Don’t change, Ange! Thrilling Spurs are still in this title race
Don’t write off Tottenham! Crazy draw with Man City shows Spurs can still be title-challengers as Ange Postecoglou is proved right for sticking to his principles
The depleted north-London outfit should fear no one after battling to a hard-earned point at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday
In his first six months as Tottenham’s head coach, Ange Postecoglou has defied all expectations. He bet on himself to succeed where Antonio Conte and Jose Mourinho failed, inheriting a confidence-stricken group that had slipped to eighth in the Premier League and dealing with the loss of Harry Kane, the club’s all-time leading striker.
After just ten games in command, the Australian had earned the trust of the Tottenham fans, with a 2-1 win over Crystal Palace guaranteeing the club’s greatest start to a season since 1960. Tottenham were five points ahead of Manchester City at the time, despite having played one more game, and were widely regarded as title contenders.
“Let them fantasize. “It’s what it’s all about as a football fan,” Postecoglou told reporters after the final whistle at Selhurst Park. “It’s fair to say that this lot has been through a lot, so I’m not going to dampen their spirits.” Dreams persist as long as you are awake till you are awakened. We shall see.”
Unfortunately, that hope was dashed by a 4-1 home loss to London rivals Chelsea. Spurs played practically the whole second half with nine men after Cristian Romero and Destiny Udogie were sent -, and they couldn’t hold off the Blues in the end.
To make matters worse, summer acquisitions James Maddison and Mickey van de Ven both suffered major injuries. Postecoglou’s honeymoon period ended five days later as Spurs were upset 2-1 at Wolves despite leading 1-0 in second-half stoppage time.
Tottenham had a chance to regroup during the international break, but they were defeated for the third time in a row at home by Aston Villa on their return to action, in a game that saw Rodrigo Bentancur suffer ankle ligament damage. The wheels appeared to have come off in true ‘Spursy’ fashion.
However, news of their demise was widely exaggerated. Tottenham may have lost nine points due to bad luck rather than poor performance, with Postecoglou continuing to his high-intensity, attack-minded style of play.
The most important test came at the weekend, in the home of the reigning Premier League winners, and Spurs passed with flying colors. After battling toe-to-toe with City, Postecoglou’s men were well deserved of the 3-3 draw, and could have won had their finishing been a little better.
As a result, Tottenham entered this week’s midweek matchups only five points behind leaders Arsenal, despite having overcome difficulties. Things won’t get any easier during the busy holiday season, but they should still be regarded legitimate title candidates.
Caution is being thrown to the wind.
City have only won three of their previous nine encounters with Spurs in all competitions, with the north London club claiming to be something of a bogey team for Pep Guardiola. Tottenham won five of those games, usually by sitting back and waiting for opportunities to respond.
Mourinho and Conte would never risk playing expansive football against Manchester City. They set up to contain the best attacking squad in the country in the hopes of eking out a point – but Postecoglou isn’t built that way.
That is not to imply that his Tottenham Hotspur team cannot adjust depending on the opposition. They certainly did in the first half at Etihad Stadium, when City pinned the visitors in their own half and nearly walked the ball into the net. Tottenham were so deep that Jeremy Doku almost did it, blasting a shot against the post after being given too much time to get into the penalty area. But there was always the impression that Postecoglou’s team could change the tide of the game at any time.
Spurs did, in fact, open the scoring with their first significant attempt, which Son Heung-min finished in customary form. A few minutes later, the South Korean equalized for City, and Phil Foden finished off a beautiful play in the 31st minute to ensure Tottenham went into the half down 2-1.
Spurs, on the other hand, never looked disinterested in the game. Postecoglou knew they could expose City’s frightening lack of pace at the back, with Ruben Dias appearing a shadow of his former self in recent weeks and Josko Gvardiol still finding his feet after joining from RB Leipzig in the summer, and they did so time and time again.
Tottenham did not let their heads down when substitute Jack Grealish pushed City back in lead with less than 10 minutes remaining, as they had in previous years. They continued to throw caution to the breeze and were rewarded when Dejan Kulusevski leaped to nod in Brennan Johnson’s cross.
‘I admire Postecoglou’s mindset.’
Spurs came out for the second half with a more optimistic attitude, and Postecoglou revealed in his post-match news conference the forceful message he provided to his players at the break, saying: “I said to them, whatever fallout there is, I’ll take the responsibility.” I’m the one that puts things out there. Let us at least demonstrate a little more conviction about the type of team we want to be.”
It wasn’t the first time the Australian tactician let his soldiers express themselves more freely by removing the strain. Conte and Mourinho are both brilliant managers in their own right, with considerably more accolades on their respective CVs than Postecoglou, but they both struck a brick wall when it came to motivating the Spurs group.
Dressing room schisms were unavoidable since the players did not buy into their beliefs, but Postecoglou is not one of them. Everyone at Spurs believes in what he’s trying to accomplish, and they’re having a good time doing it.
“I love exactly his [Postecoglu’s] mentality because that’s how I want to live my life,” Kulusevski said following City’s draw. “It makes no difference who you’re playing against or what you’re doing in life; just go.” And if it goes wrong, it goes wrong. You did it from the bottom of your heart. You’re not scared. You’re attempting to win the game, not to lose it. I like the strategy.
“It’s difficult, to be honest, because they’re one of the best teams in the world, and everything wasn’t perfect, but we proved we can play against anyone.” The football is present. The coach has arrived. At Tottenham, we have everything. We just need to mature mentally a little more and we’ll be at the top.”