Tottenham Hotspur 2017 Review: Changes

Thank God for Harry Kane. This is the third year of writing an end-of-year review on Tottenham and it is still strange. So much happens between one season and the next that reviewing the year rather than the season seems a bit pointless. In 2017, the disconnect between the second half of last season and the first half of this one has been particularly substantial. Luckily, our Harry has made the calendar year fashionable in English football. So, it is time to look back on a year of historic moments, sad goodbyes, and lots and lots of Harry Kane goals.

Reading the 2016 review again, it was clear that there was no expectation of reaching the heights Spurs would achieve in 2017. We had the final months at White Hart Lane to look forward to, but Chelsea had pulled away and there would be no repeat of the previous season’s title push. Or so it seemed.

After entering the New Year with three wins behind us, Spurs traveled to Watford well in touch with the top four. The year began at a blistering pace, already 3-0 up at half-time and Harry Kane getting his first two goals in what would be a record-breaking tally. By full-time, Dele Alli completed his second brace in a matter of days and Younès Kaboul bundled a consolation over the line in stoppage time. An impressive away win, but the much harder test would come three days later at home to Chelsea.

The champions-elect headed to the Lane with the chance to equal the Premier League record of fourteen wins in a row. Yet, filing through the turnstiles, there was an inexplicable confidence. One of our very biggest rivals were coming to our home for the final time – we couldn’t let them steal those bragging rights. A rivalry that had been ramped up to new heights the previous year and would become even more fierce in the following months. In the end, it was surprisingly simple. Two Christian Eriksen crosses, two deadly Alli finishes. The runaway leaders completely outclassed in a classic Poch performance. And there I was in the Shelf, drinking it all in from a perfect vantage point.

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The win bumped us up to third, now seven points behind the leaders. Still a sizeable mountain, but perhaps we could let our minds wander once more.

Momentum continued to gather pace, progression in the FA Cup at Aston Villa’s expense and a rare Ben Davies goal. Even more surprising – avoiding our annual 1-1 draw with West Brom, instead dispatching them convincingly 4-0 with Kane’s first hat-trick of 2017. The relentless start to the year took us to the Etihad as favourites, but we were given a reminder of the dangers of complacency. In truth, we should have lost comfortably. But the grit that had become typical of this side, and a lucky penalty escape, pulled Tottenham through from two goals behind to secure a draw.

More fight and much more drama followed. A good FA Cup draw had us at home to Wycombe, but for the second game in succession we fell two goals behind. Again, Spurs drew level, but the visitors managed to get their noses in front once more late on. A seemingly simple win was transforming into an embarrassment, but ultimately ended as another special FA Cup memory at White Hart Lane. Alli equalised just before stoppage time; Heung-min Son plunged the dagger into Wycombe hearts after seven additional minutes. Classic cup mayhem.

A draw and narrow win over Sunderland and Middlesbrough were less memorable, with Danny Rose picking up an innocuous injury at the Stadium of Light. Pochettino assured us that the fan-favourite would be back in no time.

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In February, Tottenham’s New Year momentum began to stall. Outclassed by Sadio Mané at Anfield and then embarrassed by Gent over two legs as we failed in our Europa League cameo. A dreadful European campaign capped off by Alli’s horrific red card tackle. Two Harry hat-tricks in a week, one in the cup, got us back on track and the main man delivered again with a brace in a relatively comfortable 3-2 win over Everton. Chelsea remained ten points clear, but the level of performance from Pochettino’s men was beginning to outstrip even the heroics of the previous season.

Next came an FA Cup quarter-final; the last time White Hart Lane would host Tottenham’s favourite competition and the protagonists put on a worthy show in their old, creaking theatre. A meeting with Millwall was one for the fans – a throwback to another time, a little extra something in the air. Even without Kane, the goals rained. Six of the very best – Sonny again showing his growing worth with an emphatic hat-trick to silence hateful vitriol spilling from the away end. A long-awaited first goal from open play even came for Vincent Janssen – a special day indeed. 

Winning started to become a habit; Spurs had found a consistency alien to us who had not had the privilege of watching Bill Nicholson’s double winners. Chelsea’s loss to Crystal Palace reignited a flicker of hope. It was only April, but the responsibility of stopping the Premier League trophy return to Stamford Bridge had fallen solely on Tottenham. Our impeccable form since the turn of the year left us as the only resistance to a comfortable leader for the second campaign running.

This stubborn defiance looked likely to whimper before it had even begun – a meek performance was sending Spurs to a 1-0 defeat in Swansea, leaving Chelsea with a comfortable procession to the title. Alli mercifully scored with minutes remaining. And for some reason, despite everything we’ve all experienced, for some strange reason there was a belief. Not just from the players but from one of the most notoriously self-deprecating group of supporters in the land. Noise and expectation dragged the ball towards Swansea’s goal. In stoppage time, Son darted through and poked the ball under the goalkeeper, sparking an explosion fuelled by belief. When Eriksen waltzed in for a third, the celebrations continued, the away end incredulous to the speed of the turnaround. Perhaps it had something to do with the similar feat against Wycombe, but there was a bizarre feeling that day that once we pulled level, a win was inevitable. It was arguably the pinnacle – never have Spurs felt quite so invincible.

Next came Watford at home, and a win much kinder on the blood pressure. One that holds special significance for me though – the last time my dad would go to White Hart Lane after over fifty years of making the walk from Northumberland Park. Son and Alli the difference again, proving Tottenham to now be a team of match-winners, where in the past one would often have to drag his lagging peers over the line. A 4-0 win followed by another 4-0 over Bournemouth a week later, leaving just two games to see out our time at the Lane.

But first, a visit to our soon to be temporary home. A first FA Cup semi-final in five years offered a chance for redemption against the opponent that had embarrassed us in 2012. More than that, it was a game that could determine the fate of not just this competition, but the double. The day out was special – drinks flowed, as did belief. And so too the noise. The white half of Wembley fell silent twice at the boot of Willian, but bellowed as Spurs fought back each time. Like at Swansea, it felt like it could only be Tottenham’s day. This time the hope evaporated. No cup to crown a final season at home, but still a league to fight for, though it felt a lot further away now. Eriksen’s brilliance kept hopes dimly alive at Selhurst Park.

The following game had nothing to do with the title. It was all about the enemy. Those who had inflicted twenty-two years of hurt. What a perfect opportunity to end that. More than that – they could not be the ones to take away the unbeaten record we had sustained in White Hart Lane’s final hour. It was the chance for them to have the last laugh again, but it was snuffed out with cold professionalism. No, Pochettino’s Tottenham were not going to let a significantly inferior team inflict that pain, no matter what the history books said. Instead, Spurs dominated, Kane and Alli did what they do, and St Totteringham’s Day was cancelled. The FA Cup failure had quickly been lost in the rear-view mirror; these players had achieved something that myself and so many others had never even seen in our lifetimes. And they made it look easy.

The hope for a glorious league triumph had already faded since the Chelsea defeat. A first trip to the former Olympic Stadium extinguished any faith that remained. For the second year in a row, we travelled to West Ham and failed to find a performance with any life, slumping to a 1-0 defeat. Chelsea wrapped the title up the following Friday night. It was a numb pain. For the second time in my lifetime Spurs had chased the most unlikely of dreams and for the second time it had ended in heartbreak. It was better that Chelsea won it on that day though. Two days later would see the ninety minutes that had loomed for several years, one of the most significant the club would ever see.

Sunday 14 May.

Not just the defining day of this year, but of any year in Tottenham Hotspur’s proud history. It’s already been covered plenty of times. It was a day to take an extra few seconds to inhale each detail of White Hart Lane. Despite what we know to be in the fabric of our club, it managed to pass without a hitch. Manchester United had so often come and embarrassed us on our own patch, but our players completed their task with now-typical ruthlessness, confirming our home remained the fortress it deserved to be for the final go around. Of course, the poster boy got his goal to complete his reign as the last king of White Hart Lane.

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More importantly, the fans made it their day. Songs for those that thrilled our fathers, others for those worthy few that would be the last to tread on the hallowed turf. Songs filled with love for our club and our home. A pitch invasion to say goodbye, to give us a final spectacular image – one last memory. And finally, a rainbow, either sent by Bill Nic in the sky or somehow manufactured by Daniel Levy, to cap off a day that had delivered both tears and chest-thumping pride. Bliss.

It seemed with a neat bow on the campaign and our farewell, the season was destined to peter out. Harry Kane wasn’t having any of it. 6-1 away to Leicester, four for Kane. Easy. Three days later, 7-1 away to Hull, three for Kane. Can we play 38 more games? Another golden boot for our Harry because as Jon Champion said, goals are his business, his currency. A season of defying expectation concluded in the most curious of manners. A campaign where we scored the most and conceded the least, but still came up short. Oh Tottenham, my Tottenham.

As summer passed, reality dawned that the following season would be very different indeed. The wealthy powers of the Premier League once again countering Pochettino’s masterful coaching by buying the best players for increasingly astounding prices. There would be no impregnable castle from which to defend ourselves this time either. Instead, the giant red bowl that was starting to look like it was, dare we say it, cursed. Never have two seasons so starkly shown how utterly ridiculous these end-of-year reviews are.

Eventually Spurs brought in reinforcements of their own. Paulo Gazzaniga came in to fill the gaping void left by Pau López in the reserves and our hearts. At least he has pretty eyes. Davinson Sánchez arrived to bolster our quota of former-Ajax centre-backs. Juan Foyth arrived without anyone really knowing who he is, (as of January 2018, there’s been little progress on this). One for the future. On deadline day, Fernando Llorente was snatched from under Chelsea’s noses. A seemingly astute signing. And he has pretty eyes.

A year of goodbyes sadly included one of Tottenham’s longest servants. An issue that had not-so-quietly arisen at the end of the season reached its inevitable conclusion. After eight years, Kyle Walker made his way to Manchester City. His time here had been up-and-down, but with some help from the boss he had made himself into the league’s best right-back. Despite a messy departure, Walker clearly still held much affection for the club. That didn’t ease the pain. We had enjoyed a period of general stability and progress, not selling a starter since Gareth Bale, making it even harder to see part of Pochettino’s project depart. In signing Serge Aurier, Spurs acted decisively in finding a potentially capable replacement, but risked causing a rift in the fan base. Early measures were taken to ensure a respectful solution. From the Lane’s touching finale, to protecting the inclusivity of the club, the people upstairs hit the right notes more often than not with their decision-making in 2017.

Thankfully, we managed to deal with our mutinous full-back problem early in the window and headed into the first day of the season completely as planned, without any issues.

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As the new season swung around, instant redemption offered its hand. The ghosts of St James’ Park were exorcised easily enough. Mousa Dembélé was back to running rings around people. That would surely continue through the rest of the year. Alli was involved in an incident and villainised for it – oh well, that probably wouldn’t become a theme. Okay, Kane missed an easy chance, but there was no chance that his August drought would continue for much longer. The demons of 2016 vanquished, next up were those of 2017 – Chelsea and Wembley.

Okay lads, let’s do thi– oh for fu…

It’s fine, there’s plenty of time to fix this. Yes! Do a funny tweet about that one ‘Batsman’.

Still time to get a winne– oh for fu…

Another hugely disappointing result against Chelsea and another game we played well enough to win. It was always going to be difficult against the champions; the next task was to get a win at Wembley under our belts. Burnley would surely be the perfect opponent to get this against and it was heading that way until the 92nd minute.

Okay, this place is definitely cursed. And Kane’s August curse is real too.

On September 1, Kane scored his first goals of the season on international duty, because of course he did – aren’t football narratives hilarious and awful? Back in the Premier League, a mishit cross got him off the mark as we strolled to victory over Everton.

Next up, the Champions League. After drawing Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund, those happy-go-lucky types among Tottenham’s following had already made plans to travel to the unknown plains of the continent to follow our Europa League journey. Realistically, the opener would be the pivotal game as we welcomed Dortmund to Wembley. What followed was possibly the most terrifying ninety minutes of the year. Dortmund zipped the ball around us and started to create a feeling that we might be slightly out of our depth. However, two lightning breaks in the first fifteen minutes either side of a brilliant Andriy Yarmolenko finish had us 2-1 up at halftime. On the hour, Kane – who only scores against muck and hasn’t proven himself in Europe ­– expertly steered his second of the game into the corner. The first giant step had been taken and a landmark win at Wembley finally secured. We had taken pole position in the fight for second place in the group.

With the Wembley hoodoo firmly a thing of the past, we returned three days later… to draw 0-0 with Swansea. No matter, because in the week we completely rid ourselves of the curse with a 1-0 League Cup win over Barnsley. The three people who bothered to watch were no doubt treated to the swashbuckling football that our club is famous for. A return to Stratford was heading towards a routine win until an Aurier red card almost ushered in the greatest comeback of West Ham’s existence. Thankfully, by this point Harry had already scored two. Spurs were starting to find some rhythm, even winning comfortably away in Europe, 3-0 at APOEL. Harry scored three. Another easy away win followed, this time 4-0 at Huddersfield. Harry scored two.

A hideous win over Bournemouth preceded a trip to the Bernabéu, the scene of our Champions League demise in 2011. This time, we brought a much better team, but so did Real. The double European champions had quite comfortably been the best team on the continent in the last year. This would provide the perfect test of how far we had come. As it turns out, the answer is a very long way. Llorente and Kane worked well in tandem to disrupt Real’s defence; Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld and the 21-year-old Sánchez were towering at the back; Hugo Lloris was at his gravity-defying best, and in the middle of it all against the world’s two best midfielders, our very own Harry Winks held his own, controlling our tempo and keeping calm amid a storm that easily could have blown him away. A 1-1 draw in the home of the very best. That was one of those nights that really makes you proud.

The schedule would not let up, as Liverpool came to Wembley. 2017 had been a year for righting a few wrongs. We had not collapsed at the end of the season like in the previous year, we went to Newcastle and got the result that we should have in 2016, and we were finally doing ourselves justice in Europe’s grandest competition. For the last half a decade, despite consistently finishing above them, Liverpool had proven to be the team that had our number. Consider that wrong righted. A blistering 4-1 win carried the ecstasy from the Bernabéu through the weekend.

The bubble, as always, had to burst. West Ham came to Wembley, played one of the worst forty-five minutes of football the League Cup has ever seen and somehow managed to come back from 2-0 down to knock us out of the competition. That was hard to forgive. A second-string Spurs had been exceptionally comfortable before managing to throw it away. A trip to Old Trafford provided a chance to regroup. With a quarter of the season played, both sides were level on points and the winner looked likely to be the main challenger to Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, who were already beginning to pull away. The game teetered, but it was United that took the points. A very bad week to follow a very good one.

Then all hell broke loose. The European champions were coming to town. Oh, how it would have been lovely to have one more night under the lights at the Lane against the very team that inspired our tradition of wearing all white in Europe. There was something grand about bringing the great Real Madrid to Wembley though. Despite all their history, all the silverware and domination at home and on the continent, Los Blancos had not once made an appearance at the Home of Football. Tottenham Hotspur made sure they would never want to return.

The arena was packed out and the famous Champions League anthem blared. A night for history to be made. Real started well enough, dominating possession. Cristiano Ronaldo threatened to make tracks in behind, but the creative machine of Luka Modrić, Toni Kroos and Isco could not pierce Tottenham’s armour early on. Spurs’ confidence began to grow and we started making our own way up the pitch. After 26 minutes, Winks, still unnerved by Real’s midfield of superstars, lifted a pass into the path of Kieran Trippier, who’s typically dangerous cross met Alli.

Wembley in raptures, Spurs in front.

And we didn’t look back. In the second half things got better – Alli drifting, Alli scoring. Ten minutes later and it was three. Eriksen, with Modrić poetically in his wake, sliding the ball past Kiko Casilla to start the party. Limbs like never before, 85,000 of them – one of those where you end up in a different row, hugging strangers, screaming for what feels like forever. The moment that Wembley, however temporarily, felt like home. Ronaldo’s consolation created an uncanny mirror image with that night against Inter Milan seven years before. Instead of ‘Taxi for Maicon’, a gleeful ‘ole’ met each Spurs pass, humiliating the twelve time winners of the competition. Dembélé came on to give the most iconic performance since Bale’s against the Italians – a half hour in which he mugged off Modrić and Kroos before trying to kick Sergio Ramos’ leg over the Wembley arch. A night with something for everyone.

Reality soon dawned as Spurs scraped a lucky home win over Crystal Palace. Still a good result after a draining week. Even an eye-catching appearance for Gazzaniga. Paulo one, Pau nil.

It had seemed that Arsène Wenger had finally come across a Spurs manager he couldn’t work out, but in the latest North London derby, Pochettino’s side were outclassed, giving a performance lacking the usual thrust. Newly armed with 280 characters, Twitter became a hotbed for reasonable discussion and analysis centred around long-term perspective.

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A second win over Dortmund provided some much-needed relief. Another remarkable performance in one of Europe’s most fearsome arenas. Spurs had topped a group that so many had expected us to struggle in, displaying a counter-attacking astuteness that had previously been lacking under Pochettino.

The Premier League continued to prove problematic, with two 1-1 draws either side of a midweek loss to Leicester dashing any hopes of another run at the title – with less than half a season played, Manchester City’s relentless form had already left everyone else behind.

Since the draw in the Bernabéu, Llorente had been giving us his best Roberto Soldado impression, but Spurs once more found salvation in Europe as the Spaniard scored his first goal for the club in a 3-0 win. Two more goals for Kane followed in a refreshing 5-1 Wembley win over Stoke; repeatedly hammering Charlie Adam and co. by a four-goal margin has become one of the most satisfying subplots of the last few years. Kane now had Alan Shearer’s calendar year goals record in his sights. Another win under the arch came against Brighton – perhaps we were slightly premature with the whole curse thing.

Then a trip to the champions-in-waiting. No doubt it would be the toughest game in the league all year, but our recent record against City at least provided some hope. This was a team transformed from the one we had faced in the previous campaign however, and even without David Silva the home side were overwhelming in their onslaught. A heavy 4-1 loss. If we hadn’t faced the best team in Europe earlier in the season, we certainly had now. Simply, City were too good, but dropping below Burnley to seventh was too much for many. We travelled to Turf Moor a week later to put things right. Difficult place to go. Not for Harry Kane, especially not when he’s got a record in his sights. Three more goals to tie level with Alan Shearer’s 1995 tally. And one more game to beat him.

The final match of 2017 cast the spotlight on the man that had made the year his own. He’d already had a first child and an engagement, but you feel this was only slightly less important to Kane. It wasn’t long before the pressure was lifted. An easy header to take the record – 37 league goals since the turn of the year. But this is Harry Kane, and he still had seventy odd minutes of the game to go even better and overtake Lionel Messi as 2017’s highest scoring player. So of course, before half-time, he did just that. But this is Harry Kane, so he wasn’t finished yet. He still had fifty odd minutes to complete an eighth hat-trick of the year. So, he did. Dele Alli and Son joined him on the scoresheet after twelve months where both had done their best to keep up with the main man, as Spurs ended the year with an emphatic 5-2 win. 

It has been another tumultuous, mostly thrilling year. One of the most ground-breaking in the club’s modern history, although that seems to be every year lately. Certainly, one of the most unique; absolutely the most transitional.

The year we finally finished above Arsenal, but Chelsea continually denied us. The year we beat Real Madrid in the Champions League, but lost to Gent in the Europa League. The year Harry Kane became the best striker in the world, but Danny Rose became the worst person in the country. The year Moussa Sissoko scored a goal.

The year we said farewell to our home.

It is hard to know how to follow all that.

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