Mauricio Pochettino might talk down Tottenham’s title hopes but it’s becoming difficult for anyone else to now
WEMBLEY STADIUM, LONDON — That’s 11 goals in two matches either side of Christmas. That’s 45 points from 19 games, Tottenham‘s best start to a season since the Glory Glory year of 1961. That’s a point more than Manchester City. They will never win the league, though. To suggest so is to invite death by rotten fruit and titters.
Never mind are they challengers. A better question is are Spurs, pound for pound, the best performing outfit in the Premier League, the routine emasculation of Bournemouth placing them in second place, six points off the top at the halfway stage? We know how the naysayers feel. Mauricio Pochettino has not won a bean. Spurs have not won a pot since the League Cup a decade ago and only two since the FA Cup success of 27 years ago.
Liverpool and Manchester City are top loaded with high end talent and boast benches that would start in other top six sides. Spurs are not in their class. Yet here we are at Yuletide with Spurs humming with vim and vigour. Given the structural constraints imposed by their new build in N17, which not only denies them a home but forces upon them a rental that is more mausoleum than stadium, and the lack of squad reinforcements in the summer, Pochettino continues his masterclass in husbandry.
Walking them in with ease
Yes Bournemouth limped into Wembley on a hospital run of six losses in eight and having never beaten Spurs in a league game. That’s providence for you, the kind of fortune that keeps a ball rolling. Irrespective of fate’s generous offerings Pochettino is making his own luck. It is he who has persisted with Juan Foyth, he who has brought Kyle Walker-Peters up to speed and rebuilt the as-new Moussa Sissoko, who powered through this match like a 21-year-old.
The contest was over in barely half an hour, with Walker-Peters providing the assist to all three goals. Christian Eriksen was the first beneficiary clipping a deflected shot past Asmir Begovic. Charlie Daniels was entirely culpable for the second, failing to deal with a cross from Toby Alderweireld before being mugged by Walker-Peters, who fed Son Heung-min.
The Korean does not hang about. He took a touch, picked his spot and hit it. Two shots on target, two nil up. By the 35th minute Spurs were walking them in, Lucas Moura collecting the pull-back from you know who to side-foot Bournemouth into the ground. Harry Kane and Son added the second half embroidery that was a tad harsh on poor Eddie Howe. It would have to be now in the middle of an awful spell that his work should be scrutinised in the unforgiving light of peak Pochettino, the man he is tipped to replace should Manchester United’s courtship of the Argentine prove irresistible.
‘Spurs were clinical'
If Howe has for the moment lost impetus on the pitch his qualities are perhaps best reflected in the clarity of his thinking during difficult episodes, his ability to maintain a sense of perspective and to keep the heads of his players pointing upwards.
“It was a strange game,” the Bournemouth manager said afterwards. “We had couple of really good moments at start of the match. It turned on their first goal, a deflection from distance. I don’t know if that affected my players mentally or not. Never really recovered and conceded some poor goals. We’ll look back and see some good things but ultimately a heavy defeat. No point going to too deep into this. Our next match is at Manchester United. We have to prepare for that.”
For the record Howe is a believer in the Spurs title debate. “Without a doubt,” he said when asked if Spurs can win it. “They have forward players and creative players that can cause any team problems. They had opportunities today and took them. That was the difference between the two teams. They didn’t create many chances but when they did they were clinical.”
‘I'm trying to keep balance in my emotions'
Like Howe, Pochettino impresses in his refusal to get carried away. Reminded how eight weeks ago Spurs lost here to City to fall back to fifth, he responded thus: “I was not negative then and I’m not so positive now. I’m trying to keep the balance in my emotions. We are happy but not surprised. We focus on us. Our work is paying off. It does not mean too much to be second now. It is important where we are in May.
“If we are here it is because we have amazing belief. The players deserve credit. We have faith and great ideas. The challenge is to increase that [level of] performance. Now we show our face and everyone wants to kill you. That makes it tougher. We just need to stay humble and keep working hard. If we keep our level until May we can maybe talk about being real contenders.”
Pochettino’s culture of honesty and faith has bound the team around a productive, entirely positive ethos. If you want to know his secret, here he spell it out. “When you take the decision not to buy [in the summer] you need to be positive and give your best to the team. One thing we have is the belief in the squad, young players as well as senior. In six months we have not complained about anything not the [lack of] signings, the stadium, the fixtures, playing at Wembley when the plan was to be in new stadium. Many, many things. But we keep the belief. We create a bubble that is now paying. This makes us proud.”
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