Digesting Tottenham’s 1-0 Loss to Manchester United

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 11: Mauricio Pochettino, Manager of Tottenham Hotspur reacts during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford on December 11, 2016 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 11: Mauricio Pochettino, Manager of Tottenham Hotspur reacts during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford on December 11, 2016 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images) /
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There’s never an easy was to power through the grief resulting from a narrow loss like the one Tottenham experienced at the hands of Manchester United.

Punditry and cynics will tell you that this 1-0 Tottenham loss cuts a clear picture of the strengths and deficiencies of both teams. United earned a vital early-ish lead and sat back, capably bringing to life Jose Mourinho’s ideal football. Meanwhile, Spurs lacked an attacking edge and were unable to recover from the mistake that lead to Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s goal.

These aren’t wrong assumptions, they are just too broad conclusions derived from too narrow a viewpoint.

Yes, Mourinho enjoys sitting on even the narrowest of leads, and indeed a sizable chunk of his success as a manager came in precisely such situations. Just look at the second half of Chelsea’s title-winning season in 2014/15. That was almost entirely defensive football — perhaps even anti-football at times. But it got results.

The Portuguese’s attempts to bring that brand of football to United have, thus far, not quite enjoyed the same success. Indeed such narrow leads as the one they earned against Tottenham more often than not turn into unlikely draws. Just look at recent dropped points against Arsenal and Everton.

Furthermore, it’s not at all clear this is some validation of Mourinho’s work. Sitting on a 1-0 lead only earned through a mistake — in this case Harry Kane giving the ball away in the center circle — isn’t exactly the mark of a domineering title contender. Chelsea, Arsenal and City have swagger, and United are still struggling to keep up.

On the flip side, this loss shouldn’t be an indictment of Pochettino or his tactics. Losses happen. Reducing Tottenham’s season into one 90 minute chunk only obscures the wider truth about this side.

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And that truth is that Spurs have hit more than a few bumps in the road so far this season. Mousa Dembélé’s suspension for the first four matches threw the team off balance, then injuries to Kane, Toby Alderweireld and Érik Lamela almost derailed everything.

Add to that the growing pains of incorporating new players into the side and Pochettino’s struggles with a tactical plan B, and it’s been a season of uneven returns for Tottenham.

All else being equal, however, a 1-0 loss to United isn’t cause for panic attacks. Spurs began their term in 2015/16 with that exact scoreline and in a remarkably similar match. It was Nabil Bentaleb who then made the mistake that indirectly led to the goal which would gift United the win.

Far from characterizing Tottenham’s season, that 1-0 loss became an aberration in hindsight. It was a blemish on an otherwise remarkable season, just like the 1-0 loss to Leicester in January and another 1-0 loss to West Ham in March. Losses happen, and Tottenham’s wins — including a 3-0 result over United at White Hart Lane — outshone them over the course of a full season.

Next: Tottenham's Lloris and Sissoko Frustrated in Disappointing Loss

Those unexpected bumps in the road over the last few months haven’t ended Tottenham’s hopes for the season. They are still in fifth place, no worse off than they were a week ago. It will be a tougher fight with United back in the hunt for a Champions League place, but it’s a fight that a healthy and luckier Tottenham can win.