Taking Stock #1

Post 27

Spurs 1 Chelsea 2

Here is what I wrote last April after we lost the FA Cup Semi-Final (Post 2):

“Chelsea won. Fair and square. But I took three things away from the 90 minutes. Firstly, these really are the two best teams in the PL … Yet what struck me more than at White Hart Lane in January, is that Spurs now really are (just) better than Chelsea. It’s just that Chelsea are still better than us at winning tight games like this one. Two individual errors and a one-in-a-hundred strike did for us, despite dominating Chelsea for long periods.”

And so it continues. Chelsea won a match without outplaying us. A match that, on balance, we certainly didn’t deserve to lose. Sound familiar?

There is no Wembley hoodoo. That narrative will be dead by Christmas. But there is, indeed, a Chelsea hoodoo. Longstanding, since the early 90s, and continuing. Yes, we have turned the tide, 5-3 and 2-0 at the Lane, but our record at Stamford Bridge, and in the games that really matter, is still lamentable. One Carling Cup (2008) is the only glove we’ve landed on them since I was a boy (since 1967, the first Cup Final I attended).

So, after an undefeated 16-17 Season at home, we open 17-18 with a defeat at ‘home’. The fixture computer wasn’t kind. It would have been better to start at Wembley with almost any other team. Injuries and suspensions suggested it might have been a good time to play Chelsea but it wasn’t. It rarely is.

After the second round of matches, Spurs are in 10th, with a 1-0-1 record and 3 points. Man United, Huddersfield and West Brom (all 6 points) are in the automatic CL places and 5 clubs have 0 points. Early days but that hasn’t stopped the pundits talking up Man United (two 4-0 wins).

As to the match itself, as I quoted above, Chelsea did a job on us. They came to defend and hit us on the break. Alonso scored a wonderful left-footed free kick on 24 minutes and they defended that lead with 5-at-the-back until the 82nd minute when Batshuayi headed an Eriksen free kick into his own net. Six minutes later, Spurs gifted Chelsea a winner; our team momentarily imploded but two individual errors (by Wanyama and Lloris) allowed Alonso to score his second goal. They had two shots on target, both scored.

Aside from the opening 15 minutes, Spurs dominated the rest of the match. At least we did in statistical terms; 68% possession overall, 18 shots v 9, 6 on target v 2, 14 corners v 3, and 14 fouls v 21. Kane alone had 8 shots, his most in a Premier League game without finding the net (one shot cannoned off the post). There’s much talk about his ‘August hoodoo’; he’s now had 34 shots and played 12 games in the month of August since breaking into the First Team without scoring in the Premier League.

But our domination, such as it was, didn’t feel like the sexy sadism of Spurs in the second half of last Season; the Spurs of those 4-0, 6-1, 7-1 spankings. Of course, it’s early days. Being match-ready to see off Newcastle isn’t enough to open up a resilient rival. We were industrious. We made them work. We huffed and puffed. But it was labored, repetitive even.

The more pertinent question is not why can’t we beat Chelsea? We can. Just not often enough. Yet. No, the real issue is whether Pochettino has the tools to take us forward again this season? 3rd, 2nd, 1st?

With a week still to go of the Transfer Window, it is too early to make a final judgment of our first team squad for the Season. So far we have lost Kyle Walker and gained Davinson Sanchez. The concern amongst our fan base is not so much that Spurs have weakened, it is that Man United and Man City definitely, and Chelsea and Everton probably, have all strengthened, while Liverpool and Arsenal can only be properly judged in a week’s time. The perception is that by ‘standing still’ we have moved backwards.

By tomorrow things will be clearer.

See Taking Stock #2

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