The night before Tottenham Hotspur’s last trip to Manchester City, 11 months ago, was the night Erik Lamela famously told Danny Rose that Tottenham could win the Premier League title. The next day Spurs won 2-1 at the Etihad Stadium and looked, before their spring collapse, like they had the momentum and the power to catch up with Leicester City.
This Saturday Spurs go back to City and something approaching the same optimism is brewing at White Hart Lane. They have won six straight in the league, as good as their best run last season, transforming them from aiming to scrape back into the top four to Chelsea’s most genuine title challengers.
While the highlight of that run was the 2-0 masterclass against Chelsea, it also included four-goal poundings of Southampton, Watford and West Bromwich Albion, displays of total domination and control in which the opposition did not get a look-in. Spurs, right now, are playing the best football of the Pochettino era and the numbers prove it.
After 21 Premier League games, Spurs have nine more points than they did at this stage last year. They have won four more games. They have scored nine more goals and conceded three fewer, giving them a goal difference that is 12 better than it was. And all of this in a Premier League that is harder than ever because of the big strides made by the top teams.
Spurs have done what few thought they would last summer, which is improve. Many, including this reporter, thought that they would struggle to recover from the psychological damage of blowing the title, just as happened to Liverpool after the 2013-14 season. But in fact they have come back stronger and sharper.
Pochettino said at the start of the season that Spurs’ last step to take was in their heads but the evidence of the last few weeks suggests that is what his team have done. And on Saturday afternoon, after seeing his team wipe the floor with West Brom, that is what he pointed to.
“We are showing that we are clever and that we learn a lot,” Pochettino said. “It is true, as in life, that every day you can improve and you can learn. If you are open and your mind is open that is a good thing. We are showing this season that we are more mature, we compete better, and maybe we missed that a little bit last season.”
Tottenham potential January transfers
Spurs have been heavily linked with the Portuguese winger who was once hailed as the next Cristiano Ronaldo. Despite not living up to this yet, the 22-year-old has been in good form for Turkish giants Galatasaray this term, netting five whilst also creating five in 16 outings.
IN: Jacob Murphy
Young Norwich midfielder has attracted interest from some top Premier League sides for his performances in the first half of the season. It is thought that Spurs will be fighting Liverpool for the Canaries’ youth product’s signature.
IN: Saido Berahino
Ever since throwing a deadline-day strop back in 2015, after the Baggies rejected two bids from Tottenham, the 23-year-old attacker has failed to work his way back into Tony Pulis’ side. Berahino said he’d never play for his employers again on Twitter, and it could be likely that a move is imminent for the striker.
IN: Ross Barkley
Reports are suggesting that Spurs are expressing an interest in Barkley, whose contract expires in 18 months. Barkley has failed to live up to expectations under Ronald Koeman this campaign and it’s thought his time with the Toffees could be up.
IN: Max Meyer
German attacking midfielder Meyer is regarded as one of the hottest young talents in European football. However, in a hugely disappointing season from Schalke, Meyer hasn’t produced the goods that his employers would expect of him which may allow Spurs to get him cheaper.
IN: Wilfried Zaha
Tottenham wanted to bring the former Manchester United winger to White Hart Lane in the summer but were left rebuffed when their advances were rejected. That isn’t expected to deter them however and it is believed that they will come back in for Zaha in January, who is on international duty for Ivory Coast in the Africa Cup of Nations this month. It is unlikely that Palace would cut ties with their main man, though, considering the relegation dog fight they face.
OUT: Tom Carroll
Carroll has grown up in the Tottenham youth academy but has failed to burst his way on to the scene with the club, continuously being sent out on loan. The same might happen in January, after featuring only three times for Spurs this campaign, and it is likely a lot of Championship clubs will be looking to sign the 24-year-old.
OUT: Harry Winks
Mauricio Pochettino has shown faith in the 20-year-old this season and he really does look like a promising player for Spurs. Featuring on 12 occasions in the league this term, mostly from the bench, the Argentinian coach may want to loan him out so he can play on a more regular basis.
Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty I
Pochettino did not want to draw too many parallels between Saturday’s trip to City and Spurs’ win there last year. “We are in a completely different period and a completely different momentum,” he said, “every game in every season is completely different.” But it is fair to say that Spurs will go to City playing even better than they were when they went there and won last year. The injury to Jan Vertonghen is their only distraction but even then they have Ben Davies to come in.
The bigger questions for Saturday lie with Pep Guardiola’s side. City have lost their three straight league games to Spurs, their open style and slow defenders providing easy prey for Spurs’ ravenous pressing. Pochettino clearly has City’s number and Guardiola’s job will be to come up with a way to stop him. Because right now only one of these sides looks like challenging Chelsea.