Pochettino and the end of 'Spursy'

For years on end, Tottenham Hotspur have been labelled as a classic ‘choker’ club; they’d lift you to the most heightened of expectations before throwing you off the top of the mountain without any prior warning, leaving you to hit the ground severely hurt. Looking back, bar the 2009/2010 season, this storyline could be used for the past seven to eight seasons and this is no coincidence.

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In a recent Sky Sports Monday Night Football feature (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uYAhcAqPwO4), Gary Neville discussed the growth of Tottenham under Mauricio Pochettino and how the Argentine, quite literally, had to knock down the house and lay the foundations once again. Before his appointment in June 2014, Tottenham were a mess on the pitch, in the boardroom, the transfer market and even online. But since his arrival, the club has slowly unified and it seems like everyone in N17 is singing off the same hymn sheet. The use of young, English players, the improved transfer policy, the intense training regime, the connection between the fans and the players have all contributed to the best atmosphere felt at White Hart Lane in many a year, with the rickety old building shaking to the sound of ‘Oh When The Spurs’ and ‘Everywhere We Go’ more viciously than in the last five years.

The month of November, however, was a new challenge. Not only would Pochettino have to deal with two Europa League games – and the subsequent ‘hangover’ – but also three, huge London derbies. Spurs’ record before Europe prior to November was good, with two wins and a draw from three post-Thursday night games. However, juggling the European fixtures with the big games against the three bitterest rivals was a challenge unseen at White Hart Lane in a long time. But, in hindsight, it is difficult to see how Pochettino could have realistically done any better. 

The month began with the visit of Aston Villa on Monday 2nd, fresh from the sacking of Tim Sherwood and on the day a former Arsenal man, Remi Garde, took the reins. The Villa players would undoubtedly be pumped up and eager to impress – especially after the bizarre ways and means of former Spurs manager, Sherwood. From the off, the intensity was less evident than in previous games and it was clear that Pochettino was aiming to conserve the players’ energy for the three games in six days that had been dealt to his side. But, unlike certain other Premier League managers, Pochettino got on with the job without moaning – something which he wouldn’t have been wrong to do. The Premier League handed Spurs a ridiculous schedule, as there was no need to wait until Monday night to have this game played. Nonetheless, Mousa Dembélé’s upturn in form saw him open the scoring magnificently before starlet Dele Alli doubled the lead. In the second half, Tottenham had to ride a short onslaught towards the end before Harry Kane swept home the final nail in the Villa coffin.

Anderlecht were the next side to leave empty handed on Thursday 5th. Kane found the net once again before Imoh Ezekiel equalised in the second half. However, Dembélé was the hero once again as he slammed home a winner in the 87th minute, sending the Spurs faithful home smiling just days before the crucial North London Derby on, alas, Sunday the 8th when this fixture could have been a Monday Night game with no concerns for journey times or European ‘hangovers’. Arsenal had been in sublime form in the league but were on the receiving end of a taxing 5-1 drubbing at the hands of Bayern Munich on the Wednesday night. What was to come was something unprecedented. Never before had the travelling Spurs support witnessed an occasion where their side would travel away to Arsenal, dominated the game and only come home with the share of the spoils. From minute one to minute 75, Spurs had Arsenal on the ropes. Kane scored his third goal in two games against Arsenal and his fine finish was only cancelled out by a Kieran Gibbs goal late on, which Hugo Lloris could have arguably done better with. But, regardless, to walk away from the Emirates disappointed with only a point is not in the second nature of Tottenham fans. And thus, fans went into the international break with heads held high, made better by Eric Dier’s England debut vs. Spain on the night of the horrific Paris Attacks. The two week break only got better when Dele Alli took aim against France at Wembley the following Tuesday, a night where football showed it’s true colours, and found the top corner of Lloris’ goal. 

November 22nd, coincidentally the sixth anniversary of the 9-1 thrashing of Wigan at White Hart Lane, saw Tottenham put four past a Dimitri Payet-less West Ham United in what was a near-perfect Pochettino performance. Kane and Toby Alderweireld made it 2-0 at half time before Kane found the net again for the third – and the victory was wrapped up by Kyle Walker’s nonchalant, outside of the boot finish past Adrian. Walker did cost Spurs a clean sheet, giving the ball away sloppily and allowing Manuel Lanzini to slam home a mere consolation goal, with few of his fans left in the terraces to enjoy the moment. But the fixture pile up did not stop there. Spurs then faced a 5,000 mile round trip to Baku to face FK Qarabag in the Europa League. A mediocre game saw a strong Spurs side stroll to a 1-0 win thanks to Kane – of course. 

Sunday 29th saw Chelsea visit the Lane to round off a taxing November period that had, so far, seen Tottenham unbeaten and a draw or better would have created Premier League history for Tottenham – a 13th consecutive unbeaten game. A mundane event, Mourinho’s men left North London with the point they had come for, largely thanks to Asmir Begovic’s saves from Heung-Min Son, Kane and Dembélé. Eden Hazard had Chelsea’s only shot on target, denied by a stupendous low save from Lloris. 

Whilst no month is easy in this division, Pochettino could not really have hoped for a worse schedule and deserves huge credit for cleverly managing the squad through a busy month – but more so considering his side didn’t lose a game all month and extended their unbeaten League run. Now, he can take some solace in the fact that the next two and a half months are much less demanding on his players’ bodies but also their minds.

Spurs travel to West Brom, host Newcastle and then visit Southampton in the next three League games, with a home game versus Monaco preceding the visit of the Magpies. Boxing Day sees Norwich visit the Lane before Spurs travel to Watford and Everton either side of the turn of the calendar year. Spurs then face the FA Cup 3rd Round prior to playing Leicester, Sunderland and Crystal Palace before the end of January. February begins with reverse fixtures against Norwich and Watford before Pochettino’s side look to do the double of Manchester City on February 13th, wouldn’t that be a love fest? 

As is evident, the schedule and difficulty of the fixtures is not as onerous as November and this would be an ideal time for Spurs to climb up the League table. Whilst no game is easy anymore, especially with the influx on money into the smaller clubs, Pochettino will look at the next 11 league fixtures with the aim of picking up as close to 33 points as possible. Whilst this is an extremely difficult target, and one that nobody expects them to achieve, the more points Spurs put on the board now, the more the burden for the end of season run-in is lessened. 

Pochettino’s Tottenham have outlived the tough times, but the true test of how un-Spursy Spurs are now lies here on in. If Spurs reach Valentine’s Day with 50 points, or the base camp of Everest, even more heads will begin to turn in the direction of the sterling job the Argentine has done at White Hart Lane. Then again, they could just throw the fans off the mountain too. 

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