Happy new year to you all. I quite liked the old year if I’m honest, but natural pessimism be damned. There’s no reason to think that 2011 won’t see more excitement (except that we never win anything when the year ends in 11).
Whether we finish first (we won’t), fifth or somewhere in between, it’s worth remembering how good it is just to be in the mix. These days we get to moan when William Gallas is brought in to shore up our defence. A while back it was Kevin Scott. Gareth Bale is our tricky young winger rather than Andy Turner. Roman Pavlyuchenko is no Gary Lineker. But he’s also no Andy Booth. It’s the best Tottenham team of my adult life. Even if there is ultimately heartache round the corner, it won’t come ’til April or May. In the 1990s and 2000s, an FA Cup 3rd round game against Charlton could have ended our season. Now it’s a chance to rest our best players so they can focus on other priorities. Same for the fans actually – I’ll be giving it a miss.
Michael Dawson. Clean Sheets. Coincidence? Probably not. I was in Cornwall with nary a phone signal so I didn’t see the Fulham game, but I’ve no complaints about grinding out an unimpressive 1-0 victory at home. That’s the point about clean sheets – they let you win without playing well. Clean sheets are the holy grail. Clean sheets need to become our bread and butter. Clean sheets maketh the Champions League. Lovely. fresh. clean sheets. Mmmm.
It feels like a key point in the season. For once, someone needs to chase us down for a Champions League spot. We’ve been brilliant over the last couple of years at keeping the gap between 4th and 5th manageably narrow. Now it’s our chance to apply some pressure from above. Unbeaten in 9 premiership games. 6 wins out of the last 8. 3 out of the last 3. It sounds harsh to say we need to kick on, but when you’re at the top of your game, you’ve got to take advantage. No let up. If our current form is a hundred – I want a daddy hundred. A draw at Everton will not be a disaster, but let’s strike while the yids are hot. Three points will move us nearer to at least one of the teams directly above us, and the way Chelsea are struggling at the moment an away win at Wolves is far from assured.
Until Villa’s last minute equaliser, it was looking to be a hugely frustrating set of fixtures last time round. But in the end we leapfrogged one of our rivals. What’s particularly encouraging is that Chelsea look lost. I don’t buy the line that they were still celebrating an unlikely last minute winner. Terry was marshalling the troops and they were doing their best. It’s not that they took it easy – it’s that they really are just defensively vulnerable. Even to a poor Villa team at home. And by the law of diminishing returns, or ever decreasing circles, or something – vulnerability begets vulnerability. It’s harder to win when the opponent doesn’t turn up already believing themselves beaten.
My natural instinct is reactionary. I can’t really believe Chelsea are that bad. Perhaps Ray Wilkins was a genius – I wonder what would happen if Arsenal sacked Pat Rice? But tectonic plates shift. Empires crumble. You don’t see it coming, and then it comes quick. Out of all the possibilities this season, a new one has to be considered – that if Chelsea collapse we could actually come fourth pretty easily. Now wouldn’t that be something. Like I say, I don’t think that will happen. A run of results and the Chelsea of old might reassert themselves. But I’m definitely looking out for their results these days and not just City’s. Exciting times.
By the way – here’s a proper review of the Everton game, one that talks about team news and who we should play and all that malarkey. I’m just going to ramble on as is my wont, ok? Ok. http://buzztap.com/-L4j9HF
Tonight our defence will need to continue with its atypically uncharitable lack of generosity. I’ve spoken before of my admiration for David Moyes and this Everton team and even though they are struggling for goals they always give us a proper game. Cahill, proud son of mother Asia, has gone to Qatar on international duty. With him goes Everton’s inspiration and their most obvious threat. But this is a team with heart as we saw at Eastlands a couple of weeks back. Fellaini-Bakkioui (according to Wikipedia!), Arteta, Coleman (a right footed Bale-lite) and Baines, they have quality to go with their obvious defensive steel. Baines in particular looks to have emerged as an excellent player and will probably be England’s first choice left back if and when Ashley Cole’s physical decline ever matches his moral one. I look at Everton and see a top six team, even if I look at the table and I don’t.
Mind you – if you think we’ve got problems up front, check them out. Like us, it’s clearly their weakest point. Saha. Yakubu. I’m scared, but only in 2005. Their best days look behind them. Meanwhile Beckford has jumped up two divisions when he really should have stuck with Leeds and jumped up one. But being past your best doesn’t mean you’re useless. Not being premiership class doesn’t mean you can’t terrorise a premiership defence – as Beckford did in the cup against us (and Man Utd) last season. On any given day we can lose to a team like Everton. But we are better than them and now we need to apply pressure.
We’re ahead of the team who used to be the best around. Now’s the time to really turn the screw on them. What would Graham Gooch do?