Watching the normally stoic Mauricio Pochettino pound the turf in disappointment after last weekend's 1-1 draw with Liverpool at Anfield, it was notable how far Spurs had come in such a short time.
Despite a wretched away record against Liverpool, Pochettino could see the title slipping through his fingers as his fearless Spurs side ran aground against Jurgen Klopp's men, dropping two crucial points as the season moves into the business end.
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“Lads, its Tottenham.”
Needing just three words to effectively sum up Spurs, that was all Sir Alex Ferguson needed to say to inspire his team to victory during his pre-match team talk. Tottenham were, in Roy Keane’s own words, “nice and tidy but we’ll f****** do them”.
Reliably unreliable, Spurs seemed to perpetually be struggling with an inferiority complex, despite boasting several marquee players over the years like Gareth Bale, Luka Modric, Sol Campbell, David Ginola and Jurgen Klinsmann.
Tottenham have only managed to win the League Cup twice (99 & 08) since the inception of the Premier League in 1992. Watching them throw away a 3-0 halftime lead at Old Trafford to eventually lose 5-3 back in 2001 tells you all you need about the Lilywhites. Indeed, Spurs have always lacked the mentality to ever challenge the established elite in the league.
The arrival of Argentine manager Mauricio Pochettino on May 14 though has turned that notion firmly on its head.
Pochettino begann his managerial career back at Espanyol where he had spent the bulk of his playing days as a centre back. In his three years there, he managed to keep Espanyol comfortably in mid-table but was sacked in the November of the 12/13 season where his Espanyol side were rock bottom with just 9 points from 13 games. That though did not deter Southampton, who sacked Nigel Adkins and brought in Pochettino in Jan 13.
Pochettino’s stock rose considerably after guiding the Saints to an unexpected 8th-placed finish in the 13/14 season. Spurs Chairman David Levy had seen enough.
Today, no longer are Spurs a traditionally flaky group of players that lacked the belief to win more than an odd cup. In a short span of a single season, Pochettino has turned this Spurs into a solid, competitive and hardworking unit that can take on the best the league has to offer. Sitting pretty in second, Spurs increasingly look like the first team to finish ahead of Chelsea, Arsenal as well as the Manchester giants without lifting the Premier League title. Indeed, Spurs boast both the best attack and the best defence, with their goal difference of +32 comfortably ahead of the rest of the pack.
This feat is all the more impressive given that Spurs rapid improvement was not due to a Russian oligarch or a middle-eastern sheikh throwing money at the club. Instead, Pochettino has ruthlessly jettisoned under-performing players, replacing them with younger and hungrier players who could understand and carry out the Pochettino’s philosophies.
Spurs' Energetic Style
Facing a Spurs side set up to press the ball high up the field and win possession back within three seconds, even a side like Arsenal struggled to retain the ball. Indeed, during the 1-1 draw in the North London derby back in November, Arsenal managed a 75% pass completion rate, a staggering 10% drop from the season average of 85% as the Spurs players swarmed all over the Arsenal team, forcing mistakes.
Boasting the youngest squad in the league at a little over 24 years of age, Pochettino has crafted a Spurs side in his own image. 22-year-old Harry Kane leads the line with 23-year-old's Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela providing the creativity. With 21-year-old Eric Dier and 19-year-old Dele Alli engines of boundless energy whilst proving to be a formidable defensive shield in the middle of the park, Spurs have become a consistently difficult side to beat. Contrary to popular belief, Spurs and not Arsenal is the place for young players to be.
With their best years ahead of them, it will be no surprise if Spurs is spoken of in the same breath as Manchester City and Arsenal sooner rather than later. Indeed, some smart transfer dealings in the summer will go a long way to ensuring that Spurs chase for the title next season as well.
With Manchester United travelling to White Hart Lane this weekend, one would imagine that Sir Alex Ferguson would have far more to say to his team against this Spurs side if he were still managing in the Premier League today.
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