Everything from this point onwards will define Andre Villas-Boas’ first season at White Hart Lane. Insightful, that statement isn't. But it's pretty much the reality of the dozen league games we have to play along with the second leg of the Europa Cup game against Lyon (tonight). This is the business end of the season, a place where for the past two years it's been desolate rather than delightful. We’ve come unstuck, a needless trait, and allowed ourselves to stutter and stagnate to the finish line.
We finished top four last season but the disappointment wasn't Bayern and their inability to kill off a plucky, lucky Chelsea. The disappointment was not finishing third when it was ours to take, making others less fortunate look a lot better than they deserved to look. Although arguably football isn't just about the football. It's about the mental strength that binds a team together. We lost focus, we lost the grand prize.
We’ve been attached to the top four for the most part of this season. Much like last season and the season before, we’ve been in amongst it, only to see performance levels drop off post-February. It would be wasteful for us to complete a hat-trick of disappointments with yet another shrug of despondency accompanying us over the finish line.
However, this is a different Spurs. Slightly more resolute and more importantly a far more productive and effective side than Harry Redknapp’s version (if not quite as pretty on the eye). We don't just attack every side. We can't just attack every side. Every side (at home and away and in Europe) are wise to the fact that if you try to attack Spurs in equal measures the game will be left open. Which benefits our style. Hence why games are stretched out and goals are scored late on, with counter-attacks leading the way. It's a slow tempo build up for the most part. But it's worked.
With so many pivotal games on the horizon and Gareth Bale our only outlet for goals, it's probably a good time for other players to ignite and allow the pressure to be shared. Otherwise, that oh so familiar gun is pointing down at our foot again.
When we’ve hit a low spot this season, we’ve bounced straight back. Early season form wasn’t potent enough and points were dropped, but this had to be accepted as part of the overhaul of coaching and training that saw Harry go and Andre arrive.
Key players departed, too, and perhaps not quite replaced, pound-for-pound. Other key players have been missing thanks to injury so it hasn’t been plain sailing, but thanks to the lack of a true gap of quality (between us and the seasoned sides that are considered title challengers) it means we don’t have to be at our best to compete. In fact, nobody does.
City are erratic. Arsenal appear to be in the midst of an identity crisis (one day they want Wenger in, the next out, in, out, shake it all about…), Chelsea have depth and retain belief even with transition but are not always convincing and Manchester United display the type of mental strength you come to expect from them (although quite how they’re so far ahead speaks volumes about the rest of us not quite clicking).
That's not to say we should dismiss everyone. It's just that the standard of quality even with others clubs affording higher wage bills, is far tighter than you would perhaps expect. The other side of it is, as we attempt to build up to something we are still almost on a level pegging with the likes of Arsenal and Chelsea who arguably are not playing to their full capacity. Then again, maybe they are.
Regardless, it would be a shame to tumble over now. Our fixture list isn’t the best, and yet it places fate in our hands with key games against Arsenal, Chelsea and City to contend.
That pressure, it has to be felt. Defeat has to be feared. Perhaps it's a good thing we are playing all the sides up there with us. Leaves very little to doubt if you know every game is a must win, a 6 pointer at the top end of the table.
If we get past Lyon, that will perhaps be a distraction, although judging by our tempo in Europe I firmly believe the players have their mindset tuned into the league rather than an Amsterdam final (although the latter would be wonderful for the supporters). But if we do get past them, if anything, the momentum should be used to fuel our attack on both fronts. It's silverware, it moulds a winning mentality. It shouldn't be taken lightly (even though for the most part it has).
Our French opponents were in fine form this past weekend, beating Bordeaux 4-0 away. We’re going to need an away goal or two. Will be interesting to see if we play a similar side to the first game, a first eleven with another rotated back line.
But who needs a cup final when every game between now and the finale is going to feel like one? Without wanting to step too deep into controversy (as this fragments Spurs fans), Redknapp was responsible for that 10-point gap evaporating faster than you can say ‘Oh look it’s Arsenal again’. With so much resentment for Villas-Boas from some sections of the press, it would a wonderful achievement if we consolidated a Champions League place. Preferably third place to avoid any further technicalities with qualification (I still haven’t forgiven you Bayern).
Wenger might be about to mind melt but we all know that Arsenal, with the world against them, can be dangerous and can produce enough to consolidate that minimum requirement they are so good at achieving (in finishing top four). Although that appears to be their trademark these-days, hanging onto the past. You'd expect their luck to run out at some point, a breaking point too far to return from, and this season might be it, but let's be honest, spending any time contemplating their predicament is a waste of time. Once again it's in our hands. When we play them we have the opportunity to suffocate that luck.
You know that scene in Superman II when Zod tells him to knell before him and Superman takes his hand and crushes it before sending him to the depths of the Fortress of Solitude? Superman isn't meant to have any powers but he switched it and he does and Zod is the one that is now just a mere mortal. It's about ****ing time we took Arsenal's hand, their expectancy that we will once more give them a helping one and crack every single fragile bone to dust.
It's time to make the switch.
This is the time for Andre and his players to earn their spurs. Whatever happens, this new era is not looking like the errors of the past – we are looking upwards whilst one or two neighbours are looking to the past for a reminder of easier days.
Who needs a cup final? I wouldn't mind one.
Heart firmly in mouth until further notice.