But for a small handful of isolated moments, Tottenham were by far the better team when they took on Chelsea at Wembley on Saturday.
If it’s difficult to appreciate those sustained bouts of quality, then Tottenham can only blame themselves — as well as a fair share of bad luck.
The fact is that the match ended 4-2 in favor of Chelsea. It was, without question, the most devastating loss yet this term, even if might also have featured Spurs at their best.
The FA Cup represented Spurs’ best chance at silverware this season. With the club flying high in the league and widely regaled as the best team in England as Chelsea tumbled, such honors only seemed natural to expect.
How then, with both the wind and public sympathy at their backs, did Spurs conspire to lose?
The cynic would shrug and point to an old chestnut: Spurs gonna Spurs. The fact is that, at least in recent memory, Tottenham somehow manage to trip up right when they appear to reach their full potential.
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One can see that in five consecutive years just barely missing out on the Champions League. Even when they overcame last season and finally qualified, they only did so after watching both the title and their lead over Arsenal evaporate as a result of two draws and two losses to end the season.
Mauricio Pochettino made it a priority after that late collapse to overcome these types of mental hurdles. He made it clear, according to reports, that such failures would no longer be tolerated.
Demanding an improvement in psychological health isn’t always the route to it however. That same brittleness carried through to the Champions League, where in the autumn Spurs could not overcome what (at the time) looked like an easy group.
Relegated to the Europa League, once again Spurs took a decidedly inferior opponent — Gent — and lost over the course of two matches in the competition’s knockout round.
Throughout it all, Spurs have enjoyed sustained runs in the Premier League. Even with injuries to Harry Kane, Toby Alderweireld and Danny Rose, they have maintained a high level of form — enough to put them within four points off the top of the table.
Such contrast is difficult to digest for both fans and neutrals. How can a team that orchestrated amazing wins over Manchester City and Chelsea fail in such pivotal moments as the match on Saturday?
And, to be clear, failure is what it was. Chelsea played their game well, but they were gifted the opening two goals off of uncharacteristic Tottenham mistakes. Eden Hazard and Nemanja Matic’s goals to seal the win were exceptional pieces of skill and, it must be said, luck.
On the other end of the pitch, Tottenham managed to score two marvelous goals that, were it not for the soured context, would go on as some of the best the club has scored in recent seasons. They dominated possession besides and, for a stretch, made camp in Chelsea’s half. Though they never held the lead, they looked the more likely to push ahead.
Yet that didn’t come to pass. Tottenham, given the best chance they had to overcome the stereotype, ultimately only confirmed their Spursy-ness.
Why this happened — again — will be the subject of several forthcoming pieces. Stay tuned.