Tottenham Hotspur did a Tottenham Hotspur again on Sunday. When all the eyes were on the two heavyweight clashes that headlined this week as Manchester was pitted against London, the super-efficient team for North London quietly went about their business of securing all three points in a closely contested affair at Wembley.
Spurs have had a good opening phase this season. A bunch of impressive results and performances in the Champions League – including the manner they swatted aside the reigning two-time European Champions has been the highlight so far. But even in the Premier League, Tottenham Hotspur, without being at their scintillating best – the kind of form they showed so often last season, have managed to keep pace with the two Manchester clubs – who boast a far superior wage bill and transfer budget measured in ‘warchests’.
At the time of writing, Spurs are level on points with Manchester United (23), 8 shy of Manchester City who have lightened up the league with a flurry of goals whenever they have taken the field.
Amidst all the chaos in the managerial world – with men hired and fired at the first instance of trouble, Spurs have shown themselves in good light. Mauricio Pochettino is in his fourth year at the club and despite the lack of tangible success, the Argentine has done enough to deserve credit for the way he has restructured the club from the ground up – given them an identity and a team they can be really proud of.
On Sunday, they produced a performance which was considerably off their best. It was not remotely close to the level they were able to sustain for long periods against Liverpool, for instance in the outstanding 4-1 win at their new and temporary home. Yet it was job done. The once seemingly daunting Wembley curse has become a non-issue. After failing to win their first three games at the National Stadium, they have now racked up three wins in a row.
The home side enjoyed the majority of possession, yet only managed 2 shots on target – one less than the visitors Crystal Palace. Roy Hodgson’s side knocked on the door quite a few times in the game, particularly in the second half only to be denied by an inspired Gazzainga who stepped up when it counted marking his debut with a performance to remember. Like most Spurs players have under Pochettino in the last two seasons.
The win was testament to how far Spurs have come as a football club now that winning without being at their best has been ingrained into what once was a side that was accused of having a soft underbelly.
They have become everything they aspired to be under Pochettino’s tutelage – strong, athletic and exciting football side who could eke out ugly results if needs be and more importantly one that brings through young English players and gives them a chance to demonstrate their mettle at the highest level. But nothing has been more crucial to his side’s success than the system he has employed from the goalkeeper to forward, coaches to kit-men – thoroughly in these last three and a half years in charge. Such that, replacements don’t necessarily mean a drop in quality – players have learned to adapt at Spurs more than anywhere else.
On the win and, Pochettino said:
“I am so happy for the different players who came in, people like Paulo, who played fantastically well. He is an unbelievable option to have as a keeper and I am really happy for him and his family that he performed like that. It was a tough game for us after Wednesday. They were fresh after one week to prepare for the game. We had a few problems after the Madrid game and that is why I am so happy with the victory. I am very pleased with an important three points.”
And that is as controversial as he could get. As Heung-Min Son scored off his left foot – a cultured finish, curling into the near post, the result was certain. There was no way back for Palace. As long as he is at the helm, there is no reason why they will stop being the title contenders even though they stall on occasion.