"Can we play you every week?" chanted Tottenham Hotspur followers as their team strolled it against Club Bruges in the Uefa Cup on Thursday night. Alas, no. This afternoon reality will kick in as White Hart Lane hosts Chelsea, Premiership champions and holders of a formidable record in this fixture.
It is a record depressing enough to make even the "Glory, Glory" diehards wince. Nineteen years have passed since Spurs won at home against Chelsea, though it is a mere 16 years since they beat them at all in the League, Gary Lineker chipping in with a goal at Stamford Bridge in February 1990.
Still, Tottenham's captain, Ledley King, chooses to look on the bright side of football life in this matter, as he needs to after a depressing six months in which a broken bone in his foot deprived him of a place in England's World Cup squad and a knee injury then meant he missed the start of this season.
King, his old, calm, assured self against Bruges, insists that being trampled by Chelsea for all those years will not be to the forefront of his thinking. "We know we will be up against a quality side and that's all I am aware of, playing the team in front of me and going out to win.
"Their record against us in previous years doesn't matter, we'll be out for the three points, not thinking about records. Anyway, that is something many in our team won't be aware of, because we have got a lot of new players here. But I've been here a long time now, so I'm well aware Chelsea have always been a tough team to beat."
King and his colleagues are able to point to sharp improvement since their first six Premiership matches brought four defeats and just four points. At pitchside after Thursday's victory, King said: "We are in good spirits right now, eight games unbeaten. We are still not playing great football, but we are getting that resilience back, that toughness to beat. I thought tonight, in the second half especially, we turned it on a bit, and that will put us in good spirits for Sunday."
King acknowledged, though: "The gap between us [and the leading Premiership sides] is still big. We are no way ready to be challenging for the title yet, we recognise that. We've got a young side and we're still trying to build. Last season was a good one for us [Spurs finished fifth] but we realised this season was going to be a lot tougher. We haven't started as well as we'd like but slowly we are finding our feet."
The good spirits King referred to were in growing evidence against the Belgians. Paul Robinson, bolstered by repeated assurances from the stands that he remains "number one for England", has put behind him his Zagreb air shot and kept goal without flaw, something he will need to repeat today.
In midfield, the return of Didier Zokora introduced much-needed Essien-style steel, while the striking combination of Dimitar Berbatov and Robbie Keane, which supplied all three goals, could provide problems for Chelsea if they are paired again this afternoon, as they deserve to be. The bear hug with which manager Martin Jol rewarded the Bulgarian came closer to inflicting more structural damage than anything a Bruges defender had managed.
"Dimitar really showed his qualities," said King. "If we can get the ball to him in the right areas he is a great finisher, and he is starting to show that."
Unlike Chelsea's snarling affair at the Nou Camp, Spurs-Bruges was an honestly contested occasion of smiles, handshakes and just one yellow card, administered by an excellent Spanish referee, Alberto Undiano. Perhaps it would be too much to hope for a repeat of all those qualities this afternoon, and King opted for a diplomatic response to a question about the inclination of Chelsea's top scorer, Didier Drogba, to fall to earth more readily than most.
"He is a clever player, and there are clever players around who wait for a bit of contact and go down," said King. "I will need to be clever myself in the way I tackle. But I've been up against him a few times now and enjoy the challenge against this style of opponent.
"We realise Chelsea don't give much away. A team like Arsenal will probably scare opponents more, the way they open you up, maybe Manchester United as well, but you realise Chelsea are probably the toughest to get a result against. They know how to get the job done, that's why they are champions, but it's too early to say whether they'll be as good as Man United were when they won the Premiership on numerous occasions. In five, six years, the way they are going, possibly yes.
"So this is not the easiest game for us to step up to our best, but it's a chance for us to really lift the place. If we can get a result it could kickstart the season."
What they should bear in mind is that no bad run goes on for ever. Once there was a much-quoted statistic that Spurs had not won at Liverpool since 1912, the year of the Titanic, but they eventually sank that one, too.
SPUR OF THE MOMENT: ANATOMY OF DIMITAR BERBATOV'S FORWARD THINKING
Tall strikers do not always make good headers of the ball, but Dimitar Berbatov's timing and ability to climb high are excellent.
With vision honed at international level, the quality to spot a scoring opening quickly for himself or a Spurs team-mate is a key element in Berbatov's game.
Berbatov is not only able to ride the severest of tackles in elegant style but he is possessed of a delicate touch rare in a big striker.
A willingness to take a risk with a volley rather than waiting for the ball to drop brought Berbatov spectacular reward against Bruges last week.
Berbatov's quickness off the mark and the essential skill of being able to change direction at pace can give his markers a torrid time.Reuse content