Can Spurs break the curse of the Tottenham Triangle?
It’s a triangle of the emotional roller coaster ride that its fans go through, which starts at the top of “getting their hopes up”, then plunges to “getting disappointed”, but always, always, something will happen to get them to “start believing” again.
It’s a never ending cycle, and the match at the Etihad Stadium, when the whole world had written off Spurs’ top four chances following three back-to-back defeats in the Premier League prior to coming to the champions’ home turf, was evidence of just how the team will push you back to the “belief” corner of the triangle just when you think all hope is gone.
This has consistently happened regardless of the manager, and it somehow seems to always involve Manchester City.
WATCH: Conte hails Spurs 'perfect' performance against City
In 2019, it was Mauricio Pochettino in the Champions League quarter-finals, where Spurs went to the Etihad with a slender 1-0 advantage. City’s home form coming into that game was so scary that it was optioned as a story for Wes Craven’s next horror movie. Having a run of 12 successive home victories in all competitions prior to that match, City had come into that match on the back of scoring 49 goals and conceding just three in that run. Victims included Liverpool, Arsenal and thumping victories against Chelsea and Schalke, who lost 6-0 and 7-0 respectively at the Etihad.
No one in their right mind would have thought Spurs, who had lost six of their seven previous away games, were going to hold on to their lead. What made it worse was that Harry Kane had suffered a serious injury prior to the match, which essentially meant what little hope Spurs fans clung onto evaporated like water heated by the scorching sun.
And yet, through a combination of clinical finishing from Son Heung Min, VAR decisions and a Fernando Llorente goal that would forever change the handball rule, Spurs got through on away goals and the match was etched in Champions League history as one of the classics. Spurs fans started dreaming of Champions League glory, and that would extend even further in yet another classic set of matches, the semi-finals against Ajax, who had at one point led 3-0 on aggregate before Lucas Moura scored a hat-trick that should have seen a statue of him being commissioned.
That semi-final result took Spurs fans to the “getting hopes up” part of the triangle and we all know what happened in that limp display against Liverpool in the Champions League Final.
In 2020, it was Jose Mourinho’s turn, but this time, it wasn’t so much that Spurs were in terrible form, but that the 2-0 victory over City at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium lifted Spurs to top the table after nine Premier League matches and fans started thinking that Mourinho’s way of soak and strike football might just be the tonic to Premier League glory.
Spurs then went on to solidify that top-of-the table lead with an away draw at Chelsea and an emphatic victory at home in the North London derby - moving us once again from “belief” to “hope”. Then it all came crashing down with a run of only three victories in the next 13 Premier League matches. Spurs would eventually scrap to seventh place, firmly putting us back into the “disappointment” end of the triangle.
In 2021, Nuno Espirito Santo experienced that as well. Once again, a Kane-less Spurs defied all odds and beat City at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium to inject “belief”. Santo would then take us to “hope” with two more victories to go top of the table, before winning only twice more in the next seven, scoring five goals and conceding a whopping 16, and sat at 10th before he was rightly sacked and replaced with Conte.
WATCH: How Santo managed Spurs from the dugout in their win over City
So here we are in 2022, Antonio Conte, already having gone through the belief/hope/disappointment triangle with his nine-match unbeaten Premier League run followed by three successive defeats, once again starting that cycle anew with the most unlikely of victories, once more against Manchester City.
Can Conte do what three managers before him couldn’t and take Spurs into the top four (which is the “belief” at this juncture) without falling prey to that cursed triangle?
As I write this, I feel the belief flooding through my fingers again, and you would think I should know better. But knowing better is not in a Spurs fan’s DNA.
We would look at all the positives once again, like how Kane put in a solid 10 performance to show City that they should really have saved the £100 million on Jack Grealish and given Daniel Levy what he wanted for Kane, who on the night was the best striker, playmaker, defensive midfielder and defender for Spurs. Or how the Son-Kane combination has now matched the best Premier League goalscoring pair, at 36 goals, previously held by Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard, with Son creating Kane’s first with a sublime cross to the England captain. Of course, that number would have been 37 had Son, set free for a one-on-one with the keeper in the 4th minute with a fantastic through ball from Kane, decided to go himself instead of unselfishly setting up new boy Dejan Kulusevski with a not-so-simple tap-in for the Juventus loanee to open his accounts for Spurs.
Or how Kulusevski marked his first start with a dogged performance laced with the right amount of creativity that has gone missing since Christian Eriksen stopped being Christian Eriksen.
Yes, right at this very moment, we’ve forgotten all the issues that have dogged Spurs - the inability to keep a clean sheet, the lack of movement upfront, the wayward passing in the final third, the unforced errors in trying to play out from the back, especially from Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, and the many more problems that has consigned Spurs to being a “middle” side, as Conte put it.
WATCH: Guardiola reflects on defeat to Spurs
After all, Spurs are the only team that has done the Double on the champions this season, although Crystal Palace have a chance to also match that feat on 15 March. And if we can do the Double over a rampant champion who had come into this match off the back of 14 wins and 1 draw out of their last 15 Premier League matches, surely Spurs can go on a run that sees them surge into the top four.
At this point, we will not think about how relegation strugglers Burnley, Spurs’ next match this coming week, have found a bit of form with a thumping 3-0 victory at Brighton, no mean feat in itself, and are on a streak of having lost only once in their last five, an undeserved 1-0 loss at Anfield to Liverpool where they should have at least come away with a point. That five-game run included draws against Arsenal and Manchester United, so by right, Burnley would be a tough-as-nails match.
But we did the Double on the champions. The Double.
Drunk on belief, I would tell you that Spurs have yet to lose outside of London, with all their eight Premier League defeats happening in the capital this season, and with three of the next four coming outside of London, I highly expect us to move into the “hope” part of the triangle.
And that’s the frustration that every Spurs fan will tell you - that it’s during the “belief” and “hope” part of the journey, Spurs often show they can be one of the very best teams in the league.
Sure, City had 71% of the possession, created 21 chances compared to Spurs’ six, but in reality, the bulk of the 21 weren’t particularly dangerous, short of an Ilkay Gundogan shot in the second half that Hugo Lloris had to make the save of the season to prevent from going in. Both City’s goals were gifts, the first a comical error by Lloris and the second, a highly questionable penalty in injury time. Spurs, by far, had the better chances.
WATCH: Pep gives his opinions on Conte
After going 2-1 up, Spurs could have and should have extended that to 4-1. Son, yet again, found Kane in the box shortly after but City keeper Ederson somehow stuck out a foot to deny Kane from putting Spurs further ahead. After that, Kulusevski’s deflected cross found Kane in the box and he made no mistake putting in the back of the net, only for VAR to determine that Kulusevski was marginally offside when he received the ball on the flank. He was, but he shouldn’t have been, as he could clearly see across the line and should have stayed onside.
City never looked threatening, despite sending in cross after cross, but Spurs were resolute down to a man. You could hardly call out a bad performance from those in white, even the much-maligned Emerson Royal.
And this is the belief that Spurs do indeed have the ability to be challenging at the top, even if they are not often capable of dominating possession.
However, the pragmatist in me will tell you that I have no idea if Conte is the special one who can break the curse of the Tottenham triangle. I will also tell you that three points at Burnley is hardly a given, and the lads will need to put in yet another perfect performance if they are to build on this victory.
On paper, Spurs have an easier fixture list than most of their rivals for fourth - with trips to Anfield and Old Trafford possibly being the toughest matches remaining, as well as a postponed North London derby in what should be a six-pointer against the two most likely contenders for fourth. West Ham, of course, could be another banana skin, as they always seem to be the team to trip Spurs up.
Arsenal, on the other hand, have games against Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United, Spurs and West Ham. Manchester United’s remaining fixtures are even worse, with them still needing to play all the big clubs - City, Liverpool, Spurs, Arsenal and Chelsea.
WATCH: Arteta happy with the way Arsenal are playing
So there is every reason to think that Spurs fans will once again move into the “hope” phase, and there is surely a dread of what comes after.
See you all there.