Last night’s match between Spurs and Chelsea was scintillating for all the obvious reasons. But the main talking point was Spurs’ “lack of discipline,” as pundits and fans are putting it. Well. There’s no doubt Spurs did lose their heads towards the end, but I detect more than a whiff of hypocrisy and a lack of historical perspective from critics.
In 2014, when Tim Sherwood’s team went to Chelsea and subsequently lost 4-0 in an infamously limp, gutless display, Sherwood exclaimed his Tottenham team lacked “bottle.” At the time—sorry, no offense friends—this was true. That Spurs team and Spurs teams prior to it were rightly fingered for going to big clubs and simply not turning up. They got bullied off the pitch and they deserved it.
Changes were needed after a 6-0 loss away at City, 5-0 home and 4-0 away losses to Liverpool, the aforementioned loss to Chelsea, and two losses in the North London derbies.
It happened in the following campaign in the form of the relatively unknown Pochettino. It was a calculated risk from a chairman famed for sackings, Daniel Levy. But it worked. In the first North London derby, Pochettino faced down Arsenal at the Emirates.
Arsenal never got a rhythm going and Tottenham came away with a respectable 1-1 draw, better than they managed the season before against the same team. What followed was a string of fantastic performances against big teams. 2-1 against Arsenal and, even more impressively, a 5-3 thumping of champions-elect Chelsea.
Pochettino had his men fighting against the big teams, but it was evident there was more to do. A weak showing in the Capital One Cup final against Chelsea highlighted this, as did the subsequent fifth-placed finish.
This season, Spurs have performed thrillingly well. Pochettino is fast becoming one of the most coveted managers in the land, despite Spurs remaining toward the bottom of the Fair Play league, racking up the yellow cards.
There’s a clear correlation between yellow cards and the team’s league position, by the way. Spurs has grown a backbone under Pochettino. They are willing to fight for wins. The team remained near the top in magnificent fashion, playing the best football you could hope to see while maintaining an exquisite defensive record.
But what should be noted is the new sense of determination and the team’s newfound spine, most obvious when playing against Chelsea. Spurs went toe to toe against them, physically, of course. Spurs’ football was streets ahead. Both full-backs were getting stuck in and the midfielders were winning it high up, using their bodies properly.
Chelsea’s players were inevitably attempting to wind up the Spurs boys but to no avail. I’ve always had a secret admiration for Chelsea’s high camp—obviously. But sometimes it falls flat. Spurs raced into a two-goal lead.
In the second half, things boiled over. Reckless challenges did start to appear in the last 25 minutes, but that was down to Spurs’ tendency to play on the edge, partnered with it being a London derby. These things happen.
As John Terry correctly put it, he didn’t believe there should be retrospective action, it was purely the heat of the derby. When you hear the captain of the opposing team say this, you should listen.
The Spurs team are finally showing that they are maturing into men. They were willing to stand up to wind-up merchants such as Costa and Fabregas and not sit back down like the majority of teams do.
Since the game, pundits have slaughtered Spurs, labelling them a disgrace. But these were the same pundits who were so eager to label Spurs a team lacking bottle, whereas Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira were vehemently praised for their at times violent battles.
Spurs have always been the first to get criticised for not turning up, but when they turn up for a game in which everyone is on their backs, they are again criticised. They can’t win—except in the hearts of fans, who are watching their team experience a renaissance of defiant spirit and rippling muscle.
It’s a great time to be a Yid.