The top four and its incentives have been a goal of Tottenham Hotspur for a very long time. It’s the one thing everyone affiliated with the club, from the fans to Dan Levy, desperately crave. Its eluded Spurs since that famous campaign in 2010, filled with memories of Gareth Bale putting Maicon on buttered toast, topping a group that included reigning champions Inter Milan, and famously squeezing past Milan 1-0 in the round of 16.
It ended in disappointment, but you can’t expect too much against Ronaldo and Real Madrid. That year was the first and (to this date) last time Tottenham Hotspur has played in the Champions League in its current format. Every challenge for the top four since then has fell short. The closest they’ve come since was in the following season, when Tottenham placed 4th, but Chelsea, placed 6th, won the Champions League in heartbreaking fashion, taking Tottenham’s spot.
Last year, Tottenham finished 1 point behind Arsenal, just missing the top 4.
This year, there is doubt as to whether Tottenham will make it that far. Coming into season, it seemed as if we were invincible. We had made some great signings.
Paulinho was believed by many to be one of the better Brazilian players, winning the Bronze Ball of the Confederations Cup, behind only Neymar. That is some pretty lofty company. Roberto Soldado was viewed as the solution to our lack of goals without Gareth Bale. He could finish anything you give him with Valencia. Nacer Chadli looked like a very good prospect for the left wing, a two footed player who could cut in and bang in goals as well as hug the touchline and put in a fine cross.
Étienne Capoue was a known ball winner, he could help shield the defense and hold the midfield. A further 3 signings were made near the end of the transfer window before our loss to Arsenal. Erik Lamela, future Ballon D’Or candidate according to those in Italy. Christian Eriksen, who guided Ajax to 3 straight Eredivise titles with an eye for a pass. Last but definitely not least, Vlad Chriches, an unknown but apparently decent Romanian center back only viewed in the Champions League.
All these signings seemed set to help Tottenham to the top four, and maybe even beyond those expectations. Some were expecting Tottenham to be lifting the Premier League trophy! Such lofty expectations, but such disappointment followed.
Brief Review of the Season so Far..
For the first two games of the season, Tottenham picked up two wins, but only scored twice, and both were penalties. Not much was going on in the creativity department, and no goals from open play were scored. How is that, with so much attacking talent? There was no time to worry, as upcoming was the North London Derby, and surely there will be goals in that match! The game ended 1-0 in Arsenal’s favor courtesy of a 22’ minute tap in from Olivier Giroud. Fear started to spread about our lack of goals. After that match, 2-0 and 1-0 were the score lines for the next two games, both wins for Tottenham over Norwich and Cardiff, respectively. A respectable 1-1 draw versus Chelsea followed, and after that a 3-0 drubbing at the hands of West Ham (let’s not go into to that much).
From then, Tottenham went 3 games undefeated, defeating Aston Villa (Roberto Soldado scored his first goal from open play and Andros Townsend accidentally scored first goal this season) and Hull, and a blank draw against Everton. The two games that followed were utter madness, in their unique ways.
The first game, a 1-0 loss to Newcastle, was the day Tim Krul decided to have the greatest goalkeeping performance in EPL history. He made 14 saves- the most by a keeper this term – and most of them were shots he wouldn’t have saved on another day. Albeit, he was helped at times by poor finishing. It was shocking that Tottenham didn’t win by at least 4 goals.
A trip to the Etihad followed, and no team that’s gone in has got out in one piece. After that day, Tottenham are definitely included. Manchester City scored after 12 seconds, and it one could easily predict that it wouldn’t be a bed of roses for Tottenham from then on. Manchester City scored 5 more goals, and that was the day most of us (unfortunately, me included) counted us out for the top 4. Top 4 teams do not lose 6-0 to direct rivals for those top 4 spots.
Over the next 3 games, Tottenham recovered in good fashion, gaining 7 points from 3 games, one of them against Manchester United. A big game against Liverpool loomed. Liverpool is a team that we will be competing directly against for the top 4, so a big result was needed. Liverpool showed up, Tottenham and their makeshift back line did not.
Tottenham Hotspur was mercilessly slaughtered in front of the home crowd 5 goals to nil. Dan Levy and the board were not happy. The foundations were rattling. AVB was going to be fired, everyone knew it. Dan Levy, the fans, and everyone else at the club were tired of being utterly demolished against teams they need results again.
Dan Levy did what he had to do. He sacked AVB, which caused the Great Schism 2.0 around world football. It was 50:50 in terms of opinions on AVB being sacked. Some believe he should’ve been given some more time, others (including myself) believe it was the right choice.
In stepped Tim Sherwood, who was eventually handed an eighteen month contract after a 3-2 win over Southampton. After a draw against WBA and two comprehensive wins over Stoke City and Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur are firmly in the race for the top four.
Reasons why Tottenham can make the top four:
• New look Spurs: Tim Sherwood has really revitalized the team. All he had to do is reintroduce Emmanuel Adebayor, who feels like a new signing. He has started all 5 of Tottenham’s games since Sherwood has been appointed, scoring 4 and assisting 1. That means he’s been directly involved in a goal per game. When he hasn’t scored or assisted (versus WBA) he’s still worked tirelessly and impressively. This is very unlike Adebayor, who we know as the guy who gives up easily, pisses off managers, and unsettles clubs. Also, Soldado is looking much better in the 4-4-2 formation next to Adebayor. Speaking of the formation…
• 4-4-2/4-4-1-1/4-3-3: Tim Sherwood organizes his squad initially as a 4-4-2. For example, his lineup against Manchester United originally was lined up in a 4-4-2, but throughout the game it formed into a 4-4-1-1 with Soldado up top and Adebayor moving from a CF position to a second striker position. After the substitutions, a shape of a 4-3-3 was starting to shape, but there was almost no offense in the last 20 minutes due to Manchester United’s desperate yet relentless bombardment. The only notable offense of note during that period was Harry Kane trolling United by booting the ball into the stands after he was called for offsides. This/these new formation(s) has really upped the ante in terms of excitement, attacking play, and goals. 10 goals in 5 games equals to 3 wins, a draw, a loss (who cares about the league cup anyway?) and some damn exciting play. Tim Sherwood seems to have cracked the code.
• The returns of Sandro and Jan Vertonghen: In my opinion, Jan Vertonghen and Sandro are the two most important players to Tottenham Hotspur (Kyle Walker and Adebayor definitely can make an argument for that title as well). Jan Vertonghen is a versatile defender who gives us a world class presence no matter what. He barely plays a bad game, and also is refined in terms of his technical skill. He showed that off versus Swansea last year, bringing a beautiful over the top ball from Gareth Bale down with one touch and then coolly slotting past Michel Vorm with another. He also claimed an assist on Bale’s goal. Sandro is a whole different monster. He brings a world class presence to our midfield, expertly playing the role of holding midfielder, while also containing a wicked shot in his locker. He lets no one get past him, attacks our only played down the wing as the opposition pees its pants when laying eyes upon Sandro. The opposing team doesn’t dare go down the middle of the pitch, as the beast waits for its prey. In all seriousness, Sandro and Jan Vertonghen bring something to the team that we need: a midfielder to keep things going smoothly and a defender that has no faults.
Can Tottenham make the top four?
I’m obviously a bit biased, but I firmly believe Tottenham Hotspur will finish fourth place. Why you say? I listed the reasons above already. Some say Tottenham are too far back, but they have gained 10 points in 4 games and are only 2 points behind Liverpool, who are in 4th. In fact, in a few weeks Everton and Liverpool go to battle (both occupy the two spaces above Tottenham) and present an opportunity to leap frog one or even both of them. Remember when Manchester City won the title? At this point in the season, they were farther off the top spot then we are now. I’m not suggesting a title run; I’m just noting our season isn’t over. Come May, Tottenham Hotspur will be reveling in the fact they’ve qualified for the UCL. COYS, strap in for this bumpy ride.