In a marquee Friday Night Football clash, Tottenham’s title charge scuppered, succumbing to defeat at the London Stadium to West Ham United.
The performance in East London on Friday night was almost freakishly reminiscent of Tottenham’s loss at the Boleyn Ground last March. That loss began their collapse at the back-end of last season. Throughout the first half, it looked as if West Ham had come to sit deep and steal a point off Tottenham.
However, for the first time this season, West Ham beat a side inside the top eight, thanks to a Slaven Bilic defensive masterclass. From the first whistle, Bilic’s side was happy to sit back and use the pace of Manuel Lanzini and Andre Ayew on the counter-attack with balls over the top of Tottenham’s high line.
“Bottling the title?”
While the topic of conversation will seem to be about Tottenham “bottling” another Premier League title, the focus must shift away from that phrase. In the first week of December, Tottenham were sitting in fifth place, outside the top four. On January 1, they were 13 points behind league leaders Chelsea.
At no moment in time were Tottenham favourites for the title, nor were they ever top of the pile even for a few hours. Tottenham’s unlikely title charge seemingly kept the race alive for a few more weeks. However, they never seemed likely to usurp the unstoppable Chelsea. It is simply unfair to accuse Tottenham of “bottling” the title this season as they were always outsiders and were never given the opportunity to “bottle” it.
A promising future
Instead, attention must be shifted onto the work that Mauricio Pochettino has done to change the image of Tottenham over the past few seasons. Before Mauricio Pochettino was hired, if someone had told Daniel Levy that in Spurs’ first three seasons under Pochettino, his side would finish in the top four twice, Levy would have bitten his hand off for it. During this time of such exponential growth as a club and as a team, Spurs fans must recall how far they have come from the days of Juande Ramos and even Harry Redknapp.
This season, the title has been a step too far, but next season, Tottenham will be one of the main contenders. In the lead-up to the game on Friday, Bilic himself said that while Chelsea deserve to win the title, Tottenham play the most attractive football:
“Don’t get me wrong, Chelsea deserve to be on top, but Spurs are playing maybe the best football.”
The only thing that will add to Tottenham’s poetic style of play is that killer instinct that they do not quite have yet. Only experience can add that sense of ruthlessness, which has been evident between last season and this. The more that this squad stick together and grow together, the more that Tottenham become serious, consistent contenders.
Learning from West Ham
In West Ham’s first season at the London Stadium, they have struggled at home, taking only 25 out of a possible 57 points on their new turf in Stratford, having being battered by the likes of Manchester City and Arsenal. Earlier in the season, there were a handful of issues rising to the fore at the Hammers’ new ground including the issue of safe standing and stewarding.
This suggested that the planning of the move was not executed as much to perfection as wanted. With West Ham being so strong at the Boleyn Ground last season, it would have always been hard for them to settle into new surroundings this season. Recent evidence suggests that West Ham might be starting to enjoy life at their new 66,000-seat stadium, taking seven points out of the last nine at home.
Mauricio Pochettino spoke before the clash on Friday, saying that if given a chance after the match, he would be more than happy to talk to Bilic about the stadium-moving process. The Spurs boss seemed eager to acquire advice from his close friend Bilic about life in new surroundings. Spurs will want to be more successful in their first season at their new stadium than West Ham were. Thus, Pochettino will be eager to figure out how to adapt to their new stadium and improve on the way the Hammers did it.
Tottenham’s title charge falters
While this result may seem like a sucker-punch to Tottenham, they have shown before that they are capable of rebounding. In the grand scheme of things, Chelsea never seemed like they would slip up.
With Middlesbrough, West Brom and Sunderland to go, they could not have asked for a more favourable run-in. Whether West Ham triumphed or not, Tottenham looked almost certain to finish second this season. Regardless of the result on Friday, Tottenham have had a very successful campaign.