By Charles Richards / @spurs_report
If Spurs win all 18 remaining Premier League games at Wembley, Mauricio Pochettino’s team will improve on last season’s home record. Any other scenario — even one single draw — will mean that Tottenham’s home record will be worse.
The curse of Wembley, it appears, is unavoidable.
Last Sunday against Chelsea had the feeling of a one-off — a Cup tie or a big European second-leg encounter. All that pre-game cranking up of the crowd, those flags, that sodding drummer, the feeling of abject finality when Marcus Alonso’s late shot inexplicably found its way past Hugo Lloris, ending Tottenham’s season (or at least that’s what it felt like for a minute or two).
My theory on the supposed “Wembley curse” is that there’s no escaping the narrative, win, lose or draw. It’ll be a bit like Brexit — if things go well, it will be despite Wembley; if things go badly, it’ll be because of Wembley.
The reality, of course, is that the success of Tottenham’s season will be shaped by a far more complicated mix of factors, some internal, others external. But Wembley is such an obviously different factor that the narrative is irresistibly juicy. We’re just going to have to stomach it through the transitional period — and hopefully it’s just a year, unlike the three or four years Chelsea are facing at Wembley while Roman’s monument to himself is built — until the new stadium opens.
This Sunday at Wembley will be about “the real season starts now” — it’s Burnley at home, as bog-standard a Premier League home game as they come; no flags, no Jamie Redknapp lurking weirdly in a gantry for Sky Sports. The only reason this isn’t at 3pm on Saturday, and last on Match of the Day, is because there’s some rugby league on.
Pochettino should know exactly what he’ll get from Burnley — a dogged away performance, a team looking for a point. It’s normality, and if Burnley manage to come away with anything, then Pochettino has more serious problems than the choice of venue.
Spurs were never going to repeat a home record of 17 wins and two draws: Spurs were sensationally good at White Hart Lane last season.
It wasn’t a fluke — Spurs earned those points, and the only “fortunate” result that really springs to mind was the point after being largely outplayed, as always, by Liverpool. (It was a year ago, so of course memories vary). But the law of averages would suggest we’ll come down to earth a bit, even if we play equally well.
Pochettino has achieved a lot in his three years at Spurs — a transformation of club culture, instillation of a clear playing philosophy and tactical advancements each season. The result has been season-by-season improvement.
However, in one area, he has not yet been able to move the needle — Tottenham’s away record.
Here are the home and away points records for the past five seasons, since the start of the AVB era.
Home: 53, 36, 33, 36, 38
Away: 33, 34, 31, 33, 34
Those away records are remarkably similar, no? All within the margin of a single victory over the course of a 19-game campaign.
This is hardly a revelation, and no doubt Pochettino is aware of the failure to improve away results. However, he might argue that away performances have improved, even if the points accumulated haven’t.
Here are the total number of draws, home and away, in the past two seasons:
Home: 2, 6, 3, 3, 5
Away: 6, 7, 4, 3, 4
Spurs have arguably become a more stubborn away outfit — although it appears to be a double edged sword, with both victories and defeats being turned instead into draws. That would certainly fit with how it “feels” to watch Spurs away from home — they do seem to play better, it’s just that the results haven’t gotten better.
The key for Pochettino this term will be finding two or three more away wins. How does he do it? Time will tell. Certainly, improved squad options can’t hurt — I can’t recall a more frustrating away performance than at Sunderland last season, when a tired-looking Spurs team couldn’t find a way past a dreadful home side. In that game, Pochettino turned to the bench and saw Moussa Sissoko and Vincent Janssen, rather than players he could trust to send on and change the game. It’s felt for a couple of seasons now that Spurs miss a quality attacking option — ideally one with real pace or ball-carrying ability — off the bench, beyond Son Heung-min.
But transfers are just one solution — i’d be curious to read any home vs away tactical analysis, to see if there are obvious tweaks that Spurs could make with existing players. A consistent theme from Pochettino has been the scope for improving the mentality of squad — it sounds fluffy, but it’s about the expectation that Spurs will win, no matter the adversity. Pochettino succeeded in transforming the mentality in home matches last season, and so now the question will be if he can transform it when Spurs travel. His work is far from done — there is still the issue of consistently poor European performances to address in due course. The good news is, Poch seems well up for it.
For Pochettino and Spurs this season, the goal is simple: increase the number of away points by more than the decline in number of home points. Or at least, reduce the impact of a likely drop in home points with an increase in away points.
Does that make sense?
OK — now I see it: it’s way easier to write about Wembley being cursed.
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