After the disappointment of another semi-final defeat, Liam Nicholls offers his thoughts on the game and the remainder of our season.
Of all the disappointments we’ve had to endure over the years, Saturday felt like one of the hardest to swallow. Beaten by Chelsea, yet again falling short when it really matters. All the hype pre-match had set the narrative: this was our time to finally show up when it counts and prove that we’re as good as everyone has said we are. Time to produce.
A semi-final in years gone by was an anomaly. A day in the sun at the back-end of another miserable season. Not on Saturday. This was a natural arc in the story of this campaign; a chance to start writing the history that this Spurs team has the potential to create. For probably the first time ever, our mindset going into this game was tinted with confident expectation rather than half-hearted hope.
All the hype pre-match had set the narrative: this was our time to finally show up when it counts
Cut to five minutes after kick off, and a familiar feeling came riding back into town. And it’s not the first time I’ve felt it throughout the course of this season in the big, pivotal games. Because when you look back at the key fixtures we’ve lost – Saturday included – there’s a familiar pattern.
Chelsea away: after dominating the first half and taking the lead, we gave Pedro too much room on the edge of the box and he curled in a wonder strike. Then, Dembele gives the ball away, and Costa sets up Moses for the second. United away: Harry Kane gives the ball away, Mkhitaryan runs through to score. Liverpool away: Wanyama gives the ball away, Mane finds the net. Then, Eric Dier follows suit, with the same outcome. In these big games, we seem to gift wrap goals to teams who don’t need any encouragement to punish us.
The game this weekend was almost a microcosm of our entire season. Utterly dominant for the most part, but undone at critical times by errors in judgement or incredible pieces of individual brilliance. Toby dived in rashly for probably the first time in his Spurs career, Willian bent in the free kick. Son went to ground recklessly, penalty given. Walker fails to clear his lines and Hazard – free as a bird on the edge of the box – drives it home. And as for Matic, well, you don’t stop those.
It’s this combination of error of judgement and moments of brilliance that makes Saturday – and other defeats throughout the season – hard to take. It’s nothing to do with being lucky or unlucky, it’s about application, ability and getting what you deserve. We are a phenomenal football team on the cusp of something special, but we still lack something when we are in those season-defining games.
The game this weekend was almost a microcosm of our entire season
So what’s the answer? In my eyes, it’s about keeping this team together and going again. We are too good to lose belief now. It’s about cutting out the mistakes. But it’s also about adding those 2 or 3 players who will make the difference. Players who know what it takes to get over the line and win, whatever it takes. We have eleven brilliant players who when all fit, come together and play magnificent football for Tottenham Hotspur. Outside of that, we are short on real quality.
Having said all of that, the season isn’t over. The title is still up for grabs with six games to go. We could win every game, Chelsea drop 4 points and we win the league. We could fall away entirely and limp into 4th spot and finish behind that lot, again. Or, the most likely scenario, we stumble over the line and hang on to second place. Whatever happens, it’s going to take all our mental resilience to turn up and get results against a collection of teams who would love nothing more than to see us crumble.
We’ve come a long way. Three years in, Pochettino has built something unique. We are tantalisingly close to getting our hands on silverware again. Saturday was a desperately disappointing plot point in this team’s story, but not the final act. If we can learn from games like that, from games like Chelsea, United and Liverpool this season, then we will become the team we all believe we can be.