The Five Blogs of Christmas III – Battles of the Spurs

Missed a couple of days, but the Muse is now thinking about football …

********************

Hard-battling, controversial 2-2 draws have become a hallmark of Tottenham in recent years, with the recent game against Liverpool a case in point. Whilst many fans will remember other specific moments such as Ajax away in 2019, this series of draws symbolized life under Pochettino and will, perhaps, do so under Conte. I think the thing about them is not only their indication of our resilience when the team is at its best, but also that scoring goals was the mainstay of our key contests against the bigger clubs, not just defensive stability – something we all hope remains true.

Below, then, is a potted history of Tottenham as told through these glorious matches.

March 2016: Tottenham 2-2 Arsenal

This really kicks off the Pochettino and arguably the Kane era, since the most important part of it was that goal to give us the lead. The Arsenal of 2016 was still at the tail end of Wenger 2.0, the less successful but still fluid attacking side containing Özil and Sanchez at their peak, and a Hector Bellerin understood to be going on to great things at Barcelona.

Interesting to note that Kevin Wimmer was still in and out of our back line at that point (his £18m sale to Stoke must surely rank as one of Levy’s financial masterpieces), and Lamela playing his part, but the core of the great team, including a Dembele and Dier midfield, was in-place. We would have been happy with the result overall, but with Coquelin having been sent off in the 55th minute, it could have been more. The dropped points would start to count.

May 2016: Chelsea 2-2 Tottenham (aka “The Battle of Stamford Bridge”)

This remains perhaps one of my favourite displays from any Tottenham side, ever. The sheer determination of our boys to play the man, not the ball, is satisfying every time I rewatch it. It was a testament to the fact that for all the good football that Pochettino had started to instill in this young squad, there was also steel in them, a guttural identification with the club and the fans. Every poke, kick and punch was being unleashed on behalf of us, the supporters, and we loved every moment of it.

There are a lot of heroes here:

  • Dembele majestically exerting his power like a coiled big cat ready to pounce, including poking Diego Costa in the eye at the margins of a melee
  • Vertonghen pulling Diego Costa’s shirt and then feigning an Oscar-winning “who, me?” performance.
  • Lamela stamping on Fabregas’s hand
  • Rose lunging in on Willian and getting himself and his adversary booked
  • Kyle Walker throwing bodily fluids at Diego Costa
  • Dier chopping down Hazard like a lumberjack and then calmly walking away
  • Kane constantly pretending to be a voice of reason, mostly by pulling Diego Costa away from the fray (yes Costa was a major focus of our attentions)
  • Ryan Mason hauling down Hazard for no good reason other than he does not want to miss out in the story
  • Pochettino trying to calm it all down like a gangster patriarch who ultimately is more pleased to see blood than no blood

None of this conveys the full emotion of it all though. It is all the other moments, when Chelsea players are attacked by not one but two Spurs players in quick succession; or when a hard tackle against us (and there were plenty) was immediate answered by a comrade putting one through the offender. The players were playing for each other; there was joy; this was only the beginning, they would have thought.

One thing is for sure – this match would never have survived VAR, and that is a crying shame because this is what football is all about.

Jan 2017: Man City 2-2 Tottenham

In a foreshadowing of what would come a couple of years later, Pochettino’s team took it to Guardiola in his first season at the Etihad, fighting back from 2-0 down to pull level. Spurs have had a strangely strong record against City ever since Pep arrived, and this was one of the undeserved results we pulled off.

City still had a back line of Zabaleta, Otamendi, Kolorov and Clichy which explains some of this, but their attack was already potent. Sané and De Bruyne scored in quick succession in the second half, but Dele and Son (coming on for Wimmer) responded. But the real controversy was Kyle Walker’s clear push on Sterling which went unpunished, leaving Man City enraged much to the amusement of all. Both of our goals were also fairly spectacular, Dele with a trademark late run into the box for the first, whilst intricate interplay including a penalty box backheel from Kane set up the second. This was some of our best football.

Feb 2018: Liverpool 2-2 Tottenham

This match was so full of controversy that I even wrote a whole separate blog about it. Liverpool, of course, are poor losers at the best of times, and even worse winners; there is nothing quite as satisfying as seeing them upset. This topsy-turvy match (just as VAR was being introduced and finding its feet) saw a Liverpool side which already had almost all their pieces in place, including three of the current back four, and the famous front three. However they did have Lovren alongside Van Dijk and, perhaps worse, Karius in goal.

There was reams of column inches written after this match, but the highlights included a Wanyama goal which is probably the peak moment of his entire career. Kane uncharacteristically missed a penalty in the second half, but manned up to take and score a second one five minutes into injury time to draw us level again – and hush Anfield up. But it was the nature of the penalties – Kane’s supposed dive for the first, and Lamela (yes, him again) winding up Van Dijk for the second – which really stand out. We should not underestimate the benefits of gamesmanship that Lamela brought to this team.

Feb 2018: Juventus 2-2 Tottenham

Thus far we have only referred to Premier League matches. Tucked in between them though, was the footnote of our battle against Juventus in Pochettino’s slow season-by-season progress in the Champions League. Ultimately we lost the tie, with Juve coming to Wembley and giving a masterclass at match control, we being haunted by the words of Giorgio Chiellini.

But in this first leg at the Allianz Stadium, we actually fell behind to two Higuain goals in the first 9 minutes, demonstrating a certain immaturity, before heroically making a come back. Kane and Dele combined before half time, and while Higuain then hit the crossbar, Eriksen finally scored a free kick – albeit not a pretty one – to leave Juventus irritated at our resilience. As with the 2019 matches against City and Ajax, not eventually winning does not mean we do not have these memories in the bank; and what is more, we clearly learned from all this in order to go further the next time round. All part of growing up.

Aug 2019: Man City 2-2 Tottenham

It is easy to forget that despite Pochettino being sacked in November, the 2019-2020 season had actually started pretty well with a 3-1 home victory against Aston Villa, with new signing N’Dombele scoring, followed by this dazzling draw against Guardiola’s 98-point previous season champions. Bear in mind also that this came after perhaps our most controversial ever VAR match, against City in the Champions League quarter-final just months earlier, where a 94th minute Sterling “goal” was disallowed.

Somehow, VAR managed to disallow yet another goal, this time in the 93rd minute from Gabriel Jesus. So despite City chalking up 30 shots against us (10 on target) compared to our 3 (2 on target, 2 scored), we walked away points shared after first Lamela and then Lucas equalized – the latter just 19 seconds after being on the pitch. Frankly, even Poch and Guardiola had to laugh. Little did we know what was still to come.

“What just happened?”

Sep 2019: Arsenal 2-2 Tottenham

Just two games later, a bit of a different story. Arsenal (now managed by the short-lived Unai Emery) were looking pretty vulnerable, and had entered their phase of having little in the way of a recognized defence. It was hard to take seriously a back line comprising names such as Sokratis, Kolašinac and an ageing David Luiz; having said that, Aubameyang and Lacazette will always be able to sting – as they did here.

For once this was a tale that went against us, possibly indicating what was to come. Taking a 2-0 lead to the cusp of half time through Eriksen and then a Kane penalty, we still looked every inch the top four challengers we had been over the previous three seasons. But Lacazette’s strike just before half time changed the shape of things and it was Arsenal who would end up celebrating being able to battle back for a draw. The only thing to raise a smile for us was that yet again, VAR ruled a goal off against us as an 80th minute effort from Sokratis was deemed to have been offside in the build-up – from Kolašinac. What a great team that Arsenal side was.

Dec 2021: Tottenham 2-2 Liverpool

Which brings us to the present day. Fresh in the minds, we had Kane scoring his first proper goal of the season, his almost celebratory near-sending off moments later, and the corresponding red card handed to Andy Robertson instead (after – guess what – VAR again!). In the meantime Liverpool, who until that point were arguably the best team in the country and maybe in Europe (this has changed a little since), came back to equalize and then lead, before Son brought us back again.

Ironically, in this list of historic matches, this last one may be the least controversial, though it may not be the least significant. Conte finally tried a 3-5-2, and gave lifelines to Winks and Dele for the first time since he arrived. If things progress well, there is every likelihood that we look back on this game as the moment which came to define his change at the club.

More than anything though, this last 2-2 draw really harks back to all those previous 2-2 games, where Spurs really had the heart and soul to battle against the odds (with a little help from VAR at times, one would have to admit) and attain decent results against decent teams. And it is notable that so many of those results were away from home, meaning that at our best we were really taking the game to the opposition. This is the most heartening aspect of that period; we can only hope that better yet is to come.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s