Old Trafford win a “flashpoint” moment in title charge

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As the magic of Mauricio Pochettino slew another ‘cursed’ ground for Tottenham in emphatic fashion, Mourinho’s misery deepened as a title-chasing Lilywhites side destroyed Manchester United at Old Trafford on Bank Holiday Monday.

For the past couple of years, people have toyed with the idea that Tottenham look good enough to challenge for the Premier League title. However, question marks have always been raised over the club’s away form against its peers in the so-called ‘top 6’. Those who were in the habit of questioning Tottenham’s bottle at the Premier League’s elite grounds were silenced somewhat back in April, when Pochettino’s men won at Stamford Bridge for the first time since 1990.

Given that the title was already City’s long before April, the defeat of Mourinho’s Red Devils, naturally, felt just that bit more meaningful. Though Tottenham were victors at Old Trafford as recently as 2013/14, beating a manager with the influence of Jose Mourinho on his own turf – regardless of how ‘lost’ his dressing room may appear – is as big a sign as it gets that Tottenham can push the true title favourites all the way.

With Tottenham’s buy/sell price to win the title also surging on in light of Monday’s result, it could be said that the Pochettino era just hit a new zenith. So just how great is the case for Tottenham winning the Premier League title, when the Lilywhites fell a whole 23 points behind the champions of 2017/18 just three short months ago?

Strong start not always crucial

When Tottenham finished sixth in 2013/14, the first two months of the season brought mixed fortunes. Two straight wins were followed with a derby defeat at the Emirates Stadium, immediately indicating that the club was going nowhere in terms of being a part of the so-called ‘elite’.

It got worse, with home defeats to West Ham (0-3) and Newcastle (0-1), and a 6-0 drubbing at the Etihad Stadium seeing Andre Villas-Boas’ project quickly unravel. While a fifth place finish in Pochettino’s first season was ‘par for the course’, that too came after a mixed start, with two straight wins at the start being followed up by a four-match winless run – including a galling 1-0 home loss to West Bromwich.

Of course, it was in 2015/16 that Tottenham really came alive as title challengers. Though the Lilywhites finished third, they were mathematically in the title race until the evening of 2 May 2016 – just thirteen days before the end of the season. However, Tottenham had taken just six points from a possible twelve in the first month of the campaign, including home draws against Stoke and Everton in which Tottenham were emphatic odds-on favourites to win.

Title races won and lost on ‘flashpoints’

Ironically, Tottenham have made stronger starts than those two seasons past, and come nowhere near to clinching the title. One such instance was Harry Redknapp’s first full season at the Hotspur helm (2009/10), when his team won four straight matches to end a Premier League month at the top for the first time ever. There then followed the familiar failings, with defeats to Manchester United and Chelsea putting paid to the team’s hard work.

Those two matches were prime examples of when a psychological barrier to greater achievements proved too much for a club at which bad times were all too recent in the memory. in more cases than not, overachieving teams will run out of steam and lose a ‘key’ match en-route to failing in their quest for a particular goal.

The history of the Premier League is littered with improbable title challenges, and every ‘unlikely’ title winner has reached a particular milestone and negotiated it. In a recent example, Leicester City’s commanding 3-1 win at the Etihad Stadium in 2016, just a week after losing in injury time at Arsenal, was the moment the Foxes became odds-on to lift the big one.

Going further back, there are also examples of flashpoint moments within improbable title challenges that ended in failure. Steven Gerrard’s infamous slip at home to Chelsea in 2014 cost Liverpool the title in the eyes of many, while Newcastle were never quite the same after losing 4-3 at Anfield in April 1996, conceding the title after holding a twelve-point lead over the Christmas of 1995.

Where this season is concerned, a major psychological barrier has already been removed for Tottenham – and that is of key importance. Ultimately, as the situation stands, it could this be argued with good justification that this is Tottenham’s best shot at glory for three seasons.

Won and lost in September?

Tottenham fans know all too well where these ‘flashpoints’ may come in the 2018/19 season. The first is of course Tottenham’s hosting of Liverpool on 15 September. With the new stadium not being completed in time, and Harry Kane having the worst scoring record against Liverpool compared to the other ‘big six’ this tough game is now looking more difficult than ever.

Liverpool’s defence is also sure to be far more compact than it was in last season’s corresponding fixture, when Tottenham romped home 4-1. There is, of course, also the small matter of a derby at the Emirates Stadium on 1 December. If Tottenham win that fixture for the first time since November 2010, and are within at least two wins of the summit when doing so, then the prospect of Harry Kane lifting the title in Tottenham’s brand new stadium becomes all the more realistic.

While Manchester City remain odds-on favourites, Tottenham fans have already seen enough to dare to dream. But first, Pochettino’s men must honour that which the club’s foundations command, and – like legends such as Greaves, Smith and Gascoigne – emphatically ‘dare to do’.

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