Spurs go into the international break wearing adapted Mario Balotelli t-shirts: why always us? That old feeling of falling at the last, of watching Arsenal skip past on the rails is returning after three successive defeats. Instead of looking at a table that shows Tottenham in fourth spot after 30 games, the White Hart Lane diaspora is beset by a collective sense of doom as if the roof is about to fall in.
This is a team that won at Manchester United, that triumphed in the North London derby, that progressed to the last eight of the Europa League, that includes Gareth Bale among its number, that is in fourth place on merit. Yet the highs are not given houseroom in the minds of supporters locked into old rhythms.
Arsenal fans were sending the undertakers to the Emirates after the defeat at home to Bayern Munich in the Champions League. The Gunners ebb had never been flatter since Bruce Rioch was at the helm. Then what happens? They cream a two-goal victory in Munich and return from Swansea with a win by the same margin. Quietly, in the eyes of Spurs fans, the Gunners are seen to be making a move.
The nail-biters better not look at the fixtures, either. Of their rivals for a Champions League spot Arsenal have only Everton to play at home. Beyond that only Manchester United at the Emirates a fortnight later presents a notional obstacle. Spurs face home games against Everton and Manchester City and Chelsea away. Chelsea also play Everton at home on the last day of the season and face awkward trips to Liverpool and United as well as relegation strugglers Aston Villa and Southampton.
But no passage to Champions League nirvana was ever achieved on paper. Of the recent defeats, Spurs were well in the game at Liverpool and lost by the odd goal. Who would have predicted a heavy defeat for Liverpool at Southampton immediately after that? Spurs were flogged in Milan on Thursday and suffered a limp defeat to Fulham yesterday. Sir Alex Ferguson speaks all night about the difficulty of performing in the Premier League immediately after European engagements, win lose or draw.
Since United’s narrow defeat to Real Madrid they have surrendered a two-goal lead at home to Chelsea in the FA Cup and edged past Reading by the only goal at Old Trafford. But there is no gnashing of teeth in Manchester. It is part of the game’s natural bio-rhythms that teams hit spells when the mojo is absent, as it was for Spurs after the win at United. At times like these it is important that teams trust themselves, remind themselves of the qualities that over 30 games have prevailed. The pattern of the first 75 per cent of the season is likely to repeat over the final quartile.
Spurs have 12 days to regroup before the trip to Swansea. The international break might re-invest the absent players with the enthusiasms required for the final push. The successive fixtures in April against Everton (home), Chelsea (away) and Manchester City (home) have the potential to determine outcomes, but not necessarily. The closing fixtures against Southampton (home). Stoke (away) and Sunderland (home) might prove equally vital.
But there is nothing to fear. The evidence of the first 30 games, not the last three, demonstrates that much.
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