We’ve seen it all before. ‘It’s Tottenham’ is a phrase that has burdened the club throughout the Premier League era. Their away form is turning out to be an unwelcome return to what made them so mentally mediocre.
Saturday’s display was abysmal, but that’s not been a rarity this time around. Last season, Tottenham forged a season out of consistency on the road. Their away form was, barring Leicester City, one of the most exceptional in the league. This time out they’ve mustered four league wins away from White Hart Lane: Middlesbrough, Stoke, Watford and Southampton. Brutally speaking, a side ‘challenging for a title’ far exceeds those statistics.
Outplayed and out-thought by Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool, Tottenham surrendered after two quick goals by Sadio Mane; incidentally a Spurs target in the summer. It’s always been a cursed ground for the club, but even in recent times of newfound excellence and consistency, Spurs are finding a way to return to old habits.
As the pre-match media discussion revolved around Mauricio Pochettino’s need to rally his men in such fixtures, the players did anything but respond. To a man, with Hugo Lloris the sole exception, they were feeble; nothing near the team who had defeated league leaders Chelsea just over a month before.
It was like watching a Tottenham from the 1990s and early 2000s. Second to every ball, Tottenham were shocked and failed to respond. If there are any saving graces, they can take heart in keeping the score at 2-0 after a relentless first half.
The result leaves Tottenham in a jittery, fragile position. While they are guaranteed a top four position by the end of this weekend’s fixtures, their consolidation of those places has been hampered by their away form. Is the top four a success? For now, absolutely. If Spurs are serious about their future progression, Champions League football is a necessary stepping stone. True success comes in the form of trophies, though.
Three times Spurs have been outclassed this season: at Old Trafford, the Etihad Stadium and on Saturday at Anfield. Either the north is too far from the comforts of home or, most likely, their appetite for the big occasion is wavering. Those same fixtures last year represented missed opportunities and points, but a victory at the Etihad and a closely fought point at Anfield sufficed. Now, what do they have to go on?
For every 38 fixtures of the Premier League season, Tottenham need a reason to believe in their own capabilities. To believe you can win at Anfield means doing very that. That attitude, which by the way is how titles are won, comes through successes at the very highest level.
This year, they dropped out of the Champions League to superior opposition, they’ve picked up one point away to any of the top six and still, despite their talented squad, are lacking anything to show for their progression.
If Tottenham can capitalise on their run of fixtures coming up, they can cement a Champions League place and paper over the mentality cracks. There is a long-term ‘project’ at Tottenham and a belief that Pochettino is the perfect man to take them in the right direction. The plan is clear: consolidate themselves among the elite.
That, aside from the glamour of the internal progressions of the club, will require a revolution in mentality.