Exhilarating, if excruciating, Etihad triumph takes Spurs into uncharted Premier League waters


If the rest of the season is going to be like those final few minutes against Manchester City, I’m not sure I’m going to cope.

I couldn’t watch as the match inched into injury time. I’m not kidding — I went and started peeling some potatoes, I was finding it that excruciating. I’m not good with tension.

It was probably just we well, given the need for Hugo Lloris to don his Superman cape once again and fly to the rescue, and how close David Silva came to turning home the rebound.

Spurs have stalked up the league, not unnoticed, but at least with Leicester City for cover. But going to the Etihad, looking a strong and motivated Manchester City team in the eye and not blinking, means any pretence that Spurs aren’t in with a serious shout of the winning the league is out of the window.

It can’t be stressed how unusual this is for Spurs fans.

As Martin Tyler said on commentary, Spurs have the led the league, in the Premier League era, for 33 days. In total. Manchester City have led for 100 days, this season alone.

My Spurs fandom began at around the same time as the Premier League kicked off in 1992/93. One of my earliest footballing memories as a little boy was reading the inaugural Sky Sports Premier League preview publication, which broke down each team’s chances and promoted Sky’s broadcasting revolution. I was young, but I remember the Spurs section mentioned how the fans would miss the “twinkling Geordie toes” of a certain Paul Gascoigne, but highlighted the signing of Darren Anderton as a reason for optimism in what could be a tricky season.

That was nearly a quarter of a century ago, and we’ve led the league for 33 days since. Yes, there have been moments when we have shone, and moments when we’ve been close, but I can’t recall ever feeling that it is “on” like it is now.

It has been 55 years since Spurs last won the league, so it isn’t just my generation and younger who may struggle to recall success. As Daniel Storey noted in an excellent piece last week, there is a long list of clubs that have won the league since Spurs:  Ipswich Town, Everton, Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, Leeds, Arsenal, Derby County, Nottingham Forest, Aston Villa, Blackburn Rovers and Chelsea.

We have a proud history, particularly as a Premier League ever-present, but this, right now, is on a different level.

It’s not technically in our hands, with Leicester two points clear. And how big is the North London derby going to be on March 5th? But we are way beyond the “daring to dream” stage, and we’re no longer looking down at 5th place. Spurs can win the league. Maybe we will, maybe we won’t. But it’s there for the taking.

We have had some impressive performances under Mauricio Pochettino, and to me this was right up there alongside the home wins against Arsenal and Chelsea. This wasn’t the Manchester City that failed to show up against Leicester. These guys wanted it.

Manuel Pellegrini changed his tactics to strengthen a porous midfield, Vincent Kompany returned to shore up the defence, and Sergio Aguero buzzed around like a wasp. Even Yaya Toure looked strong and imposing, not the shuffling old man he has been for stretches this campaign.

The teams went toe-to-toe, Manchester City playing with commitment and purpose. They looked like they believed they would win, like it was logical that, as the most star-studded team in England, if they played well no-one could stop them. But Spurs were obdurate and efficient, and City struggled to create.

There was luck — it wasn’t a penalty — but Man City hit back hard. It was our right flank that buckled — Walker was exposed, but more than any other player, the right-back’s passing, touch and composure deserted him as as City cranked up the pressure. With Walker you sense the huge mental effort being made to understand and execute his role in the system. Once Manchester City levelled, you thought there would only be one winner. What joy there is in being wrong.

The reactions at the end summed up where the two teams are. Spurs, once again, looked a picture of harmony in their celebrations. Man City looked stunned, as though they had no idea that they could play well and still lose. Dark thoughts must be swirling in some heads at the Etihad. Pellegrini looked and sounded furious — none of the famed “dignity” in his post-match comments.

After five wins in a row, it is frustrating that the Premier League must take a break, but so be it.

There will be calls for large-scale rotation in the Europa League, but we should know by now that this isn’t the Pochettino way. He believes in the recuperative powers of winning and training. He’ll do his full-back shuffle, and maybe switch an attacking midfielder. Same again in the FA Cup, where a replay is to be avoided.

If any player has proved the mastery that Pochettino has achieved in terms of creating a cohesive unit capable of fulfilling his tactical instructions, it is Kevin Wimmer. Wimmer barely had a kick in the first half of the season, but since Jan Vertonghen suffered a knee injury against Palace, Wimmer has slotted into the defence seamlessly.

Credit is of course due to Paul Mitchell and Rob MacKenzie for identifying the player, but it speaks to the tactical clarity of the Pochettino system that Wimmer can step in at such a crucial juncture.

On Sky, Jamie Carragher said that a Spurs title would be the biggest shock in Premier League history, and would go down as the greatest managerial achievement. It is hard to argue — Carragher doesn’t dish out praise to Spurs lightly.

After 24 years of failing to seriously challenge in the Premier League era, it’s understandable that we are all struggling to process what is happening at Spurs.

The first thing I need to do is figure out how to enjoy it, or at least endure it, because there are going to be a few more nail-biters to come this season.

Please follow me in Twitter for more articles and Spurs chat.


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