Back in 2014 I remember taking an afternoon off work to watch Tottenham play Man City. We started OK, but the matchup prominently involved “Sergio Aguero running at Younes Kaboul in space.” After 15 minutes, Aguero had a goal and City had the lead. By full time, the game finished 5-1 to the visitors, with City adding to an alarming trend Spurs had established in the latter Redknapp years and then continued in the AVB and Sherwood eras: We got trounced by our peers at the top of the league.
In that 2013-14 season alone, here is our record against the four Champions League sides (City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal): 0-1-7. Goals scored: 2. Goals conceded: 27.
It was... not great. In fact, it amounts to an average of .04 points per match, .25 goals scored per game, and 3.38 goals conceded per game. That’s not just “not great,” it’s epically bad.
In Mauricio Pochettino’s first season at Spurs, there were some initial struggles with this big clubs. We lost 3-0 to Liverpool in Poche’s third game in charge and would also fall 4-1 to City and 3-0 to Chelsea in the first few months of Poche’s time at the club.
But here’s a remarkable stat for you: Since we defeated Chelsea 5-3 on New Year’s Day 2015, here’s our record against Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, and Manchester United: 6-7-4. Goals scored: 27. Goals conceded: 21. Per match, that’s an average of 1.47 points per match, 1.6 goals scored per match, and 1.24 goals conceded per match. What’s more, of those 21 goals, six came in two matches alone—the three goals scored by Chelsea in that New Year’s Day game and the three scored by Louis Van Gaal’s United in their season end clash with Spurs at the end of Pochettino’s first season. Since moving Eric Dier to midfield and acquiring Toby Alderweireld, Spurs have conceded more than one goal to a Sky Six rival only twice: In last season’s 2-2 draws with Arsenal and Chelsea.
This weekend’s City victory, though it lacked the eyes of the 5-3 win against Chelsea or the 4-1 win against City last season, actually felt better than any of these increasingly common triumphs the club has enjoyed against their wealthiest rivals. We didn’t simply beat City thanks to some lucky finishing and heroics in goal from Hugo Lloris. We didn’t lean on a bad call to assist us to victory. We simply outplayed a team that was averaging three goals scored per game and that had a perfect league record heading into the match. And we didn’t just beat them, we controlled them. Save for a decent chance that fell to Kelechi Iheanacho shortly after his introduction, City didn’t create any major chances of note. The Spurs defense simply stifled them.
I’ll say more about how that worked, I hope, later this week. But for now let’s enjoy these insane stats and a remarkable reversal of fortune in matches against Sky Six peers. If Pochettino is right in saying that the key for any soccer team is belief, then he has certainly instilled no shortage of belief in this Spurs team.