It should feel comforting that after nearly two months and tons of high-stress minutes away from the club that Tottenham Hotspur and its main contributors feel exactly the same as before the World Cup...until remembering that there is much from the first stretch of the season that would be great to forget.
Glass half full, it is nice that Spurs returned to Premier League action relatively healthy and with stars like Harry Kane and Dejan Kulusevski coming right back into form, but if the overall level of play is going to look the same as the season’s first 15 matches — and 16th against Brentford on Monday — then it is hard to be too positive right now.
Somehow, Tottenham remains in the top four, but the month ahead brings some daunting fixtures. That means dropping points against the bottom half of the table needs to stop quickly if Spurs want to qualify for the Champions League once again. A lot of season is left, but no time like a new year to actually start performing.
Tottenham Hotspur (4th, 30pts) vs. Aston Villa (12th, 18pts)
Date: Sunday, January 1
Time: 9:00 am ET, 2:00 pm UK
Location: Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, London, England
TV: Peacock Premium (USA), Sky Sports Main Event
Aston Villa entered the break hot, winning three of the final four including a 3-1 victory over Manchester United. However, a home defeat to Liverpool on Boxing Day is probably more representative of Villa’s season, which includes a bottom-five goal difference and just nine points through the first 10 matches.
Of course, this recent turnaround has coincided with the hiring of everyone’s favorite manager, Unai Emery. The hope is that Emery can get Villa back to the top half of the table and also unlock a disgruntled Philippe Coutinho, who is goalless through 13 appearances. While things seemed to be headed in the right direction for Villa, Spurs are certainly the better side and should fare well at home.
Watching the highlights of last spring’s dismantling at Villa Park is a sad reminder of how great Heung-Min Son can, and arguably, should be. The once-clinical attacker was decisive and lethal in this hat-trick performance, but that level of play has completely dissipated this season.
It seems Spurs are resigned to hoping that Son and his fellow starters eventually figure themselves out and just start playing better. There is talent at nearly every spot in the starting XI, but that has clearly not led to sufficient results. The return of Cristian Romero, Rodrigo Bentancur, and Hugo Lloris this weekend will help, but even with these three players for the earlier part of the season, Tottenham has been frustrating.
As desperate as it may seem to simply wish that the current players will start performing better, it might be even more foolish believing that Daniel Levy will start throwing around cash the way that Antonio Conte wants to enhance the squad. Either way, significant change are unlikely, meaning the current setup is going to have to find a way to beat Villa and start the year off right.