Although I’m the first to admit that parts of this season have felt about as interesting as watching Blur fall asleep, there’s an element of frustration that we face our final game just as Mourinho seems to have found a way to make the most of the talent at our disposal.
Even if you’re one of those who’s prone to moan about the lack of attractive football that swamps the occasional flurries of excitement, there must be some comfort in knowing we’re capable of scoring three times in less than 40 seconds of possession, with the first of last Sunday’s stunners clocking in at about 12 seconds between our first touch and the ball hitting the back of the net, the second at ten and the third at a relatively plodding fifteen:
Considering all three moves started in our half and not one involved a long pass, that’s some display of precision play, especially if you add in our final goal against Newcastle – where there were a mere ten seconds between Kane getting on the ball in our half and nodding in the rebound from Lamela’s shot – and realise our last four goals have come from less than fifty seconds of controlling the play.
Which makes me wonder if the real problem in that goalless bore-draw against Bournemouth was the fact that the Cherries refused to come forward in numbers, viewing a point as enough to make a difference between survival and relegation – which, looking at the table right now, is almost certainly not going to be the case.
It also makes me wonder if we will end up looking just as toothless against Palace this afternoon: Not only are they on the sort of losing streak that only a visit from Spurs can usually resolve, but they also haven’t hogged the ball all that much across these seven straight post-lockdown defeats, with 58% possession against Burnley and 53% against Villa being the best, and 26% against Liverpool the worst.
Even our possession stats weren’t quite that bad against Leicester.
Palace are also on an atrocious run against us in the PL, having lost nine on the spin, their last victory coming at Selhurst Park in Pochettino’s first season, when, in typical Tottenham fashion, we followed up that beautiful 5-3 New Year’s Day trouncing of Chelsea by losing 2-1 to Palace, with Benjamin Stambouli giving away the penalty that allowed Dwight Gayle to cancel out Harry Kane’s opener and Jason Puncheon sealing it on 80.
Despite the long winning streak that’s followed, it’s not all been plain sailing, with relatively new signing Son scoring his first PL goal for Spurs to give us a hard fought 1-0 victory the next time we met at White Hart Lane in September 2015 and the return fixture in January 2016 ominously looking as if it might end in our second Selhurst defeat on the spin as an absolute cracker of a game stormed into its final half-hour:
I know I’ve posted footage of this game before, but it’s one of those highlight reels I could watch over and over: Even without our three late goals, the save from Hugo around 4:07 and the scramble from the subsequent corner plus the double-thwacking our crossbar takes soon after never fails to quicken the pulse, especially knowing Dele’s double-touch pivot-volley is following behind.
But, ah, our heroes look so young and so fresh in this footage, and each time I remember that Chadli also scored a relative cracker right at the death I always wonder if for the sake of a mere £13m from West Brom we should have made more of an effort to convince the Belgian to hang around for the rest of Pochettino’s reign, especially as roughly £11m of that fee was spent in the same window on Nkoudou.
Following that 1-3 win and ignoring the fact that Palace then dumped us out of the FA Cup for the second time during Pochettino’s time at the club, a bizarre sequence of five single goal victories followed home and away before Palace made it three FA Cup exits for Pochettino’s Tottenham at Selhurst Park in January last year.
Ahead of that, though, came this header from the lesser spotted Foyth in our last PL visit to Palace in November 2018, a result which saw us bump Arsenal into fifth in the same round of fixtures which would see Pochettino pick his last ever Spurs side just twelve months later:
So, all in all, we head to the only ever-present away ground where we’ve won every PL game we’ve played since 14/15 with Palace mired in the joint worst losing streak of their Premier League history and the result meaning pretty much nothing to them while we need to win to give ourselves the best chance of securing Europa League football next season.
We’re going to lose, aren’t we?
Usually, I’d say yes, but hopefully Mourinho will see the value in finishing the season with a four-match winning streak and he’s already stated his ambition to win the Europa League next season. Also, other than Ndombele, it looks like he has a fully-fit squad to choose from, and, for once, we’ll have had an extra day’s rest over our opponents.
So, all in all, unlike the majority of this season, there really are no excuses.
Even having said all that, a win might not be enough to guarantee us Europa League football next season: If Wolves beat Chelsea, no matter what we do against Palace, we’re finishing seventh, and we’ll need to see what mid-table Arsenal do against Chelsea in the FA Cup Final on 1st August.
In many ways, being bumped out of the Europa by Arsenal lifting a trophy would be a horribly apt end to what has mostly been a miserable season, with the only real positives being Lo Celso confirming his quality, the emergence of Tanganga, and the signing and early form of Bergwijn.
Maybe, also, given how much tighter our defence has been following his re-introduction, the extension of Alderweireld’s contract could yet prove pivotal to whatever success might be coming our way down the line.
In fact, you could look at our overall squad compared to how it was at the start of the season and argue that there are far fewer positions with long-term question-marks over them, so maybe, just maybe, Mourinho is building something, and it’s not just blind hope suckering me into looking forwards to next season: If we put on a great show today and make it ten out of ten against Palace – and even more so if SuperJan gets to sign off with yet another of his stunners – I’ll hardly be able to wait.
Though, being honest, where SuperJan is concerned, I’d be just as happy to see a repeat of something like this:
Come on you Spurs!