Regardless as to whether Tottenham Hotspur manage to climb to the summit of the Europa League this season, supporters can at least rest assured that they’ve managed to reach one cup final this season. Or if Hugo Lloris’ recent sentiments are to be adhered to, you can times that number by eight.
It is of course a cliché that’s wheeled out all too often at this time of the season but given the eerie path of 12 months ago that Spurs’ campaign seems to be treading, there is perhaps little to argue in the feeling that their next eight Premier League games truly do carry the weight of a cup final in amongst them.
What felt like something of a small hiccup in the Lilywhites’ season following their 4-1 mauling at the hands of Internazionale in the Europa League earlier this month, now looks perilously close to developing into a more debilitating wobble that’s threatening to have a far more sinister effect upon their campaign.
Two consecutive defeats in the league at the hands of Liverpool and Fulham have seen Andre Villas-Boas’ side effectively all but throw away the seven-point lead they’d worked so hard to attain. And as Lloris suggests, no one in N17 is taking anything for granted.
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“We did very well for 12 games and we lost against Liverpool and Fulham, but the most important thing is the reaction,” the Frenchman told the Daily Mail.
“I think the international break was a good thing for us, to help us find energy for the end of the season. We now have eight games which are like eight finals.”
Certainly, if Spurs really were on the proverbial ropes following Dimitar Berbatov’s 1-0 winner for Fulham during their last league outing, then the recent international break has proved a desperately needed return to their corner. Far from just avoiding a knockout punch themselves when they visit Swansea City this weekend, they need to start matching their rival’s results blow for blow.
With Arsenal having gone to the Liberty Stadium and won during their last league game, while Spurs supporters will be loathsome to add any more pressure than what their side is already having to bear, Saturday’s game against Michael Laudrup’s side is nothing less than a must-win.
But for as prominent as the cup final cliché may be at White Hart Lane in recent days, the notion of a ‘winning mentality’ hasn’t been too far off supporters’ lips either.
It’s something that the team threatened to finally develop following the ground out wins against the likes West Bromwich Albion and Newcastle and the last minute comebacks against the away games against both Lyon and West Ham United suggested that the Lilywhites might finally be developing a new found steel under Andre Villas-Boas.
Three defeats on the spin, however, have cast doubt that the soft-centre will ever be galvanized.
But it’s interesting to hear Lloris describe what’s needed in order for Spurs to not only achieve Champions League qualification this season, but to also push on further and take the club onto a level that many seem reluctant to even contemplate.
“We have ambition to put this club in the top four every year,” the 26-year-old said.
“When you are a player you have to be at the highest level in every game and you have to instil a winning mentality. A good model is Manchester United. They prove every season they have the mentality of winners.”
When Spurs have succumbed to defeat this season, so often the post-mortem has been a forensic examination of the tactical kind, with so much of the weight of blame usually attributed to faulty formations and suspect substitutions.
But with the side having hauled themselves up to third at one point within this division, how much of their fate over the next eight games lies within not what’s going on with the ball at their feet, rather in-between their ears?
No one can preempt what might or might not happen during this weekend’s game against Swansea City and if football was as simple as the team with the best players winning every week, the Premier League wouldn’t of course be quite the product it is today.
But while they have perhaps been dented by Aaron Lennon’s recent absence, this Tottenham side carry no more or no less troubles with them to Wales on Saturday than what they did during the majority of the recent club record 12-game unbeaten run. For as refreshing as it was to see them develop the steel that saw them snatch victory from the jaws of defeat during that run, the club will perhaps never truly progress, until they banish their habit of doing the opposite, for good.
To quote one Robert South, “defeat should never be a source of discouragement but rather a fresh stimulus.”
The barometer of how much Spurs have progressed mentally this season was always going to be when their undefeated run came to an end – not for how long it would go on for. And for as many strides as the majority of supporters may believe the side have made under Andre Villas-Boas, should Tottenham be unable to overcome their recent run of adversity, then perhaps ultimately this team may not have developed at all.
If they want to out finish their rivals, qualify for the Champions League and push on towards pastures previously thought too giddy to even contemplate, then Spurs are going to have to develop the requisite mentality to dovetail with their footballing prowess.
The next eight games will ultimately decide their fate, but how Villas-Boas’ side react to the gauntlet that Arsenal have thrown down for them at Swansea, will go a long way to determining how far they’ve ultimately come.
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