Tottenham Lost — Now It Can Move On

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 26: Spurs players warm up prior to the Premier League match between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur at Stamford Bridge on November 26, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 26: Spurs players warm up prior to the Premier League match between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur at Stamford Bridge on November 26, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images) /

The only thing Tottenham perhaps needed as much as a win against Chelsea on Saturday was a sense of purpose — and the 2-1 result against the league leaders provided exactly that.

Prior to the final whistle, Tottenham were the last unbeaten side in Europe’s top five leagues. It was something of a dubious honor: with 12 games played, Mauricio Pochettino’s side only won six and drew the other half. As a result, their unbloodied season only rose them to fifth place in a particularly competitive Premier League season.

The loss didn’t change much. Tottenham remain in fifth, though the gap between them and Chelsea grew to seven points. They’re still four points above Manchester United in sixth.

To soften the blow further, this loss was easy to see coming. While unbeaten in the English top flight, Tottenham have been knocked out of both the EFL Cup and the Champions League through inglamorous losses.

The most recent of which came Tuesday when Tottenham traveled to Monaco with one last hope of keeping their European dream alive. They slunk away in a 2-1 defeat.

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These are unimpeachably dire facts. Tottenham are being bested by virtually all their principle rivals for the Premier League title, and now face the particular ignominy of the Europa League in the spring.

Convenient excuses abound, as ever. Pochettino could chop losses to Monaco and Bayer Leverkusen up to inexperience. Tottenham are among the youngest teams in Europe most matchdays, after all. Champions League qualification perhaps came a season or two early for this squad.

Injuries and suspensions have meanwhile soured Tottenham’s attempt to make up for falling out of the title race late last season. How could anyone hope to build momentum without the likes of Harry Kane and Toby Alderweireld?

A true optimist — should there be any left amongst Tottenham fans after years of two steps forward, one step back — wouldn’t rely on such whining. This hypothetical type A personality might instead see this latest blemish as a turning point.

Tottenham need to re-assess physically and mentally. There are teams who spend more on deeper, more proven squads. There are teams who are healthier and less prone to damaging bookings. There are teams that count Sergio Agüero, Alexis Sánchez and Eden Hazard among their ranks.

For Tottenham to compete on the same level as those more fortunate than them, they need a re-calibration. This club is not some lumbering behemoth who can simply grind through wins, and neither are they underdogs.

Rather, they’re the same young upstarts who found a way into the Capitol One Cup final against Chelsea two seasons ago. They’re the same precocious kids who have humbled Manchester City three times in a row now, who defied the odds and finished third last season.

Tottenham, in other words, need to play again with proper punctuation. Too often this season it feels like Tottenham are ending every sentence with a question mark or ellipses. The defense is as stubborn as ever, but everything ahead of that lacks direction, incision.

The dynamism of the previous two years has either evaporated or been lost beneath Pochettino’s tinkering. Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli need to rediscover the exclamation points that allowed them to dazzle so much despite being so young. Harry Kane needs to find the distinctive period that so often before saw him put the final touches on wins over big and small teams alike.

If that seems like a schmaltzy pep talk, that’s because it is. Just days ago we complained that the solution to Spurs’ lackluster season could only be found on the pitch, we’re forced to admit that that isn’t the full story.

Next: Tottenham Player Ratings: 2-1 Loss to Chelsea

Capitulations like the one Tottenham experienced after half-time on Saturday shouldn’t happen. They were the better team prior to Pedro’s equalizer, and they simply failed to remember that for the final 45 minutes. The unsteady listlessness that’s characterized this whole season crept back in, and Tottenham could only watch as Victor Moses found the winning goal.

Antonio Conte’s still learning English, but even he was able to find the words to galvanize his Chelsea team at half-time. No one is doubting Pochettino, but to a certain extent it’s on him that his players take to the pitch using the right grammar.