Arsenal 4 Newcastle 0 (incl. match highlights) – Gunners get their groove back, finally
On paper, this seems like a filler episode in a season-long drama series, because Villa is tethering above the relegation zone and has lost to all the top-4 challengers except Manchester United and Everton, if one were so generous enough to consider both teams as top-4 challengers this season.
Villa may be on a high of getting through to the
Mickey Mouse League Cup Final, but let’s not mince words, they are kind of crap and are kept afloat single-handedly by the performances of Jack Grealish. Spurs, on the other hand, have won four and drawn two of their last six games.
In theory, this should be one of those matches for Spurs to just brush past and focus on the bigger prize. Sadly, things have not been so clear cut for the North London club. Despite the good run bringing the results, the performances haven’t quite lived up to what is expected of a top-four club.
The last two matches were brave victories for Spurs, against Manchester City and Southampton. Brave because in both matches, Spurs resembled a boxer that has been pummelled for most of the match but somehow delivered a last gasp knockout punch.
Just look at the stats. Between City and the Saints, they carved out 34 chances against the home team, whereas Spurs only managed 12. Go back four previous matches and you can see that minnow after minnow, they created about the same number of chances as Spurs in the match, or usually more.
One can argue this is the beginning of a new era for Spurs, with Mourinho’s defensive tactics finally taking shape. Spurs are adopting a soak and strike strategy, to seemingly good results, even if it comes at the expense of legions of Spurs fans visiting their cardiologists after every match.
What that would tell you is that the Villa game will not be easy, regardless of how poor their team is right now, because Mourinho’s way of playing often makes an easy game look hard.
WATCH: Spurs' best goals at Villa Park
That this is a potential banana skin isn’t a huge shock to long-suffering Spurs fans, who were used to their team slipping way before Steven Gerrard made the term popular. Who can forget Martin Jol’s team losing the Champions League place on the last day due to half the team getting food poisoning? Or slipping behind Arsenal to fourth place on the penultimate Match Day, only to not qualify because Chelsea won the Champions League that season? Or the most famous one, finishing third in a two-horse title race when Leicester won the title?
Usually, us Spurs fans react with very little drama, because we’re kind of numb to it.
But this Villa match is different for several reasons. The first would be that winning the next two league matches means that for the first time since Mourinho took over, Spurs will get into the coveted fourth spot, so long as Manchester United continue their form against the big boys and avoid defeat against Chelsea come Monday morning.
If Spurs manage to beat Villa - by no means a given at this juncture - the Red Devils will suddenly find a legion of Spurs fans willing them on to beat the Blues, and it will nicely set up the six-pointer when Tottenham travel to Stamford Bridge the following weekend.
Secondly, as I said in my last column, a new Spurs is emerging under Mourinho. After new boy Steven Bergwijn’s thunderous volley that practically killed off Man City’s title challenge, Spurs fans are eagerly awaiting his next appearance, which will hopefully come this Sunday. Bergwijn couldn’t play in the FA Cup replay against Southampton, so this would be the second time they can to see the winger strut his stuff.
With Japhet Tanganga growing in stature with each game, and Giovani Lo Celso showing that he can be a world class playmaker, there’s a fresh feeling to the Spurs team, which has essentially plateaued since the 2018/19 season. There’s a feeling among Spurs fans that when this team finally clicks, it will be a force to reckon with, and each new game brings the hope that this is the moment when it all comes together.
That’s not only why this week is important. Sandwiched between the two crucial league games will be the Champions League first-leg knockout match against RB Leizpig, apparently the most hated team in German football. So disliked is RB Leizpig that the story of how they earned that status had to be published twice - first in 2016 by The Guardian and then this year by ESPN.
Liked or not, Leizpig is flying high, even if recently they’ve hit a bad patch of form. You can’t see Spurs sending a weaker team out for this match seeing that the Champions League remains a realistic path to adding a new trophy to Spurs’ cabinet in 12 years (no, the ICC doesn’t count).
WATCH: Spurs vs RB Leizpig preview
That means the team will be going through one of their most physically demanding periods this season, with three matches of extreme significance that could make or break their season.
This is also the first time that Mourinho is taking out the team after such a long break, their last match being 9 days ago, which means he’s had the time to work with the team to prepare for this coming week, a luxury he claimed he barely had since he was appointed back in November.
WATCH: Spurs training ahead of Villa game
As such, this week will see whether Mourinho is truly still that serial winner that everyone seems to think he is, or whether he’s Bros - once the hottest band in the UK, but didn’t realise their time has passed when they reunited 25 years later to low concert turnouts.
I’m hoping he’s Take That, or at least Boyzone, but as anyone will tell you, hope is a good breakfast but a poor supper.