Saint ending well
Maur' frustration on the cards for Poch
If I were to give you the ten-second history of Premier League football, it would read something like this: 1. Eric Cantona. 2. It was just banter. 3. Spurs f*cked it up.
In previous years, that third pillar of the Premier League model would take the shape of crumbly, erratic and always hilarious ways for Spurs to fail. They were a club with a magic touch, in the sense that they could turn almost any promising situation into a barrel of hot tears and angry sick. In fact, if each Premier League title race was a game of ‘Mortal Kombat’ Spurs would, invariably, turn up dressed as an oblong from Tetris.
Except, this season, Spurs have gone about their business with unsettling ruthlessness and efficiency. While the ‘big’ clubs have shown all the assurance of a crow trapped in a banjo, Tottenham clamped the title into a ferocious headlock from which it only just slipped away.
Now, with just two games remaining, Spurs are left playing for second and, far more importantly, the chance to look down at Arsenal for the first time since Scatman John was enthusiastically showering Top of the Pops audiences in jazzy spittle.
Unfortunately Spurs now face a particularly testing opponent if they wish to regain their momentum – Southampton.
As well as all the usual praise we heap on Southampton – superb academy, thoughtful manager successions, Matt Le Tissier’s physiologically impossible hair – they may also feel they have a point to prove to the Tottenham manager.
Mauricio Pochettino may look like he’s been carved out of an overly ripe turnip, but his time in England so far has been about as successful as it could have been. And, before he pulled up Tottenham’s Premier League pants, he was doing something not dissimilar at Southampton.
Pochettino’s departure for Spurs, though fairly expected, was also a masterclass in ruthless careerism. With just one full season under his belt at Saints, Poch couldn’t have abandoned his post any quicker if he’d been plucked from the sky by pterodactyls.
And yet, despite the departure of a deeply impressive young manager (and around 80 players, all of whom signed for Liverpool) Southampton came out of the whole episode stronger.
In his first season after Pochettino’s departure, incoming manager Ronald Koeman took the Saints to an even higher points tally and an even higher finish than his predecessor. This season, with two games to go, Koeman could again break his own Premier League points record for the Saints.
But to do so Ronny K (also looking a little like he’s been carved from a root vegetable) will have to beat Spurs.
Tottenham, though nursing a metaphorical poked eye (unlike Diego Costa’s very literal poked eye) still look like the Premier League’s most championy non-champions. Theirs is the best defence in the league, Harry Kane is the division’s top scorer and they’ve created the most chances in the competition – a massive 120 more than the champions Leicester.
So, if the Saints are going to inflict a substantial groin hoof to what is a stunning campaign from Spurs, they’re going to need to be at their best. (Interestingly, their ‘best’ is precisely the opposite of what they managed when they met Spurs in December, losing 2-0 in probably their most tepid showing of the season.)
That loss came in the middle of a particularly bad period for Saints. From the end of November until the new year they took 4 points from a possible 24. Bafflingly, the one win they managed in this sequence was a breathtaking 4-0 spanking of Arsenal.
Since then, they’ve won 10 of their last 16 games, leaving us wondering whether they too could have thrust some unexpected genitals into this most unusual of Premier League pissing contests. After all, Southampton have only won 3 fewer games than Tottenham.
On paper – not that such a concept means anything at all in this preposterous new world – Spurs’ and Saints’ teams seem more comparable than the league positions suggests.
The Spurs defence has been the bedrock of their success but, on their day, a defence of Fraser Forster, Virgil van Dijk and José Fonte can be amongst the division’s most formidable back lines. Likewise, the much-vaunted balance of the Spurs midfield does not seem a million miles ahead of Jordy Clasie (carving out the openings) alongside Victor Wanyama (carving out human shin bones and souls). And, in attack, the relentless movement, energy and guile of Tadić, Pelle, Mané and even Shane Long is only a Kane-level finisher away from being worryingly sexual.
Of course, Southampton have little reason to reach for the flip-flops, even with their position unlikely to rise or fall by more than a single place. But, what better chance to underline their continued progress than to give a man who thought he was too good for them a swift, brutal – and entirely season-ruining – kick to the nuts.