Tottenham have arrived. Again.
Spurs’ rise to top four regulars and borderline title contenders has been dogged by questions over whether they are “for real”. They’ve finished in the top four for three straight seasons, and been at least nominal title contenders for two of them. The third, last season, saw them finish as the best-placed London club for the first time since 1994-95.
But they have been dogged by criticism over the lack of trophies during the Mauricio Pochettino era, and this season that disappointment has been compounded by the delay over their stadium move. The new White Hart Lane was supposed to be ready to move into at the beginning of the season, but now that may not happen until February.
Their Champions League status not quite bearing fruit – they squandered a good chance to qualify for the quarter-finals last season, and failed to win all of their first three games in the competition this season, likely killing their chances of qualifying from their group this season.
On top of that, they became the first team to not make a single signing in the summer window in Premier League history – when it seemed clear that they’d need to reinforce the squad just to keep up with their rivals.
That, plus continued questions over their prowess in games against the rest of the “big six”, has meant every fixture like Saturday’s derby encounter with Chelsea has served as a referendum on their status among the Premier League’s top sides. They beat Chelsea last season, and then Manchester United earlier this season, two consecutive away wins to answer questions about their prowess in big games on the road – only to lose to Liverpool and then Manchester City at Wembley after that.
And then, on Saturday, they ripped Chelsea to shreds.
Only poor finishing and lax defending in the final stages prevented their 3-1 win from turning into a 4-0 or 5-0 rout. Even at 3-0, Tottenham were looking at their biggest win over Chelsea in the Premier League era.
Instead, they had to settle for winning two straight against their London rivals for the first time in 31 years. They ended the Blues’ unbeaten start to the season, and did it with such comfort that the doubts over status as title contenders have shifted from Tottenham to Chelsea.
This is the sort of performance which showcased Spurs at their best. Their faith in young players, in building from the ground up through astute rather than splashy signings, saw Dele Alli score his sixth goal against Chelsea, Harry Kane plunder one long-range goal, somehow pass up a simple chance for a second, and torment the opposition defence throughout, while Christian Eriksen ran the show in midfield against Ballon d’Or nominee N’Golo Kante and the man unofficially declared as one of the signings of the summer, Jorginho.
Heung-min Son’s industry and brilliance ensured Tottenham’s star trio were ably supported, as he scored a brilliant solo goal which should start the obituaries on Chelsea defender David Luiz’s top-level career – if the way Luiz moved out of the way of Kane’s goal-bound shot wasn’t enough to do that.
Juan Foyth handily won his duel with Blues starting striker Alvaro Morata. Serge Aurier – who’s not even Tottenham’s first-choice right-back – turned questions about whether he could deal with Eden Hazard into renewed doubts over Hazard’s big-game credentials. Moussa Sissoko, so long derided as a luxury signing who contributed nothing, helped Eriksen control proceedings in midfield.
All around the park, there were Spurs players shining and Chelsea players looking bereft of ideas. All the disappointment of the summer transfer window has begun to dissipate because their team, with its admirable squad depth, is fighting off its challengers anyway.
At their best, that’s what Tottenham do to teams. Through a cadre of homegrown players, young signings, and Pochettino’s brilliant managerial acumen, north London’s “other” club, so long in Arsenal’s shadow, have shown they’re here to stay.
They gained no ground on City or Liverpool yesterday – the league’s top two remained unbeaten, and City are the sort of side that makes the five-point gap between them and Tottenham look unsurmountable.
But it’s still only five points. And Tottenham have shown, again, that they can beat the Premier League’s best. In case anyone still has any doubts, Spurs are for real.
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