There is an obvious drama in Tottenham Hotspur losing at Burnley on Saturday. Headlines following the match talked of a title challenge either suffering a setback or of Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino saying the race for the title is over. For some, it feels a bit like a version of a so-called same old Spurs, falling short when the moment seemed to favor them. After all, sitting six points behind the league leaders is almost never good news, less so when March is approaching.
Spurs losing to Burnley is certainly an unexpected event. The team never did get into a rhythm at the Turf Moor despite Harry Kane’s return and probably boasting its healthiest squad all season, only missing Dele Alli. Yet, as Spurs sit in third with seven losses, a bad result does not come completely as a surprise. This is not necessarily the result of getting used things not going Spurs’ way on a small or large level; it’s just part of the story of the way the season’s panned out up to this point.
Tottenham is in a bizzare in-between land this season, somehow the unlucky overachiever that is also the victim of its own fate. At this point, the team is on pace to have a point total worthy of being Premier League champions in many past seasons, but sit firmly in third place. This comes only after not adding anyone to an already thin squad and going through an injury-plagued season, and despite all of that, the team has been within touching distance of the top spot. Yet, some of those problems are of their making; perhaps with a little bit more depth in one or two areas, the team might have been able to turn one or two of those seven losses into a few more points somewhere along the line.
Some of how the 2018-19 season has shaken out is ultimately predictable, and has been since the day the summer transfer window closed. The Premier League title, against every other team in the top six, all of whom actually added to their already strong squads, was probably not feasible. A cup competition, which at this point will not be a domestic one, was probably the best shot at silverware. An actual semblance of a title race in the Premier League, especially in a season where Pochettino had forced to play players in roles that do not suit them, was hardly imaginable.
That, of course, does not mean that once Tottenham had a chance that the team should not have acted accordingly. Spurs should not have lost to Burnley, and maybe they should not have lost to Wolverhampton Wanderers in December, either. Those are the types of results you do not want if you want a shot at the title, but also ones that the team would not want regardless of that aspiration. In a larger sense, the team has not squandered any grand opportunities for greatness, and was maybe never in the position to do that. The truth is that matches have gone poorly for Spurs; the season has not.
Perhaps Spurs’ biggest failure, though, is in the team’s progression from last season to this one. It is essentially a requirement in sports, and in certain places outside of it, that a team has to get better or face the consequences. Weirdly, Spurs might have simultaneously gotten better, in terms of league point total and Champions League finish, and not gotten better at all — the squad and management is just as good as it was. The bad news is that the team was well-positioned to take a leap in between last season and this one and did not take its chance. The good news is that the sky did not fall, and that there will probably be another opportunity to take that leap when May comes.