on, bring them all on.
Nobody predicted us to be second with 12 games left, 2 points off the top and 10 ahead of 5th. It has made a substantial impression not only on the table but also on the media with Sky positively creaming themselves during and after the match. Yet the biggest impact has been on Spurs fans. Always loyal but surely this has exceeded all our expectations. Tottenham On My Mind is about support and supporters as much as the team. Last season and the beginning of this, people would whisper lest the secret would get out, look, it doesn’t feel the same any more. Old school fans, in their forties, fifties and beyond, a lifetime of support, weren’t getting the buzz as much.
The change in mood is the most remarkable feature of an extraordinary season. The enthusiasm and commitment as much as some outstanding football has swept us up in a tide of love and affection, and let’s call it by its true name because love is what it is. Fans talk with tenderness about players and a manager who care almost as much as we do. They know what the Hotspur, the one and only Hotspur, means. They play attacking football the Spurs Way, the way we have always played when we have been successful. They most certainly do not sit back and wait for the other team to die of boredom. Let’s hope some glory follows. Now, those conversations say, whatever happens, this is the best season in donkeys’ years, happy however it turns out. Me? I’m just a little overcome.
The significance of the win can’t be exaggerated and goes way beyond the three points over one of our main rivals. Our results against teams below us have kept us hovering around the top four in the past rather than taking points from those up above and joining in the party. That’s why the home defeat to Leicester rankles still, especially as it was to a set-piece goal and an error by the player who has been this season’s true game-changer, Toby Alderweireld.
Memories of going to City with Harry Redknapp. An outside chance of a win on the back of a little spurt of results first faded as we went two down then suddenly everything became possible when Bale put the ball into the top corner. At 2–2, Bale slid the ball across the box and Defoe’s outstretched foot failed to connect by a fraction of a fraction. Balotelli came on, stamped on Parker, stayed on to score a late winner. Ironically this was also a mistake by our best defender, Ledley King.
It’s a long season but ours turned on that match and that moment. Momentum and confidence were lost along with the points. Above all perhaps, that imponderable, nebulous but real, the feeling that despite everything, things weren’t going our way. Contrast that with a win built on the oh-so-tangible foundations of hard work, skill and motivation, but ultimately secured by a dodgy penalty and a late breakaway. Times are changing.
This is a side rooted in preparation and planning. Pochettino is an outstanding manager, meticulous in all aspects and a master of the four elements of management, the physical side in keeping the squad super-fit, tactics, choosing/buying the right players and motivation. I’d seldom argue that final whistle celebrations are a match highlight but if you have not already done so, catch the video of Poch congratulating his men in front of our jubilant away fans. One of those excerpts that we should all keep on our computers and play it when we feel down. Truly heartwarming, totally genuine. No choreographed celebrations or gurning down the steady-cam.
Moreover, MP makes preparation fun. He uses it to inject elan and flair into our play rather than stifle it. Comparatively little of that on show in a second half where we were on the back foot after City equalised. 1–1, half an hour left, strap yourself in for a bumpy ride. Yet this time Spurs produced the passage of play that turned the game. Despite our possession and ability to attack, Spurs remain thrilling on the counter, when teams come out and leave space behind. For all his newly found endeavour and ability on the ball, Lamela’s memorable defining skill is not the rabona but an angled pass delivered from a central position between 20 and 30 yards from goal. Once more he delivered, the perfection of the pass exceeded only by the mastery of Eriksen’s finish. He had a fine game all round and capped it by being the man furthest forward as well as the calmest man on the pitch. Cue bedlam in the away in the away end and bedlam in a Kent living room.
Pochettino has set the defining characteristics of this team too. My memories of the first half are a moment of pressing where a City player was trapped by the touchline 40 yards from his goal, 5 Spurs men as one descended on their prey. Or Walker sprinting back 40 yards to intercept a pass. Alderweireld, two tackles in less than 10 seconds as the fearsome Ageuro attacked deep in our box. This is Pochettino’s Tottenham. Our Tottenham.
We played so well but made few chances, in contrast to the Watford game where we made a hatful. We took the big one that came our way and I guess this is the way it will be until the end of the season, few chances so take them when they come along.
For all the planning, a moment beyond our control shifted the balance of power in our favour. Mark Clattenburg no doubt has suffered a decade of sleepless nights and self-doubt since he did not give the Mendes ‘goal’. On Sunday, he chose to exorcise the guilt. The only explanation, surely.
I like City’s fans. Like Spurs they are loyal from way back and their rivals have had the better of things for too long. Unlike us they have suffered the indignities of a double relegation. I’m less sure about their underachieving team despite the presence of two of my favourite non-Spurs men, Silva and Ageuro. Highly significant therefore that they needed the anger of a wrongly-given penalty to motivate them. Spurs on the other hand are powered from within, a determination to do well right from the off regardless of anything else that occurs. That motivation is hard to create but endures because it comes from within. Spurs are self-motivated. It is a huge, crucial difference that could be decisive in the run-in.
Another thing – in the past Pochettino has lacked a Plan B, how to change things if Plan A doesn’t work out. On Sunday, we saw how this has changed. No side can press intensely for 90 minutes. None of the pressing teams would think of even attempting this. On the hour, under pressure, we fell back into two other formations to suit the state of the game, firstly defending from within our half then near the end refusing to shift from our patterns 35 yards out. Defensive lines remained steadfast – we would not be pulled out to leave a gap.
And Hugo, under-employed, at the death a fingertip was enough to tip the ball away on the goal-line. I am convinced he got to that first because he wanted it more. The motivation runs from back to front.
How’s this for a story? Wimmer in his fourth start, fearless and mighty. No one in the media picked it up. They’ve begun to take our excellence for granted.
Tonight the Europa League resumes its role in draining the joy from football. As I have said repeatedly, it does not have to be that way and in an ideal world I’d like to see Spurs aim to get as far as possible in what should be a respected competition. But by now you would have seen the stats that Spurs could play another 27 games before the season ends whereas Leicester have 12. Shades of 1982 when hopes of not only the title but an unlikely treble sank in the White Hart Lane mud. Over Easter we played 8 matches in 12 days if memory serves.
Every time I get to this point in a blog I tell myself to simply type, ’and in the Europa League’, every time I can’t stop myself from adding a paragraph about the injustice, not so much to Spurs but to football, because it is wrong, it is avoidable and it infuriates me. Earlier this week the FA were talking about ending cup replays. So their solution is to devalue still further the uniqueness of a special competition. Never mind a single leg semi-final, I would get rid of the League Cup altogether. It long since outgrew its original purpose of generating more income for clubs and raising the profile of the Football League. Compensate all 92 teams with television money and give more publicity to a completion for sides outside the PL with a Wembley final. The extra EL place for a league finish would keep interest going longer too.
Back to the point. Sticking to my EL strategy outlined at the start of the season, I would send a decent team to Florence but hold back the spine. Mason and Bentaleb could yet be key to our chances of success this season. That is a strong central midfield line-up, last season’s first choice in fact. Son up front, Lamela, Chadli and Carroll behind him, we have excellent full-back options and Vorm in goal. Vertonghen’s injury exposes the comparative lack of cover at centre half so Wimmer plus Alderweireld, enabling our spine to take well-earned R and R, i.e. Kane, Dier, Eriksen, Dembele, Lloris and Alli. As if we needed another reminder of Pochettino’s expert player management skills but that is a strong side where only two players, Ononmah and Vorm, are short of first-team game time and all of them bar Dier/Alderweireld will benefit from the match.