Last night my heart nearly burst out of my chest, I was so proud of my team. Spurs took on the champions-elect and outplayed them in every aspect of the game. Two headers from Dele Alli either side of half-time, put away with the power and finesse of a master amidst the frenzy of this derby . He’s a natural. He’s a hero. He’s twenty years old.
Last night my lungs emptied of breath, my throat turned red-raw in the chill night air. Get behind the team. Give everything. 12th man. Except Spurs, these Spurs, didn’t need a 12th man. 11 were too good for the blues.
And they needed no exhortation to give everything, because their motivation comes from deep inside. They want to be here, at our club, want to play for this manager because he looks after them, just as we look after them too. Dele scores and buries himself in the crowd. I get the safety issues, the booking, but he’ll be remembered almost as much for his reaction as the excellence of his goal. These days players bask in the adulation. They celebrate with choreographed in-jokes or luxuriate in the marvellousness of themselves. Giroud does a little dance instead of trying to win the game, because he’s just so wonderful so look at me. It’s the selfie generation oozing with narcissism. He could jump back and kiss himself.
But Dele’s first reaction is to join with the supporters and share the joy. We give to each other. Which comes, first, the fans lifting the team or the team lifting the fans? At Tottenham it’s seamless, one and the same. The players get it, get what it means to us. They are well-paid but not chasing the cash alone. It’s theirs, it’s permanent and it’s a force that could power them on to greater things, greater than even this performance, the finest of Pochettino’s era and arguably the best of the last 20 years.
Coming into this match on the back of a good run, Spurs had to lift their game to compete, or so the pre-match discussion would have it. But for this Spurs, competing isn’t good enough. They chewed up these platitudes and spat them in the faces of their opponents. They had to dominate, and they got at it from the kick-off. Our opponents had no room, no space to move or time to think. Tackling, intercepting, pressing, nipping at heels, Spurs were right at it.
Wait for it to ease off. This is Tottenham after all. Nah, not having it. It eased off only we dictated it would, in the second half when tactics changed and we cut out the high press in favour of denying space forty yards out. Disciplined, organised, alert. In control. We ran this game. We shaped the tempo, the tactics, the shape. The temperature the Chelsea kit was washed at, perhaps. That’s how much we determined the play and pattern of this victory.
This is the derby of bitterness and bile. The venom in the stands is matched apparently in the respective boardrooms. Spurs went about the act of revenging last season’s away draw with remarkable calm, their sense of purpose rising above the frenzy and foment. I can’t recall a time when they have remained so focussed when under so much pressure for 90 minutes. Nothing would get in the way of playing their very best football, all the the time. Nobody stepped out of line. There are no weak links.
It shows how far we have come in such a short period of time. At the Bridge, Tottenham disintegrated. (They still didn’t beat us, mind). After the dust settled and they washed the blood from the pitch, we said the real test was if Spurs could learn from this. Yesterday we were ice-cool in N17. Maybe though we’ll look back and see the recent away win at Southampton as significant. Poor in the first fifteen minutes, we lifted ourselves as a team and took back control even though we never played especially well.
Chelsea didn’t fancy the pressure as much. I could see it in their eyes in the second half. Hazard, world-class, missed a great early chance then drifted around in a fog of frustration rather than being consistently creative in the pursuit of a goal. Costa and Pedro had a public and protracted spat in the first half. Daniel Taylor, a fine football journalist, wrote in today’s Guardian that this showed how motivated they were. To me they looked like petulant schoolboys more concerned with being right than winning the match. I wouldn’t swap them for my Spurs.
Spurs were on top in a tight first half. Eriksen whizzed a shot past the post and Alderweireld, I think (I was there so haven’t seen a recording) failed to get his toe on the ball in the 6 yard box. Rose played a prominent part in our attacks and flew back like a man possessed to tackle and harry whenever the ball came near our box. Dembele bestrode the midfield like a conquering warrior. His run generated a stabbed pass to Kane rather than the usual blocked shot but it was a fraction heavy. More please.
Just before half-time, we drew breath. Time to be grateful for what we had achieved and go again after the break. Then Walker pushed up on the right. His way was blocked but it gave Eriksen more space because he had occupied a couple of defenders. Eriksen crossed. We don’t do crosses well, normally. But suddenly Dele is frozen in mid air. We’re right behind the arc of the header, curling away, the keeper’s arched back in despair, trying, flailing, failing to touch the ball. In a split second I can track the ball, see the keeper and begin to think, hang on, that’s going in, isn’t it. It’s in, it’s really in.
Dele left the field with 33,000 voices singing his name at the top of their voices. Listening to Talksport on the way home, John Cross from the Mirror praised him to the hilt, adding that Spurs could not hold onto him for long. Wherever in the world he goes, however long he plays, he won’t ever hear noise like that again, never be as close to the fans as in that instant, never feel as good about himself. He knows this is where he belongs, where his potential, destiny even, can be fulfilled. So why should he leave.
Chelsea began the second half brightly, the only period where they matched us. In the past, we would have folded, and have done so against lesser teams. This Spurs, Pochettino’s Spurs, kept playing. Walker again, taken out the game but touching the ball back to Eriksen. This cross was a few yards closer to the far post, Dele rose again to nod it across the keeper from a tough angle.
And that won the match. Lloris by my count had only a single save to make. Spurs meanwhile took both the chances created. Our defending was out of this world. Vertonghen excelled, Alderweireld was masterful, Rose and Walker as good at the back as they were going forward. All man of the match performances. Normally. Except this time Victor Wanyama’s second half was out of sight, the best of the best. He smoothly dropped into the back four or timed his intervention impeccably. All this on a booking too. Out of sight.
Last night Mauricio Pochettino received the ultimate accolade for any manager, the entire stadium (bar 3000 in the corner) singing his name. More than tactics, it is having players with the wit and in-game intelligence to perform in the white-hot heat of battle. I’ve read three match reports this morning written by football journalists. Each complimented the formation, each characterised it differently. 3-4-3, 3-5-2 or 3-4-2-1, take your pick. These apparent contradictions in fact reveal the truth, that the key is flexibility, adjusting to the position of team-mates and opponents in respect of the ever-changing position of the ball. For Poch, three at the back is an attacking formation, designed to achieve his over-riding aim to get the ball and get it forward.
As Jimmy Hughes once said, it ain’t what you got, it’s how you use it. In the second half, Spurs fell back, the high press largely replaced by a shutting down of space 35 yards from our goal. The back three rippled with movement as they covered for each other, punctuated by bursts of power as they fought to be first to every ball. Vertonghen and Alderweireld in particular were strong. Both made a series of immaculate tackles in and around the box – the nerve that takes when some of the best dribblers in the league come at you. Wanyama slipped in between them to cover any remaining gaps, late on Walker and Dier chose not to dive in, because that was the right option at that moment. Decision-making in the heat of battle.
At the same time, the three can see what’s being played out in front of them. They’re happy to take advantage of any space. I’d have been happy if Toby and Dier had stayed at home when they both made winger-type runs in the last 10 minutes, but this is what they do regardless of the time on the clock. If the chance is there, take it. If we have them outnumbered at the back, push one more forward. That’s our philosophy, push on, always push on, the new Spurs Way, same as the old way.
Give everything, be contenders, take on all-comers and give it right good go. This is what I want from my team, it’s all I ask. If they give everything and don’t scale the heights, so be it. On this outstanding showing, Spurs don’t know just how far and how high their potential can take them. A thrilling, memorable, life-affirming night at the Lane that ranks with the best of them. I love this team. Bloody love them.