So here we are facing crisis again, losing Son, Kane, Sissoko, and three points against United.
Such are the slender margins seasons are shaped on, when you look at some of the points Liverpool have picked up or clung on to compared to some of the points we’ve thrown away or narrowly missed out on.
But this is one of the gifts Pochettino and this Spurs team have given us these past few seasons: after years of relative mediocrity interspersed with the occasional promising season, we’re finally in a position where slender margins matter, where setbacks have the potential to damage so much more than a single weekend’s bragging rights.
And Sunday can be viewed as a setback – our first home Prem loss to United since the days of Sir Alex, another reverse in a game we won quite comfortably last season, and injuries to two key players further depleting a squad that some people insist was already starting to look thin.
I prefer to look at the positives though. Following a first half where we gave as good as we got but often looked vulnerable to breaks down the flanks, we really gave a good account of ourselves in the second half and did more than enough to win comfortably, creating chance upon chance as we did against Everton.
If only we’d managed to finish our chances the way we did that afternoon, and if only Phil Jones wasn’t such an utter donkey, how giddy would we all be feeling right now?
Instead we’re mulling over more questions about Kieran Trippier’s fitness for purpose and wondering how we’re going to cope without Kane.
For me, the Trippier mistake is one of those things that will always happen to a defender in a team trying to play passing football. Yes, it was sloppy, yes, it’s not the first time he’s cost us this season, but it’s the sort of error Walker always had in his locker. As much as I loved Walker and prefer his all-action style to Trippier’s, he made 8 more appearances for City last season and made one more assist, forty-four less crosses (with a 9% accuracy rating compared to Trippier’s 19%) and, in a team that was head and shoulders above any other in the land, had yet another Bonzo moment which contributed to City being dumped out of the FA Cup by Wigan.
Back to Trippier’s own Bonzo moment against United, just like the one he made against City, it was seized on ruthlessly by the opposition, compounded by Verts being undone for pace and, if you agree with the Match of the Day 2 analysis, Hugo positioning himself slightly too far outside his near post. Against many other teams in the league, it probably would have ended in a covering tackle or a comfortable smother for Hugo, and I don’t see it as any more criminal than Eriksen’s loss of the ball against Wolves which eventually led to the corner they equalised from.
It’s still the sort of error we need to seriously cut down on if we ever do plan to keep pace with whatever teams are setting the pace at the top of the league in the future, though, no matter who it is making the cock-up.
As for the Kane injury, my impression at the time was that it was a definite foul, but it was no surprise Dean missed it. The guy was useless all through the game, missing what looked like obvious pull-backs all over the park, a potential red-card for Pogba, and, even more infuriating, doing utterly nothing to stop United’s blatant second half time-wasting. I also wasn’t impressed with how poor our physio team’s response was, with only one blue-glove finally going over to him and then allowing him to hobble off alone, even though it seemed obvious he’d knackered something.
Despite all this, I’m looking forward to how we line up and perform against Fulham. Against Leicester, when Kane was rested for the majority of the game, Dele was either deployed as a front man or decided to play as one for the fun of it, and really looked the part. At Bournemouth last March, we were one down after seven minutes and looked leggy until their keeper knackered Kane thirty-four minutes in. One minute later, Dele equalised, and we eventually ran out 4-1 winners. Reports back then suggested Kane, and, therefore, Spurs, would be knacked for a month. He actually made his return in the 74th minute in the 1-3 win against Chelsea on April Fool’s day, missing only our emphatic 0-3 FA Cup quarter final win against Swansea.
Some, though, would argue he didn’t look the same player until earlier this season. While I don’t agree with that, I’m not overly keen on the fact Kane plays virtually every minute of every game he’s available for, and only really gets sustained rests when his ankle ligaments give out. He’s definitely a world-class player – on Sunday – and at plenty of other times this season – the occasions he dropped deep to win the ball, turn, and pick out an overlapping player, he really did highlight the strength and vision of the sort of midfielder who would raise this team’s level yet another notch – but the performances against Bournemouth and Swansea last season show we’ve enough options in the squad to blow away many of the middling Prem teams without flogging our talisman to death or depleting Uncle Joe’s retirement fund. Even without Son to call on, properly utilising Llorente or Moura – or trying something slightly different with Alli or Lamela up top – should give us more than enough goal threat to see us through against Fulham if the rest of the team are on their game: Despite Ranieri’s mid-November appointment, they’re still deep in the mire, second from bottom, five points from safety, having lost their last two games, 4-1 away against Arsenal and 2-1 away against Burnley. They did beat Huddersfield in their last home Prem outing, though, and also had a better time of it against Wolves than we would three days later, holding them to a 1-1 draw at the Cottage.
As for our record against them, we’ve won our last four games – three prem, one FA Cup – and have to go back to December 2009 since we last dropped points at the Cottage. We did lose a shocker of a third-round FA Cup tie 4-0 there in Jan 2011, though, with Redknapp no doubt gutted not to have an FA Cup semi-final debacle against Pompey or Chelsea to worry about that season. We’ve dropped points to them in the Prem since then, too, with a one-nil home loss in March 2013 helping Arsenal reduce a seven point gap to one point just two games after we’d beaten the immigrants 2-1 at home and AVB had made his negative spiral comment: Although, to be fair to AVB, his very next words were ‘Seven points is not big enough in the Premier League, because this time last year Arsenal came back (from a similar deficit)’, so the statement wasn’t really the premature gloat some Arsenal fans are still banging on about now.
As for us this time last season, we’d just drawn at home to the Spammers in a laboured performance and were about to thwump the Toffees 4-0 at our temporary home. We were seven points worse off than we are now, fifth in the league, and obviously doomed to miss out on CL football in our first ever season at our new home; Levy out: Blah-blah-blah.
In terms of comparative fixtures, we’d just strolled to a 2-0 Wembley win over Mourinho’s United. Swapping Fulham – who came up via the play-offs, so were arguably the weakest of the promoted teams – for West Brom – who propped up the Prem at the end of last season, so were definitely the weakest of the relegated teams (or, at least, the only ones managed by both Tony Pulis and Alan Pardew in the same season) – we did a Spursy and donated three-points to the Patron Saint of Lost Causes in our last away game of the season, conceding the only goal of the game in the 92nd minute to Jake Livermore, of all people. This left us fourth, only a couple of points clear of Chelsea in fifth, which was yet more proof we were chokers, would screw up our last two games, and obviously doomed to miss out on CL football in our first ever season at our new home; Levy out: Blah-blah-blah.
Of course, with only sixteen Prem fixtures left to play, there are rumours swirling this won’t be our first ever season at our new home. When Fulham came to Wembley on 18th August for our first ‘home’ game this season, it was less than a week after the club had confirmed the Liverpool and Cardiff games would be held at Wembley. We won that game 3-1, a lovely Moura goal being cancelled out by a Mitrovic leveller in the 52nd minute before Trippier and Kane goals in the 74th and 77th minutes secured us the points and our 100% start to the season.
This time around, with Liverpool facing Palace at home and City playing Huddersfield away – and Chelsea and Arsenal playing each other – three points is utterly essential to make sure we keep within wishing distance of the two at the top and capitalise on whichever one of the two underneath us drops points: Potentially even better, a draw in that game and a win for us would see the gap between us and Arsenal up to nine points, with the gap between us and Chelsea slightly extended to three ahead of next week’s second-leg semi at The Bridge.
Lose, though, and we could find the gap between ourselves and Arsenal in fifth ominously dropping from seven to four, well and truly in a negative spiral, doomed to miss out on CL football in our first ever full season at our new home…