Cheers and a Happy Christmas to anyone reading this column today! I hope your holidays were filled with relaxation, good food, and great times with loved ones as you took a break from the daily grind to focus on what’s really important.
Fortunately for all of us, football doesn’t take a holiday, and instead throws up a bevy of matches during a period many of us are off work and can actually watch the games. Ordinarily, I’d have had to stream yesterday’s Tottenham-Southampton game off some dodgy website while at work (sorry, boss), but I instead got to watch from the comfort of my living room couch. It was a much better viewing experience overall, especially considering the flattering 4-1 final score in favor of Spurs.
Unlike most teams in the league who played most recently on Boxing Day, Spurs and the Saints had an extra few days of rest before they kicked off their holiday fixture list. And what a tight fixture list it is for both teams; Spurs travel to Watford on New Year’s day and then host Chelsea on January 4th, while Southampton entertain West Brom on New Year’s Eve before visiting Everton two days later on the 2nd. Both sides are better off in the points tally than they were at this stage last season, but the next 4-5 days will be crucial in keeping up that impressive pace.
For Spurs, that means staying in the hunt for a top four position. In previous columns, I’ve wondered aloud about the ability of Pochettino’s squad to be competitive in this race, given the strength of the other teams in contention and Spurs’ own penchant for underperformance. In the first few minutes of yesterday’s match, those fears seemed justified, as we went behind to a very early goal primarily because we weren’t awake at the first whistle. Yet as the game went on and Spurs took control, I began to see glimpses of the side that performed so well last season. The scoreline at the end certainly flattered us, but any come-from-behind victory demonstrates character and it was good to see us rally in such fashion.
Our rivals for a top four position continue to perform at high levels, though, so every game is essentially a cup final even this early in the season. Liverpool crushed Stoke 4-1 on Tuesday, while Arsenal, City, Chelsea, and United all won on Boxing Day. The top 4 race hasn’t been this tight for several seasons now, and this further underlines the need for consistency as Spurs navigate their holiday matches. On that note, many will look to the Chelsea game at White Hart Lane as decisive, but in my opinion the focus needs to be on Watford first. Vicarage Road is not an easy place to go and win at, and it is the so-called “small” teams like Watford that always wind up nicking vital points off of Spurs come the end of the campaign. In short, even victory against Chelsea is somewhat meaningless if we can’t come up with results against the sides we should be beating, and that starts on New Year’s Day.
The performance of our rivals aside, I saw some very good things out of the Southampton game yesterday that give me confidence moving forward. For starters, both Dele Alli and Moussa Sissoko had excellent games, a positive sign for many Spurs fans that were critical of the duo’s contributions in previous weeks. Harry Kane looked sharp despite his penalty miss, and took his goal well from an Eriksen set piece. Son came on late but marked his brief appearance with a clinical finish, suggesting that Pochettino has reliable weapons on the bench should he need them. In short, the attack looks to be clicking again, suggesting we can really push on and start eating away at the top four’s slim advantage over us.
If I were a greedy optimist, I’d say we can take 6 points out of 6 from the Watford and Chelsea games. But realistically, 4 from 6 would be good enough in our current position. The Watford game is a MUST WIN, but very few teams are able to beat Conte’s Chelsea at the moment, even at home. If we can hold them to a draw, I’ll count it as a success.