November 30, 2020

We still don’t know how good Tottenham Hotspur is. We will soon. – Cartilage Free Captain

https://cartilagefreecaptain.sbnation.com/2020/11/18/21573264/tottenham-hotspur-analysis-upcoming-matches-manchester-city-chelsea-arsenal-palace-liverpool

It’s been a pleasantly surprising start to the 2020-21 Premier League season if you’re a Tottenham Hotspur supporter. The chaos from last season, one that included the sacking of Mauricio Pochettino, a transition to Jose Mourinho, an underperforming side, and a global pandemic induced shutdown, is mostly in the rear view mirror. Even after some decent matches when football resumed in June, it’s safe to say that Spurs fans weren’t the most optimistic in the league about their team’s prospects for this season.

So it was to most people’s surprise to see Spurs conclude the opening eight matches of the season with just a single loss, against Everton on opening week, and head into this current international break second in the table two points behind Leicester City. Without a hotly-contested last-gasp penalty for Newcastle and a ridiculous three goal collapse against West Ham, Spurs would be top of the table with a bullet. In fact, even with those results Spurs were league leaders for a glorious 20 minutes last weekend, before Jamie Vardy scored for Leicester against Wolves.

However, those results came from what should be considered a relatively straightforward and balanced schedule. That balance goes away starting with this weekend’s match against Manchester City.

Here is Tottenham’s match schedule from now until the end of December.

Upcoming Tottenham Matches

Date Opponent Time (EST)
Date Opponent Time (EST)
Sat. Nov. 21 Manchester City 12:30 PM
Thu. Nov. 26 Ludogorets (Europa League) 3:00 PM
Sun. Nov. 29 @ Chelsea 11:30 AM
Thu. Dec. 3 @ LASK (Europa League) 12:55 PM
Sat. Dec. 5 Arsenal TBD
Thu. Dec. 10 Royal Antwerp (Europa League) 3:00 PM
Sat. Dec. 12 @ Crystal Palace 10:00 AM
Wed. Dec. 16 @ Liverpool 3:00 PM
Sat. Dec. 19 Leicester City 10:00 AM
Wed. Dec. 23 @ Stoke City (EFL Cup) 12:30 PM
Sat. Dec. 26 @ Wolves 10:00 AM
Mon. Dec. 28 Fulham 10:00 AM
Sat. Jan. 2 Leeds United 10:00 AM

That’s a pretty eyebrow-raising gauntlet of fixtures. The current table is a bit screwy (Southampton and Aston Villa in the top six seem like outliers at this point in time), but even on current form consecutive league matches against City, vs. Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, and a home NLD within 14 days is enough to make most fans swallow hard. The historically congested holiday fixture period includes away matches at a resurgent Crystal Palace and defending champions Liverpool, plus a home match against current league leaders Leicester. And that’s without even mentioning the three important Europa League group stage matches sandwiched in between. Tottenham don’t play against a club in the current bottom half of the table until December 28, when they host Fulham.

It’s a relentless schedule. It is also the best opportunity we will have this season to learn just how good Tottenham really is.

Because, the truth is, we don’t really know. Spurs are a talented team, especially offensively. The forward attacking band of Harry Kane, Son Heung-Min, Gareth Bale, and Giovani Lo Celso could be considered one of, if not the, best in the league on paper. The summer signing of Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and the emergence of Tanguy Ndombele has helped with central midfield, one of Spurs’ biggest problems from last season. Under Mourinho, Tottenham has mostly shored up a creaky defense, which is currently fourth in the league in expected goals allowed (xGA) and has conceded the joint-fewest goals of any club in the league.

But even that would be ignoring a fair amount of context. Spurs have had their moments, including the 6-1 blitzing of Manchester United and the 5-2 win over Southampton, but the majority of their matches has been against teams currently in the bottom half of the table. Spurs have also looked at times dour and unimpressive, even as the results kept coming. The recent narrow wins over Brighton & Hove Albion and West Bromwich Albion are notable, not because Spurs didn’t win them but because at times it sure didn’t look like they would against decidedly sub-par competition.

It’s also worth noting that Tottenham has also benefited from an unusual set of circumstances that has led to the teams expected to compete for the title — Liverpool, City, Chelsea — dropping points in the first two months of the season. City in particular are still arguably the best team in the league, even though they are languishing in tenth at the moment. Liverpool has been snake-bitten by injuries and positive COVID-19 tests in recent weeks. Chelsea still has Frank Lampard as manager. Matches are still being played behind closed doors, which has led to a wild number of goals scored and some curious results. Tottenham has also been remarkably fortunate with regards to injuries and the coronavirus thus far. Attributing Spurs’ early point total after week 8 to any of this would be minimizing their accomplishments, but it would be foolish not to point to it as a contributing factor.

That’s why the upcoming slate of fixtures should be viewed as the real litmus test for Tottenham’s ambitions. How Spurs perform in their next eight matches could determine if they will be considered top four or even title contenders heading into the back half of the season. By contrast, it could also throw a spotlight on the flaws we’ve seen in the early matches if they are exposed by the better teams in the league, and show that maybe Spurs are a little behind where we thought they were.

It would be unreasonable to expect Tottenham to come through the next stretch without dropping points. Should they exit 2020 with a table position at or around where they are now it should be considered a triumph. Likewise, it should surprise no one if Tottenham were to drop several points, or even several games in the next few weeks. There are reasons to be optimistic about Tottenham’s chances, based upon what we have seen thus far, but as a fan entering into the upcoming gauntlet of fixtures with a clear head and tempered expectations would be a pretty good idea, if only to preserve our sanity! Either way, what Tottenham does in the next few weeks will set the tone for the rest of the season, and give us a much better picture of just what kind of team Jose Mourinho has on his hands.