At a time when most football writers and bloggers are heaping praise on Tottenham, it might seem odd to focus on the downside scenario. What could go wrong? How many more points do we need to accumulate to secure top 4 and, almost more importantly, finish ahead of Woolwich? Where are the potential banana skins? As a Spurs fan, i’m hardwired to be pessimistic.
Some might say that this negativity is holding Spurs back from truly achieving something remarkable. It is certainly true that in the past our ambitions have been effectively limited to 4th place but under Pochettino that has changed, certainly within the club. Our aspirations are greater and there is a belief in the squad that we can challenge at the very top of the table.
However, any long suffering Spurs fans will tell you that if something can go wrong, it usually does. You just need to look at the end of last season, when we managed to achieve our highest league finish for 26 years and still felt gutted at the end of it all. That is why, no matter how well we’re playing and how consistent our form, I can never really enjoy it. I bask in the glory of a victory for a half hour at most after each game. By the time I’ve walked down the High Road and descend the stairs at Seven Sisters tube station, I’m onto the next game. It has been a good weekend but there’s still a lot of football to be played and I won’t allow myself to celebrate. Not until it’s done.
Spurs are on fire at present, second in the league and it is fortress White Hart Lane this season, where we boast the best home record in the Premier League. We haven’t had it so good for many a year and with a youthful team we are hopeful that there is far more to come. Harry Kane is top of the scoring charts – hammering them in from everywhere – and the defence is as miserly as they come (notwithstanding some uncharacteristic sloppiness towards the end of yesterday’s game).
In stark contrast Woolwich are in the midst of a civil war, with demonstrations planned before tomorrow’s dead rubber second leg against Bayern Munich. Currently lying in fifth place, they are tearing themselves apart. The main protagonists on the best sitcom around – Arsenal Fan TV – are calling for wholesale changes. Wenger out. Gazidis out. Keswick out. Kroenke out. The only noise you hear nowadays at the Emirates are the boos at half time and full time, and the clashes of fans fighting each other in the stands. The atmosphere is toxic. And to top it off, their star player appears to be disillusioned, fed up with his manager and teammates and angling for a move away in the summer.
It truly warms the heart to see, but the reality is that if they win their game in hand, they are only three points behind us, albeit with a far inferior goal difference. And we’ve been here before. Oh so many times. If history repeats itself yet again, then they will beat Munich tomorrow night 3-0 and get eliminated in a blaze of glory. That will galvanise them and they will go on a familiar run to secure 4th on the last day of the season at our expense, courtesy of us getting hammered by an already relegated Hull City team. And we’ll have to endure another St. Totteringham’s Day humiliation all over again, sending the Lilywhite half of North London into our annual hibernation from social media – from any form of social interaction in fact – so that we can wallow in self pity until our misery has subsided just enough to enable us to stomach the relentless mockery that will ensue. And for three long months until the start of the following season, I’m filled with anger, despair, disappointment and numbness, generally in that order.
So how could this armageddon scenario unfold?
My main concern is injuries to key players. The bench is weak compared to our top six opponents. With Lamela destined to be out with a mystery hip injury for eternity, Son is our only source of hope amongst the substitutes. We’ve scored two league goals all season off the bench – both from Heung Min Son, against Southampton and Manchester City, the latter being the only one of consequence. I’m a fan of Harry Winks, and his quick thinking yesterday to tee up Dele Alli ultimately won us the game. I have high hopes that he will continue to develop into a very good midfield option for us. But beyond that, our midfield and attacking options outside of the first XI are fairly non existent. Sissoko, Onomah and Janssen have struggled to make any real impact, and although N’Koudou shows glimpses of promise, Pochettino clearly doesn’t fancy him.
In comparison, Manchester City brought Kevin De Bruyne, Nolito and Fabian Delph off their bench yesterday. Take into account the fact they have Kelechi Iheanacho available too and the likes of Gabriel Jesus and Ilkay Gundogan are long term injuries; it demonstrates the uphill battle we are fighting. That in itself is not a criticism of the club as I’m aware we have limited resources with which to compete, especially with the stadium under construction. But in my eyes our squad looks weaker than last season, having released (via sale or loan) Chadli, Townsend, Bentaleb, Mason, N’Jie and Carroll. I wasn’t desperately upset to see any of them leave but in aggregate we seem to have weakened the squad, with Wanyama the only successful addition this season.
We have too many irreplaceable players to get overly comfortable.
Not just injury but a lack of form in respect of key personnel could also be catastrophic. Peaks and troughs have accentuated our season, with barren spells following the Manchester City and West Brom home wins. Fortunately the second of these wasn’t too damaging (other than in Europe), but another poor run could seriously jeopardise our top 4 chances.
Harry Kane won’t be scoring worldies every week and when his goals dry up, which they will at some point, I worry about the supporting cast.
Dele, Son and, to a lesser extent, Eriksen are our only other reliable source of goals. In fact, we’ve only had 9 different scorers in the Premier League this season, and outside of the aforementioned four, the rest have only registered a total of 7 goals. This is comfortably fewer than all of our rivals and demonstrates a worrying reliance on a core group of players. For example, Manchester City have had 14 different scorers and have registered 23 goals from players outside of their top 4. Impressively, a total of 9 players at City have scored three or more.
Arsenal: 13 scorers, 14 goals outside top 4
Chelsea: 11 scorers, 16 goals outside top 4
Liverpool: 12 scorers, 23 goals outside top 4
Man City: 14 scorers, 23 goals outside top 4
Man Utd: 10 scorers, 11 goals outside top 4
Spurs: 9 scorers, 7 goals outside top 4
Similarly, the impact of the absence of Toby Alderweireld earlier in the season demonstrated a real reliance on his presence in defence, and the same goes for the rest of the back 5, for whom the understudies represent a significant step down. We are already feeling the loss of Danny Rose for example, despite a decent showing from Ben Davies against Everton. Trippier is probably the best of the alternatives but Wimmer has struggled to recreate his form towards the end of last season when filling in for Vertonghen, and Cameron Carter-Vickers is still unproven.
With no more European football this term the squad will hopefully have sufficient recovery time between games to reduce the chance of injury, but the worry is still there.
The next run of league games offers an opportunity for us to tighten our grip on a Champions League place before a nasty group of games at the end of April and beginning of May including trips to a revitalised Leicester City and West Ham, and home games against Arsenal and Manchester United. We must make it count. If we can build up a healthy buffer before our trip to the King Power stadium, then maybe I’ll be able to enjoy the last few games. However, the likelihood is that it’ll be nail biting until the end. After all, we’re Spurs – when have we ever done anything the easy way?! As ever, COYS!!!