With the draw at Hull on Saturday after the embarrassing thrashing at home against Liverpool, the cynical refrain of many a Spurs fan was out in full throat yet again. Like the melodic chirping of the spring cricket, the cries of gloom and doom are the sounds that inevitably mark the start of the Premier League run-in for the fans of our lilywhite warriors.
And for good reason.
Spurs have seemingly made a tradition out of giving their fans (and surely themselves) Champions League hope until the final month, then falling perilously and heartbreakingly short of the final spot. Except, that is, for that one time where we actually finished fourth and made into the Champions League. We got to see Gareth Bale’s coming out party and the start of his rise toward being the most expensive transfer in history. And, you know, there was that other time where we got Chelsea’d, but let’s not talk about that.
Instead, let’s think progressively and reflect on where we are and where we’re going and, most of all, why, indeed, there is hope to be had.
Let’s start with injuries as those have often been the thorn in Spurs’ sides down the stretch. While Lamela is still out with injury, some of our bigger injury concerns are looking to correct themselves on short notice. Andros Townsend and Moussa Dembele are back from injury and could see action on the pitch as early as Sunday at White Hart Lane against Everton. Sandro appears to also be on his way back as Tim Sherwood confirmed this week that the Beast was back in training.
All three of these returns are marvelous for Spurs. We can argue and disagree all day about who we’d like to see in the lineup, but the fact of the matter is that depth is what carries you through the rough parts of you campaign and each of these players, Townsend included, should be welcomed back with open arms.
Of course injuries can always happen, especially with derbies against Arsenal and Chelski on the horizon. The fact of it is, though, having Vertonghen back, as well the lot mentioned above, certainly bodes well for the run-in.
Say what you will about Tim Sherwood, but he’s handling the immense pressure of the Spurs job quite well for a 45 year-old first-time manager. He may not be the cleverest of tacticians, but he’s been a great man manager thus far. Adebayor is having a renaissance under his tutelage and Nabil Bentaleb has done quite well after being thrown into the spotlight. As for the rest of the squad, tensions seem to have eased. Of course this – the most competitive Premier League campaign in recent memory – is certainly not a good one for the nerves, Spurs have been playing some of their most alert, exciting, and free flowing football of the past two seasons. It’s been a real joy to watch. I can’t say that I’m convinced that Sherwood will keep his job if we fail to clinch fourth (or even if we do), but I have to give a five-star approval for the job he’s done thus far (sans the City game which, honestly, wasn’t even his fault).
There was quite a bit of excitement and silver-lining celebration at the end of last season. Though Spurs failed to qualify for the Champions League by just two points, our dapper new manager had taken us to our highest points total in our history in the Premier League. Not even a year later and the man’s been sacked, we’ve got a new sheriff in town, and we sit in 6th place on 44 points.
Now, I know that we aren’t playing the exact same fixtures in the exact same order, but there is something to be said for this:
Last year, after 24 games played, Spurs were in 4th place with 42 total points. Forty-two! And we were on the way to hitting our highest points total in our Premier League history. Here we are now, at 24 games played, and we’ve got 2 more at 44. I’d like to direct your attention to this 24 game table comparison with last season. Arsenal basically flipped with United and everyone else has gotten a bit better.
Which leads me to my biggest point, and the most salient one, the run-in.
For me, Spurs have an amazing outlook for the rest of the season. Don’t get me wrong, there’s an excruciating stretch in there, but the fact is we have a really good chance to lock down some key points and move above Liverpool and Everton for good. Let’s take a quick preview of the remaining fixtures on our plate:
2/9 Everton – Though Everton are fine form this season, Spurs have played well against them at home for some time now, not having lost at White Hart Lane since 2008. A draw is the more likely of the scenarios, but it’s not unthinkable that Spurs clinch all three and move level with Liverpool by week’s end.
2/12 @ Newcastle – Spurs always seem to struggle at St. James Park, having won just twice there in the Premier League in the past 10 years – in 2004 and in 2008. On just two days’ rest, this one has all the makings of a dammitineedtobreaksomething match.
2/23 @ Norwich – The teams are 2-2-2 since the Canaries’ return to the Premier League in 2011. That said, Norwich are in a very difficult time at the moment, having won just twice in their past ten and only once in the new year.
3/2 Cardiff – The two sides have only met once in the Premier League and just four times in the past 35 years. The last time Spurs lost to Cardiff was in 1977, the last home loss was in 1954. The last time Spurs failed to win against Cardiff during a home league match was a 1-1 draw in 1955.
3/8 @ Chelsea – This fixture starts Spurs’ run of four very difficult matches. Chelsea have been bipolar this year and a point is there for the taking. They also have one of the best squads and there is potential for another embarrassing loss. There is this, however: Spurs have played well at Stamford Bridge in the past two seasons, drawing both times and coming quite close to winning in stoppage time both times.
3/16 Arsenal – This one needs no introduction. The NLD is one of the most agonized-over matches for Spurs. As fans, we know the win is always there, but so is the constant fear of defeat. A positive note going into this match is the fact that Spurs are undefeated in the last five Premier League games at home against Arsenal, winning 3 and drawing 2.
3/23 Southampton – The Saint have struggle mightily since their hot start, only managing wins over 3 of the bottom 5 teams in their last ten. Spurs have also won all three matches against Southampton since their return to the Premier League.
3/30 @ Liverpool – This could well be the match that determines our shape for the final stretch and whether or not we can make it. Luis Suarez and his strike partner are cooling off from their hot first half, but they could always get hot again. Spurs are 1-1-1 in the last three trips to Liverpool. If we’re still all bunched around fourth with Liverpool and Everton, a hard fought draw could boost confidence and key us to a strong finish in the favorable final 6 games.
4/5 Sunderland – Sunderland have been playing well lately, but they never seem to do well at White Hart Lane. Spurs have won every Premier League match against Sunderland with the exception of 2008, when they could Spurs with their pants down in the second game of the relegation-threatened season.
4/12 @ West Brom – Spurs have won their last two trips to The Hawthorns and haven’t lost their since 2008. Not to mention the fact that West Brom have the lowest win total in the league with just 4.
4/19 Fulham – Spurs have only lost to Fulham twice in the past ten years. One of those was at Craven Cottage, the other was, unfortunately, last year. Were it not for that loss, Spurs may very well have clinched fourth and had a more meaningful match midweek next. Certainly, with the thoughts of last year’s loss and the subsequent fallout, and in-contention Spurs side will do everything to avoid such a repeat.
4/26 @ Stoke – Spurs have had moderate success against Stoke at the Britannia, winning three of the last four. Stoke has had a bipolar season and this one could hinge on squad health and player/manager determination.
5/3 @ West Ham – Spurs inexplicably lost to the Hammers in the home fixture this campaign. That aside, our record against West Ham is quite good and we haven’t lost at the Boleyn Ground since 2006. Again, squad health and that Tim Sherwood "man management" may be what’s needed to get three points here. Not to mention that West Ham took that win at White Hart Lane and turned into a terrible season with just four other wins.
5/11 FINAL DAY (home) Aston Villa –As is seems to go in recent years, Spurs could enter this match with enough points to clinch fourth with a win or a Liverpool/Everton/etc. loss/draw. And what a brilliant match. Spurs have only lost once to Aston Villa in the past 10 years at home. Any given day, to be sure, but this is a good match to have.
-In case you didn’t notice, 7 of our last 11 games are against clubs in the bottom 10. That’s a pretty good way to finish the campaign if you ask me.
The Other Clubs
We have a rough stretch of four in the middle, but so do most of the other clubs:
Arsenal: Spurs, Chelsea, City, Everton (plus possibly UCL matches)
City: United, Arsenal, Southampton, Liverpool (plus possibly UCL matches)
Chelsea: no back to back games against top four contenders (plus possibly UCL matches)
Everton: Arsenal, United, Southampton, City
Liverpool: Not many back to back, but they do have a stretch where every other game is: United, Spurs, City, Chelsea, and all the in-betweens are away matches, which should be a tough stretch.
United (fwiw): United’s run-in isn’t too challenging, but they’ve yet to deal with their seconds fixtures with Arsenal, City, Everton, and Liverpool. (plus possibly UCL matches)
The Europa League
I want a trophy. But honestly, beating Dnipro and getting so Europa League success means nothing to me. I’d just as soon throw the youth squad out there and focus all of our attention on the league.
Having said that, I wholeheartedly disagree with those people saying that we should shoot for 4th or 6th place, but avoid 5th at all costs.
Lest we all forget, the Europa League actually means something next year. The winner is AQ for the following year’s Champions League which finally gives Spurs an extra outside shot at qualification. You may not agree, but I think that’s too important a chance to just squander because we hate the distraction.
Sorry this is so long. I’ve seen so much negativity that I felt the need to give an optimistic voice (an angel’s advocate, if you will).
I know that the odds are long and that we seem to have so many false starts ate a successful run. The truth is, though, that the squad we have is completely capable of clinching fourth, or even third.
Winter is a dark, cold, dreary, and gloomy time. But spring brings hope. Look up. The skies are clearing and there’s sunny days ahead for Tottenham Hotspur.