Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs did “a Tottenham Hotspur ” again last Sunday.
While all eyes were fixed on the two heavyweight clashes pitting Manchester versus London, the super efficient team from North London quietly went about their business. Indeed, Spurs flouted any talk of a curse by securing all three points in a closely contested affair at Wembley.
Tottenham out of the gate well in all competitions
Last weekend’s win just adds to Tottenham’s good opening phase this season. The side have enjoyed a bunch of impressive results and performances in the Champions League. Those results are highlighted by the manner in which they swatted aside the reigning two-time European Champions, Real Madrid, last Wednesday (1 Nov).
But even in the Premier League, Tottenham Hotspur, without being at their scintillating best—the sort of form they showed so often last season—have managed to keep pace with the two Manchester clubs. Both of whom boast a far superior wage bill and transfer budget measured in terms of ‘war chest’.
At the time of writing, Spurs are tied for 2d in league play. They sit level on points with Manchester United (23), 8 shy of Manchester City. Pep Guardiola’s men, of course, have lit up the league with a flurry of goals whenever they have taken the field this season.
Steady hand at the tiller
Amidst all the chaos in the managerial world—many hired and then fired at the first instance of trouble—Spurs have shown themselves in good light. Mauricio Pochettino is in his fourth year at the club and despite the lack of tangible success, the Argentine has done enough to deserve credit for the way he has restructured the club from the ground up. He has given them an identity and a team they can be really proud of.
Last Sunday, they produced a performance which was considerably off their best. It was not remotely close to the level they were able to sustain for long periods against Liverpool, for instance, in their outstanding 4-1 home win just two weeks ago.
This time it was Crystal Palace, after all, yet (after all) it was job done.
The home side enjoyed the majority of possession, yet only managed 2 shots on target; one less than the visitors from Selhurst. Roy Hodgson’s side knocked on the door quite a few times in the game, particularly in the second half, only to be denied by an inspired Paulo Gazzaniga who stepped up when it counted. The 25-year-old marked his debut with a performance to remember. It is a familiar theme that has been repeated by most Spurs players under Pochettino in the last two seasons.
When Heung-Min Son scored off his left foot—a cultured finish, curling into the near post—the result was certain. There was no way back for Palace against Tottenham’s quality despite any dip in form.
Winning is Spurs’ new normal
The win is a testament to how far Spurs have come as a football club. Winning without being at their best has now been ingrained into a side once accused of having a soft underbelly.
They have become everything they aspired to be under Pochettino’s tutelage: a strong, athletic, and exciting football side who could eke out ugly results if needs be. More importantly, perhaps, they are also a team that brings through young English players and gives them a chance to demonstrate their mettle at the highest level. Nothing has been more crucial to Pochettino’s success than the system he has employed from the goalkeeper to the forwards, from coaches to kit-men. The manager has so thoroughly put his stamp on the club over these last three and a half years in charge that replacements hardly show any drop in quality on the field. That is exactly what was needed to make Spurs competitive in the PL and UCL.
That was something Pochettino himself commented on after Sunday’s result:
“I am so happy for the different players who came in, people like Paulo [Gazzaniga], who played fantastically well. He is an unbelievable option to have as a keeper and I am really happy for him and his family that he performed like that. It was a tough game for us after Wednesday. [Crystal Palace] were fresh after one week to prepare for the game. We had a few problems after the Madrid game and that is why I am so happy with the victory. I am very pleased with an important three points.”
And that is as controversial as he will ever get.
As long as Pochettino is at the helm, there is no reason why Tottenham should stop being title contenders even though they may yet, on occasion, stall a bit.