‘Our supporters can dream’ Mauricio Pochettino says after Tottenham surge past Manchester City
LONDON // The temperature hovered around the three-degree mark as Eric Dier left the Etihad Stadium pitch, topless.
Tottenham, as is their wont, had given everything. Including their midfielder’s shirt, thrown towards the visiting fans.
Christian Eriksen and Mousa Dembele, too, had donated souvenirs to the travelling Londoners. They were mementoes of a marvelous result, souvenirs of a seismic day in the title race.
Tottenham had supplied a statement.
They have provided many in a period when their journey from feckless entertainers to redoubtable winners has accelerated, but none have been as loud.
Others have beaten Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium and Tottenham’s victory was aided by a highly generous penalty decision, but the scale of the turnaround is astounding.
Beaten 11-1 over 180 minutes by City two seasons ago, they have won 6-2 now. It is a 14-goal swing.
Mauricio Pochettino, who was appointed in 2014, inherited a team that finished 17 points behind City and has turned them into title contenders while recording a £6.3 million profit in the transfer market. City have spent some £240 million in that time and regressed while Tottenham have progressed.
A team that used to fail the major tests now pass them. They are the least “Spursy” side Spurs have produced in decades.
Last year Tottenham conceded more goals than relegated Hull. Now they have statistically the best defence in the division.
They were breached by the precocious Kelechi Iheanacho but only conceded once in 95 minutes at a venue where they let in as many in the first 14 seconds two years ago.
Embarrassed then, Hugo Lloris excelled now, an injury-time save from Nicolas Otamendi bringing fears the Frenchman was hurt himself as he collided with the Argentine.
It was a snapshot of Tottenham’s conspicuous commitment. Ahead of the Frenchman, Toby Alderweireld ranks among the signings of the season.
City had an interest in the Belgian. They signed Otamendi, who cost the best part of £20 million more, instead. It looks one of a number of errors in City’s season as well as an illustration of Pochettino’s astuteness.
But, perhaps more than anyone, Erik Lamela sums up the transformation in Tottenham.
He was the £30 million misfit, the club record signing who only scored two league goals in his first two seasons at White Hart Lane. Much of the Gareth Bale windfall seemed to have been squandered on a wastrel.
Now, eventually, it seems money well spent. He has bought into Pochettino’s ethos. He offers invention and industry.
Eriksen’s decider was in part a product of direct running. Lamela drove into a gap in City’s defensive midfield shield before weighing his pass for the Dane. He had only been on the pitch for two minutes.
Tottenham have the strength in depth to name Lamela as a replacement. He lent quality in a cameo. Eriksen, another signed with the funds Bale’s £85 million sale generated, always looked a bargain.
City’s complaints centred around Spurs’ earlier goal.
As Danny Rose crossed, Raheem Sterling’s back was turned, his arm near his side, when the ball struck him.
Mark Clattenburg nonetheless pointed to the penalty spot.
Harry Kane had the supreme confidence to chip it down the middle.
Manuel Pellegrini sarcastically said he congratulated fourth official Mike Dean and complained Clattenburg, who refereed their 4-1 defeat at White Hart Lane, was chosen for the rematch.
Yet this is the story of a remarkable revival. After a 55-year wait for a league title, Tottenham are second, two points off the top. They have a more favourable fixture list than Arsenal, though not Leicester.
“Our supporters can dream,” Pochettino said.
The improbable seems possible. Tottenham, the team the title race forgot, have come in from the cold.
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Published: February 15, 2016 04:00 AM