Tottenham have blown their best hope of Premier League title... without kicking a ball
All good things must come to an end, but Tottenham Hotspur are throwing away the chance to win the Premier League by leaving White Hart Lane now, writes Ben Snowball.
'It's so Spurs-y.'
When Tottenham were revealed as the Premier League's two-season 'champions' earlier in May - an accumulation of 2015-16 and 2016-17 points - it was met with scorn. Classic Spurs, failing to win a trophy during their greatest period in modern times.
As Leicester wilted and Chelsea rose again, Mauricio Pochettino's side remained the Premier League's constant - forging such strength and stability under the Argentinean that they wouldn't look out of place in a Theresa May monologue. It hasn't yielded silverware, but their continued growth hints at Premier League title charge, not as leaders but chasers.
That's now in jeopardy. The turnstiles at White Hart Lane will revolve no more after Jonathan Moss's full-time whistle against Manchester United signalled the end of an 118-year journey. While tears were shed reminiscing over Dave Mackay, Glenn Hoddle and Jimmy Greaves, the saddest message lurked beneath the memories and eulogies: Tottenham were blowing their best chance of winning the Premier League.
Glenn Hoddle (L), David Ginola (R)Getty Images
Only a few yards separate the old from the new. But by the time football arrives at the 61,000-seater as-yet-unnamed stadium, Spurs could be light-years away from their current position.
Tottenham's top-flight record at White Hart Lane this season is unrivalled: won 17, drawn two, lost none. Their record at Wembley, their impending temporary home, is altogether less daunting: three defeats, a draw (that sealed Europa League elimination) and a solitary victory. They tried to prepare for their gap year by inviting European opponents to the national stadium; it only served to highlight the challenge of moving from an old-school den to a modern amphitheatre.
The results didn't always reflect the performances. Spurs bullied Chelsea for long periods of their FA Cup semi-final and bossed their Champions League opener against Monaco. They lost both games and that, perhaps, is most distressing.
Harry Kane v GentGetty Images
At White Hart Lane, Spurs' success was built on a high-press. It's enacted in the knowledge that a rushed clearance will almost certainly result in a turnover in possession. But at Wembley, with an extra few yards of run-off, teams can turn hopeful punts towards the corner flag into stealth counter-attacks. It's no coincidence that Spurs have repeatedly conceded against the run of play, with their attack-minded full-backs leaving acres of space on the flanks. Not even a switch to 3-5-2 has stemmed it, as Chelsea demonstrated so ruthlessly in their 4-2 win.
Defender-in-chief Toby Alderweireld is the flag bearer of this malaise. When the game is in front of him, he's arguably the Premier League's greatest, but get him turned - as Pedro showed to win the free-kick for Chelsea's opener - and he is far more unhinged.
And yet it's not just daunting pitches that unsettle Spurs. Their worst domestic away displays have come at four of the five biggest stadia: Old Trafford, the Etihad (an unjust draw), Anfield and the imaginatively-named London Stadium. Big stadiums often mean big teams, so the results are bound to skew negatively, but Spurs have frozen on each occasion. The next biggest stadium in England, St James' Park, was the scene of their harrowing 5-1 defeat to already-relegated 10-man Newcastle at the end of last season. It reeks of a problem far beyond coincidence.
Christian Eriksen (Tottenham) v West HamGetty Images
A two-thirds-full Wembley awaits Tottenham for all but their biggest games of next season - the matches where victory is paramount to a title charge. In contrast, every away end will be charged as the bottom half of the Premier League savours perhaps their sole opportunity of playing in a 90,000-seater. Effectively, Spurs will play 19 games at a neutral venue away from home. And another 19 away from home.
Of course, Tottenham can't stay at White Hart Lane indefinitely. Nor should they. The new stadium was commissioned with long-term objectives in mind and no one could have envisaged the horrible timing. It's also unavoidable they must play a season elsewhere to complete the multi-million pound project. But now? As all the signs point towards something extraordinary in north London?
Chelsea can no longer rely on the same XI as they navigate European nights once more; Pep Guardiola is uncharacteristically unsure at Manchester City; Liverpool are no closer to exorcising their demons against middling outfits; Manchester United's phobia of attacking could again resume on a Thursday-Sunday schedule; Arsenal are, well, Arsenal.
White Hart LaneGetty Images
The upshot? In all likelihood, it won't take as many points to win the Premier League next season. Spurs have proved after the past two seasons they are almost there and have a young squad who can improve again. But will this group remain intact should they again be stained by the 'nearly men' tag after an indifferent season at Wembley?
White Hart Lane has played host to two title-winning campaigns since openings its gates in 1899. But the ultimate send-off for a stadium would be a farewell third - one that could be in the offing if Spurs stay put. Instead, the bulldozers arrive on Monday morning to not only demolish 118 years of history, but also Tottenham's greatest hopes of finally winning the Premier League.