Sunday’s Manchester City versus Spurs showdown was everything football should be. Pep Guardiola and Mauricio Pochettino, both very much new mould managers, had their teams pressing the life out of each other. It was one of the best — if not the most entertaining Premier League game since last season’s Battle at Stamford Bridge between Chelsea and Tottenham.
It was one of those games where you keep catching yourself holding your breath. The individual battles were everywhere: Jesus Navas versus Kyle Walker, Raheen Sterling versus Danny Rose, Victor Wanyama versus every man in a City jersey, Aleksandar Kolarov versus his own net and poor Claudio Bravo battling the entire crowd at White Hart Lane.
Spurs and City are, right now, the best two teams in the league. The performances don’t lie. But Spurs had been doing it very quietly until Sunday’s upset.
1. Harry Who?
Harry Kane did the impossible in his first two years in the Spurs spotlight: he never got hurt, somehow. Apart from a nose issue that didn’t cause him to miss any game time, he’s been healthy. A Kane injury down the stretch in last year’s title race would’ve been club-shattering.
— He’s a Yiddo (@awwwsid) September 22, 2016
Now, it seems like the team know how to cope with what was every Tottenham fan’s worst nightmare. Last year’s golden boys, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen, have started somewhat quietly. No worries, though — Ballon d’Or frontrunners Erik Lamela and Son Heung-Min have lightened the load. The two have put Spurs’ attack on their backs with a combined 10 goals and 10 assists so far. Son has scored five in his last six games and is in stupid form. No Kane, no problem?
2. The Belgian Wall
Since Toby Alderweireld was transferred in before last year, he and fellow Belgian Jan Vertonghen have started every Premier League game. In all fairness, Spurs attack has been supported by their defense. They haven’t needed to bang in four goals a game, even though they did against a Stoke side that was basically still sitting on the team bus that day. Let’s get two points out of the way — I think you can handle the truth.
First: since the start of last season, Spurs have had the best defense in the league. Yeah, yeah…Leicester let in two fewer goals last year, but they’ve since imploded. And second: Toby Alderweireld is and has been the best centre-back in the Premier League by far. In the latter half of last season, Toby went 960 minutes without a foul. 960 minutes. His season total? Nine.
This year has been no different. The City game was the test that Spurs’ defense needed to prove its worth. The defensive record thus far? Just three goals conceded, none from open play. Are you kidding me with that, Tottenham? Are you kidding? The best defense in the league, indeed.
Toby Alderweireld emptying his pockets this evening. pic.twitter.com/gOCz35D8Q1
— Lee Hunt (@LeeHunt1882) October 2, 2016
3. In Poch We Trust
Manager Mauricio Pochettino’s philosophy hasn’t changed any since last year. He values young talents who aren’t afraid to put in a triple shift on the pitch. They’ve bought in, and now Spurs are paying out in a big way. Poch has posed for contract signing photos with seven players — including Eriksen, Alli, Dier, Rose and Walker — in the last few weeks. There are also rumored to be in talks with the likes of Lamela, Kane, Alderweireld, Vertonghen and Lloris. Pochettino has loved what he’s seen from his squad. Tying down the entire first XI until 2020? It just might work.
In the last 6 years, only 2 PL teams conceded fewer than 4 goals after 7 games – #thfc 2016 & Southampton 2013, both managed by Pochettino.
— Tom Allnutt (@tomallnuttPA) October 3, 2016
Fans are also beginning to see the brilliance of the Poch plan. “Spurs-y” no more: his players are finally embracing his high-tempo, end-to-end style and the results have become scarily consistent. Pochettino also seems to have learned his lesson from last spring’s dip in form, when he hesitated to rotate his tired squad. Specifics aside, the culture at Tottenham Hotspur is on the up and up. A solid, spirited core of players, a new stadium on the way and a brilliant young manager…eat your hearts out, Gooners!
Best start in 57 years. Only team unbeaten & yet to concede a goal from open play.
Pochettino’s the best thing to ever happen to this club.
— The Spurs Brain (@TheSpursBrain) October 2, 2016