Dumped out of the Champions League in early December last season wasn’t the nicest early Christmas present for Tottenham Hotspur last season, but to be dumped out of the Premier League’s title race this time seems like it might be worse.
The problem isn’t so much that they’re so far behind league leaders Manchester City that they can’t possibly clamber back into real contention in time for a dramatic finish, but that they’re already four points behind fourth place and seemingly already out of touching distance for the Champions League.
That’s much less terminal for Tottenham as they go into the festive period where four-point gaps can be eaten up very quickly indeed, but to be level on points with Burnley at this point seems a little unfortunate, even if the Clarets are performing well above expectations.
And yet, whatever pressure there is to make sure that they do finish the season in fourth spot will be lessened by the fact that the two teams directly above them, Liverpool and Arsenal, aren’t two of the Premier League’s most reliable outfits. Mauricio Pochettino’s side, on the other hand, are formidable when they get into a run of form.
But that might be why being out of the title race could turn out to be a good thing for Spurs this season.
We’ve heard a lot about how Spurs need to win a trophy soon, or else face some sort of unspecified wrath. Everything from losing momentum, to losing their manager and losing their best players has been touted as the forfeit for failing to win a cup, but the reality is that they could just be doing with a nice piece of silverware as a memento for doing so well over the last few years. And with the FA Cup and the Champions League to play for, and the chance to get into a rhythm after Christmas – when Pochettino’s Spurs sides traditionally up their game – on the cards, this looks like it could be the season.
One of those trophies seems eminently more winnable than the other, of course. For Tottenham to win the Champions League at the second time of asking would be special. This is, of course, Spurs’ third season in the competition, but none of their regular starters from that season are still at the club and we have a very new Tottenham to anything we’ve seen before.
But despite this, perhaps the Champions League is exactly the competition that Spurs should be hoping to win this year.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment this season for Tottenham has been the form of players like Dele Alli, who have been so impressive for the two previous seasons, but whose form has slumped off. It’s hard to expect the young Spurs players who have been so good for so long to keep it up indefinitely. But perhaps the mundanity of the Premier League takes its toll on a player when they’ve tasted the glamour of the Champions League.
Indeed, this season’s edition has been filled to the brim with glamour. Not only have their played their home games under the lights at Wembley, but they’ve also welcomed Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid to the home of football, as well as played in the Bernabeu and in front of the Yellow Wall. And perhaps that explains why they’ve done so well in Europe and yet are bottom of the top six in the Premier League: it’s not the banal home game against West Bromwich Albion that these players are looking forward to, it’s the Champions League games, instead.
And so Spurs should try to harness that. Attempt to garner some good performances over the next few weeks to take their formidable form into a Champions League spring and strike fear into the hearts of Europe just like they have done in England for the last two springs. And if they do that, with Madrid and Dortmund down, with Barcelona and Juventus off form and with PSG and Manchester City possibly beatable over two legs, Spurs shouldn’t fear anyone.
Perhaps being dumped out of one competition in December isn’t so bad after all.