x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Spurs: the kings of comeback

As fun as it is to watch, can Tottenham mount a serious title challenge based on stirring fightbacks.

Aaron Lennon, right, the Tottenham winger, scored the winner against Liverpool on Sunday.
Aaron Lennon, right, the Tottenham winger, scored the winner against Liverpool on Sunday.

"Glory, glory Tottenham Hotspur" is among the most iconic of club anthems. There are times when the lyrics have seemed as inappropriate as the choice of "Simply the Best" at umpteen Division Two and Three grounds was 15 years ago. Not now.

Harry Redknapp's team are not just winning. They are doing so in a manner that is quintessentially Tottenham. The ethos of the club's greatest team, the 1961 league and cup double winners, was famously described by Danny Blanchflower, the captain: "The game is about glory, it is about doing things in style and with a flourish, about going out and beating the other lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom."

For much of the subsequent half century, that has seemed an impossible challenge, one that more pragmatic managers such as Gerry Francis and George Graham preferred to ignore.

Not Redknapp. He is marrying bold rhetoric with bold tactics.

Tottenham have not actually been in the top four of the Premier League for more than a month, but the manager's comments hardly give that impression.

"I never said we'd win the title, but it's not impossible," he said after Sunday's 2-1 win over Liverpool. Saying is believing and belief is apparent at White Hart Lane.

Occasionally teams acquire a blend of confidence, quality and momentum that suggests no obstacle is insurmountable.

For a side who were 4-0 and a man down to Inter Milan in the San Siro and came close to purloining a point and who have recovered from a two-goal deficit to beat Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium, to be one down to Liverpool and still win seems somewhat commonplace.

Yet the manner of the victory, Aaron Lennon darting in for the injury-time decider, certainly met Blanchflower's criteria: it was done in style and with a definite flourish.

One of football's vogue statistics is the number of points gained from losing positions. Tottenham have managed 16 already (without which, they would prop up the league). In tabloid vernacular, they are the comeback kings. In a division of increasing unpredictability, they, along with Arsenal, rank as the great entertainers.

As Redknapp pointed out before facing Liverpool, his side is littered with matchwinners.

There has been an understandable focus on the superlative displays of Gareth Bale and Rafael van der Vaart, but Liverpool were defeated by a resurgent Lennon after Luka Modric's wonderful driving run brought the equaliser, albeit via Martin Skrtel.

A fit-again Jermain Defoe adds a predatory instinct and the suspicion is that, rather than tightening up his leaky defence, Redknapp's priority in January will be to recruit the world-class striker who will bring an end to the perpetual rotation in the forward line.

The manager's recent comments suggest he has spotted that there is a void at the division's summit. The lack of a great team means that a risk-taker who is prepared to overload his side with attacking talents is ready to grasp the opportunity.

Yet a suspension of disbelief is required to see Tottenham emerging triumphant in May. Conventional logic has it that no team can afford to chase so many games or concede the first goal so frequently; it is far from a fail-safe formula for success.

None that goes three-and-a-half months without a clean sheet in the league, as Spurs have, tends to be taken seriously as title contenders. One that misses as many penalties as Tottenham do - four this season - shows a carelessness unbecoming of champions.

Ruthless consistency, not stirring fightbacks, tends to bring silverware and Spurs can resemble two different teams in the space of a single match. But with inconsistency a constant, Tottenham's is a compelling brand. It is not the normal method of mounting a title challenge. But it is glorious.

 

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A record-breaking weekend in the Premier League brought 41 goals, with at least one for every club. It suggests that too few teams can defend well, but it rewards adventure.

Bolton Wanderers, two goals behind Blackpool, ended up with three strikers and two wingers on the pitch as they earned a point, courtesy of the central midfielder Mark Davies's delightful equaliser.

Wolverhampton Wanderers, trailing 2-1 to Sunderland, traded in a defensive midfielder (Michael Mancienne) for a striker (Sylvan Ebanks-Blake) and won 3-2; Aston Villa scored two goals against Arsenal after removing Robert Pires for the out-and-out forward Nathan Delfouneso.

 

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There was a certain sadness after the half-time departure of Pires against his former club.

The Frenchman is still tidy in possession, completing 92 per cent of his passes, but the lesson of Arsene Wenger's 14 years in England is that technique works best when allied with pace.

It explains why the Arsenal manager did not re-sign Pires when he trained with the reserves and also why, especially in attacking positions, Wenger favours players in the first half of their careers rather than 37-year-olds.

 

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There is never a good time to lose 7-1, but a week after a takeover has been completed ranks as a particularly poor one.

Blackburn Rovers' apology of a performance at Old Trafford should not obscure the fact that, on limited resources, Sam Allardyce is doing an excellent job. They are hard to watch but, normally anyway, are hard to beat.

sports@thenational.ae