White Hart Lane
Last season Tottenham went unbeaten in the Premier League at White Hart Lane, their home stadium since 1899. This is quite the feat, considering you play 19 games at home per season. WHL was a fortress despite its size (36,284) compared to other clubs in the top of the Premier league (averaging ~57,000). Spurs played their final match at the Lane on May 14th, beating Manchester United 2-1. This seemed like the perfect farewell after a stellar season, where Spurs finished 2nd with a record points total (86). They played that final match because Tottenham needed to knock it down to continue the construction of their new £800 million, 61,000 seat stadium. Due to this, Spurs needed to find a new place to play for the 2017-2018 season. There was talk of a stadium share with a couple different hated London rivals, of playing at MK Dons, a 30,500 seat stadium located ~50 miles north of Tottenham, and of moving into Wembley Stadium. Ultimately, they were able to strike a deal with the English Football Association allowing them to play at Wembley.
Rendering of Tottenham’s new 61,000 seat stadium
The prospect of Wembley is both exciting and terrifying. On one hand, it holds ~50,000 more seats than the old WHL. Spurs finished in a Champions League place for a second season in a row, and a significantly larger number of supporters will be able to watch the boys take the pitch this season against the best competition in Europe. On the other hand, Spurs had only two wins on this new Wembley pitch prior to this season. Those wins being in the 2008 league cup in a victory over Chelsea and last season in a Champions League matchup against CSKA Moscow. Due to construction on the new stadium starting prior to last season, Spurs were able to play last season’s Champions League matches at Wembley prior to calling it their temporary home. To say that was dismal is likely an understatement. They had poor showings against Bayer Leverkusen and Monaco, and then again against Ghent in the Europa League after dropping out of the Champions League. Overall, they had only won 2 of 12 matches at Wembley in 9 years.This didn’t exactly instill confidence coming into this season, knowing they’d be playing 19 league matches and 3 Champions League matches at the very least.
Son Heung-min (7), Christian Eriksen (23), Dele Alli (20), and Jan Vertonghen (5) walk off the pitch after an early season lackluster performance
Fast forward to this season, and Spurs didn’t exactly hit the ground running. Their first home match was a 2-1 loss to Chelsea during which they never really looked solid. Their next two league matches at home were draws to Burnley and Swansea, teams that Spurs should be handling at home with relative ease. This just perpetuates the talk that there’s some sort of Hex over Spurs at Wembley. The pitch is bigger than WHL, sure, but not by all that much. I personally think it comes down to a comfort with the atmosphere. Playing in front of that many more supporters per match is like going straight from middle school to college. It’s a huge leap. All of that said, the Swansea draw did come off their most convincing win of the season to date, a 3-1 handling of Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League, which just happened to be at home. I’ll chalk the Swansea result up to being tired after going all out in. However moving forward that won’t be good enough. They need to be able to create some fluidity in squad rotation that allows them to compete in league matches on the weekends and cup competitions during the week. They need to exorcise themselves of those Wembley demons.
Even with all the doom and gloom around the Wembley “curse”, that loss to Chelsea is currently the only loss of the season in all competitions, and Spurs are flying away from home. Up until Tuesday’s 1-1 draw away to Real Madrid, arguably the best team in the world, Spurs had won every match away from Wembley. They’re currently sitting 3rd in the league and top their Champions League group. And this is all with a slew of injuries to regular starters. The table is still pretty tight this time of year, but Spurs really have an opportunity to separate themselves from (most of) the rest in the next month. Their next 8 fixtures will be a true test of their abilities, and can help solidify conversation that they belong as perennial Champions League contenders. If they can come out of those 8 strong, and stay comfortably in the top 4 after clashes with Liverpool and Manchester United, they’re poised to do some incredible things this year. However, I can’t get too far ahead of myself. Let’s keep it one week at a time. Let me break down how I think the coming week’s matches are going to go.
Liverpool (Home, Premier League):
Liverpool is coming off a 7-0 thrashing of FK Maribor, the Slovenian champions, in the Champions League mid-week. Phillippe Coutinho, Mohamed Salah, and Roberto Firmino all looked stellar, and that can only mean they’re going to come into Wembley oozing with confidence. In turn, Spurs are coming off a 1-1 draw against Champions League holders Real Madrid IN Madrid. Most teams that go to the Santiago Bernabeu barely live to tell the tale. Liverpool is the one team that can match the high pressing abilities that Spurs possess, so I expect it’s going to be a dogfight. I do however think Spurs can continue to cast away the Wembley demons. Liverpool’s defense has a tendency to disappear at times, and Harry Kane will absolutely capitalize on it.
Prediction: Spurs 2-1 Liverpool
West Ham (Home, Carabao Cup):
Spurs and West Ham met at London’s Olympic stadium in the league earlier this year. Spurs had the advantage in that match and began to fall apart late. Though they won that match, they looked a bit shaky at the back. I fully expect our defense to be stronger, and Fernando Llorente to bag his first goal in a Tottenham kit.
Prediction: Spurs 2-0 West Ham
There’s a lot of excitement swirling around this team. Harry Kane is having the start of another stellar scoring season with 11 goals so far (6 PL, 5 CL). Christian Eriksen is flying under the radar acting as the maestro of the club. Ben Davies and Kieran Trippier have been solid in the absences of Danny Rose (injury) and Kyle Walker (left for Manchester City). Moussa Sissoko looks to be settling in much better than last season. Davinson Sanchez is slotting nicely into a back 3 with Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld. Young guys like Harry Winks are starting to get going and put up solid perfomances. Hugo Lloris is a top 5 keeper in the world. This doesn’t even take into account the injuries to Danny Rose, Erik Lamela, Victor Wanyama, and Moussa Dembele. Dele Alli hasn’t gotten going yet after being crowned PFA Young Player of the Year in back to back seasons. Son has been brilliant in spells, but hasn’t yet shown what he’s capable of consistently.
Throw that all together with the brilliance of manager Mauricio Pochettino and the sky is the limit for Spurs. Get through this next month and suddenly you’re in the conversation to win the league.