Saturday, 23 April 2016

And you thought this year was exciting...

The football season 2016/17 is so far away the 2015/16 one isn't even over, yet because of the abject failure of the Big Four to have much impact on the title, some pundits and journalists are already forecasting incredible things for next season.

Such is the belief of some journalists, by the ultimate week of next season there will be eight team all on 75 points, all with exactly the same goal difference and five more on 74 who could knick something if every result goes against what is needed. The other 8 teams will be vying for relegation. No one is suggesting that Middlesbrough, Burnley or Brighton could do a Leicester. In fact no one is suggesting Leicester can do a Leicester. If they do win it this year, no one is realistically even talking about them retaining it - not even the looniest Leicester City loons. This season is a one-off. Normal service will be resumed. Next season all the top teams will have the top people in place and, of course, next year, Rodney, we'll all be millionaires... Except, the poor joke is on me, next year all the Premier League clubs will almost be billionaires.

So, shifting focus away from my beloved Spurs, I thought I'd look at this coming August:

Arsenal - I know Arsenal fans who believe that Wenger will die in post. This is the one that's too close to call in because I think Wenger's time there depends on where they finish in the league this season. With two easy matches and a game against their rivals for 3rd, you would think Champions League football is guaranteed and therefore Arsene plays out the last year of his contract because he will have fulfilled the minimum requirements of said contract. I expect if that happens it won't get renewed and he'll be offered the chance to 'go upstairs'. That offer might come earlier if they find themselves in 5th, or even 4th, at the end of May, in a season where the top two were Leicester and fierce local rivals Spurs. Not good enough (huzzah).
Next season prediction: With Wenger and without serious investment a top five spot is unlikely; however, even with a new manager and a lot of money, there is no guarantee the returns will be instant, especially with so many clubs now having vast quantities of money. They blew it this season and without a change that will have psychological effects. Plus some of their stars are beginning to look nervously at the door...

Bournemouth - will not trouble the top half of the table and I say that with confidence and then I look at Leicester and 12 months ago you would probably have struggled to put a Rizla between Leicester's narrow-avoidance of relegation team and Bournemouth's Championship winning side. You can't say that now and who knows what investment Bournemouth might make even if their maximum ground capacity falls well short, or what standard of players they might be able to attract. The only drawback to all of that is the last few years have proven almost unequivocally that having a team is proving to be more consistent than having superstars. Eddie Howe is one of the best young managers in the country and he gets his team playing. Yet Bournemouth's success pretty much boils down to their ability to persuade people to go to the south coast, where lots of old people retire to.
Next season prediction: bottom half of the table.

Chelsea - there seems to be this belief in some quarters that Antonio Conte is going to have a kind of first-coming-of-Mourinho effect; in others is the belief that a huge amount of investment is needed. And then there's those who feel the club has more prospective excellence loaned out (40) it should look at itself rather than venture into the hit-and-miss world of hoping a great and mega-expensive footballer fits into your ways and methods. Some don't. Some world class footballers cannot adapt to some approaches. Plus, there really does seem to be something rotten at the heart of Stamford Bridge at the moment, like the fall out of the Eva Carneiro business had been brewing for months beforehand and we just saw the head of it and not all the pus stewing away below it. Has any defending champions ever looked so pallid and disinterested?
Next season: Hazard will go, so to could a few others. If Conte allows the youth to flourish and is given an entire season to oversee the repackaging of Chelsea (but has a couple of Galactico signings, so that Roman can feel all big in the trousers) then the season after next they might be worth a punt on finishing in the top four; but next season... top half only.

Crystal Palace - and repeat... I could pretty much say the same thing, but slightly different for every club, because the amount of money sloshing about in their banks come next season is going to make signing Messi a reality - in realistically metaphoric terms only - for some big named clubs, but is also going to mean some clubs picking up class acts who would normally not look at a club like Palace because if they want to play or want to sit on a bench or in the reserves of a 'top' club then they obviously are more interested in money than playing football. London is Palace's advantage.
Next season: we discover if everything people accuse Alan Pardew of is correct and whether Palace playing in Europe (A cup final spot against Man U would guarantee it) will really hinder the team or bring it forward. If the latter happens I see a struggle because of a lack of real depth - one that has been their undoing in the latter half of this season. Might struggle to make the top half.

Everton - I expect the Toffees will start next season with a new manager, but stranger things have happened at that club. Martinez should be fired for his failure to achieve anything in a season where LEICESTER won the title. At one point in January, the Merseyside club had the sixth best goal difference in the league and yet were 11th. This is a club with some real talent and yet they have the league table appearance of a 1990s Spurs side - high expectations and shit finishes. I liked their manager and I thought they got the better deal when my team got Andre Villas Boas...
Next season: Everton strike me as the kind of club with the right manager in place could hit the ground running. That said, they have to hope that this season of underachievement doesn't stimulate the likes of Barkley and Lukaku into wanting away, maybe to a club showing more ambition? Top half but need to keep their star players.

Leicester City - and here's the rub; Leicester will pocket a shed-load of cash from winning the league, but can they a) invest it wisely and b) keep the ethos of this team together? Can they compete in the Champions League and make a fist of defending the title? Could Jamie Vardy be a one-season-wonder? This season we have seen what the power of confidence can do and the power of a settled team - the top two in 2015/16 used less players than the 18 teams below them; next year the others will have a better chance of countering Leicester's style of play than Spurs' and I say that because history suggests that is what usually happens, while Spurs' style of play begins with them being as fit in the 90th minute as they were in the 1st - the only way to counter that is to match it.
Next season: I'm going to be optimistic. Leicester will scrape into the last 16 of the Champs League (but they enter the draw as a fourth seed given their absence from Europe for ever) and will finish 7th. Equally, they might get tonked in Europe and struggle against teams that mark Mahrez and Vardy out of games, but I think some of this year's momentum will see them all right.

Liverpool - the real threat, but there will be some changes and those changes could be crucial. I expect Klopp's Liverpool to be next season's Leicester or Spurs and that's because they are beginning to look like a well-drilled, organised and attractive GERMAN side. They could win the Europa League next month; they've already beaten a GERMAN team that humbled Spurs and having a fifth team in the Champions League would at least offset the worry that Leicester will bugger up our coefficients. They have started to look like an embryonic Spurs side - the one that started to look good at the back end of 2015, by next season they will have gained some consistency.
Next season: top 3

Manchester City - Pep Guardiola. I'll say it again, Pep Guardiola. So what? He's managed two of the greatest team ever in the same way that Andy Cole played up front for the best Man U side ever. Pep scores with stars. It would be nice to see what he'd do if he managed Orient or Fleetwood. Man City have fallen behind in many ways; they have some of the best players in the world in their side and I'm sure under the right coach they will prove this. But is Pep the right guy? Probably; but when you think about what Chelsea, Man U, Liverpool are likely to do in the transfer market, or the likely improvement in Spurs or the extensive rebuilding Pep has to do in certain areas, I no longer think this is a nailed on certainty. 
Next season will have expectations, but also a wee bit of patience. I don't think they'll win it, but they will finish top 3. They might be the only 'expected' team to place there.

Manchester United - with or without Van Gaal or Mourinho this is a team in transition and given history is likely to struggle to return to the position it believes it should be in. Van Gaal might win the FA Cup and finish 4th thus keeping his job for the final year of his contract. I kind of want this to happen because Man Utd are the new old Spurs - inconsistent but sometimes great. Yet, I don't believe Mourinho is actually that good, so him coming might be a great car crash. Equally, I refer you to comments about Pep Guardiola in the previous entry and ask if this possible manager could do it with no stars at his disposal and no budget?
Next season will probably be a massive disappointment yet like this season will have periods where they pick up plenty of points. The Man U era might be over, but they might still keep on the coat tails and sneak into 4th... Only
might though.

Southampton - if ever there was a collective side who could do a Leicester it's this team, but you just get the impression they don't know how to move up from where they have got. Keep Koeman and some of their outstanding players and you're looking at an outside top 6 club; lose him and it'll get no worse than mid-table. This is a progressive club that is almost single-handedly helping other teams rise above them by letting all their players and staff leave. That said I don't think of Southampton as being a 'new' Premier League side; I view them as a Premier League side who wandered off the plot for a few years (like Leeds, Bolton and the Sheffield clubs), so I'd be surprised if they allowed the club to slip out of the big time again.
Next season: probably won't seriously trouble the top or bottom six and in this era of billions that will probably be enough. Will have a big say in the outcome because on their day, at home, they are very tough to beat.

Stoke - I like Mark Hughes, but like Arsene Wenger, I don't think he's that cutting edge any more. He's been around too long now and seems capable of taking clubs to a certain level, but no higher. On paper Stoke look quite good; on the pitch on Monday night, Spurs literally took them apart and had fun with the pieces. There are some good (in Football Manager) players in the squad, but they seem to be reclaiming the 'thug' tag and also carry a lot of dead wood. Stoke aren't in any danger of doing anything remarkable, but they probably need a progressive manager to get the best out of their quality players and that manager also needs to develop youngsters while ridding the club of the likes of Crouch, Adam and Given.
Next season: nothing to see here, move along mid-table.

Swansea - the fact they're still here is testament to the way smaller clubs have adapted to the Premier League. However, this season while they never looked in danger of relegation, there were moments where they couldn't do anything right and Swansea and Palace both played themselves into a relegation race they should never have been in, considering their positions and points tally after Christmas. They were in danger because they don't seem to have come on and if they don't move up a few gears it will get worse.
Next season: bottom six, whether they will go depends on how bad three other teams end up.

Watford - who can say? Rumour has it that Flores is in danger of losing his job, despite Premier League safety by March and an FA Cup semi-final (maybe even Europa League football next season). An unlikely nomination to be the next Leicester, but as I've said, who would have thought of Leicester? They play nice counter-attacking football and have defied the odds and the pundits - this is a different Watford that has flirted with the top flight in the past.
Next season: mid table mediocrity and all the happier for it.

West Brom - this is an average side with an average manager and are likely to lose a couple of players in the summer. West Brom might think they're too good to go down, but as Villa, Newcastle and Sunderland can attest, reputations means dick. How does this club attract big players and play football that will make them more attractive? I have no idea, but they need something.
Next season: serious relegation candidates.

West Ham - we tend to forget because of Leicester and Spurs that the most common conversation when Slaven Bilic took over was whether he could prevent the Hammers from being relegated. Nine months later they have pushed for a Champions League place without ever looking like they were serious. This is a good side and I expect them to get better; however a new stadium could be a blessing or a curse. Moving to Stratford is one of the biggest 'unknown' factors in next season's league. If they take to it they could do better, if it doesn't fit then this is a team that sometimes fall quite spectacularly.
Next season: top 10, nailed on.

As you can see, I've left out Norwich, Sunderland, and Newcastle because we have no idea which one will still be in the top flight next year, however I think whoever it is will be challenging for the bottom 3 next season.

I expect two, possibly all three, of Burnley, Brighton and Middlesbrough up next season and with the new money fountain, I can't really forecast where these clubs are likely to finish - next year is an odd one because of the levelling of the monetary playing field - clubs will no longer need to sell players in contract, can afford to raise their wages bill and spend more money on better players - so I wouldn't fancy doing any predictions with any conviction until I know who they are and what they're doing.

That said...

It brings us to...

Tottenham Hotspur - I wouldn't have believed you if you'd told me what this current season would bring, because in many ways it was more ambitious than I've dreamt of. There hasn't been any speculation of any seriousness linking any of their players to 'bigger' clubs. Man U supposedly want Harry Kane, but that isn't going to happen - for a multitude of reasons. Could Dele Alli be tempted away with a £50million bid? I doubt it very much; I expect he will play for Liverpool one day - he is a fan - but I also expect him to be in his mid to late 20s when that happens. What about our brilliant defence or the likes of Eriksen, Lamela or Dier - couldn't they go if a Barca, Real or Bayern came calling? Yeah, but not next season - there's no need. Will Spurs keep Pochettino? Absolutely; his project is less than half complete and you see that look in his eye, the look of a man who knows this team is going forward and has no reason to go back, at all.
Next season: First. Top. Champions. Not only will they win it, they'll win it easily, with only two clubs giving them a run for their money. I say this based on the fact Spurs play the best football in the Premier League, have the best defence and next season the draws will become wins because they will have experience added to brilliant raw talent. They are a joy to watch sometimes.

My 'avin'a-larf table for May 2017

1. Spurs
2. Liverpool
3. Man City
4. Man Utd
5. West Ham
6. Arsenal
7. Leicester
8. Chelsea
9. Southampton
10. Everton
11. Stoke
12. Crystal Palace
13. Watford
14. Promoted #2
15. Promoted #1
16. Swansea
17. Bournemouth
18. West Brom
19. Norwich/Newcastle/Sunderland
20. Promoted #3

Friday, 8 April 2016

The End of Season Bash (part 2)

I want to make a point (again) about Leicester's participation in the Champions League next season, now that it is almost impossible not to happen.

I'm going to sound like every punter, ever, but with a fourth spot at Europe's top table under threat by resurgent Italians and the failure - en masse - of English teams in European competitions in recent years, there is a risk that inside three years, we could be 'relegated' to having just three Champions League participants (with the third place team having to go the play-off route). To stop this, we simply have to perform better in Europe than the Italians, especially next season, because if we fail again the co-efficients could well tip towards a fourth Italian side by the time the Champions League is revamped.

The Premier League, this season, has been a remarkably level playing field, which is why Leicester, Spurs and even West Ham have excelled way above expectations (and probably why Roberto Martinez will be sacked by Everton, because this talented side missed a big opportunity). It is still feasible, with Man City playing so erratically and Man Utd never guaranteed to turn up, that the Hammers could grab that fourth spot - a win against Arsenal would do lots of teams a favour. If next season England was represented by Leicester, Spurs, Arsenal and West Ham in the Champions League, then I'd bet my house that 99% of pundits would realistically say that only Arsenal stood a good chance of progressing from the group stage, based on European Cup history. You could argue that Spurs should, but the star-studded side under Harry Redknapp was a better bet on a European stage than the current side and Spurs' lack of real depth showed in their two limp defeats to Borussia Dortmund, who never looked like the side they did in the following round against Liverpool.

The Premier League might be the 'best' in the world in terms of excitement and entertainment, but it clearly no longer has club sides that are dominant throughout Europe. When Alex Ferguson retired it seemed to take the heart out of English clubs European dreams. I accept that's a facile generalisation, but there no longer seems to be the urgency about Europe there once was and that might be down to the money being generated, via television, for domestic football. This also might explain why world class footballers are still preferring Barcelona, Real Madrid, PSG and Bayern over any of our own rich clubs - because it's easier for these clubs to win big trophies now and there's less demand on them.

The Spanish League is, of the big guns, the most difficult to win outside of the Premier League. There are three teams that could win it every season, two of them are the Galacticos, while the other Madrid side punch above their weight every year. There are others capable of giving these teams 'a game', but you could forecast correctly every season by picking these three teams. Paris St German are the only team in their league; they have a squad to rival the Galacticos and are becoming a dominant force in Europe. Bayern's biggest rival is Dortmund, there are other good teams in the Bundesliga but essentially it's Bayern then the rest. These four teams should continue to dominate the Champions League because there are very few demands outside of it. In England we have schedules that kill competitions and it is obvious that the Europa League simply doesn't work for English clubs because of the over all money at stake, not the prize at the end. Champions League generates far more money and when you're a business, money tends to outweigh glory of a secondary nature.

Would England take the Europa League seriously if next season you had Man City, Man Utd, Southampton and say Everton in it? Would no European involvement help Chelsea and their new manager? Can Leicester do it again? Can they challenge for the title and play at the top table and hold their own? I'd say doubtful, as would others and historically there's evidence to suggest they could end up treating the Champions League like the Nordic clubs - as cash cow rather than a winnable competition - their participation in just six matches would bring considerable riches, even if that was the be all and end all of their European jaunt and it was never repeated.

However, in a world with a level playing field it isn't inconceivable that a team such as Southampton or Everton couldn't do very well in Europe; there is enough money to have bigger squads to combat the fatigue and mental catch up side of the game, but the demands of the domestic game have grown so important that comments made by Laurent Blanc - manager of PSG - ring true; he said that fatigue from a long season could play a major part in whether English clubs can do well in Europe and evidence over the last few years is they don't do well in Europe (unless its to the detriment of their league form). It is obvious that something needs to be done to help club fulfil their potential.

It's all well and good condemning English clubs failure while pointing at the money, the managers and the profile, but when you expect top class athletes to perform match after match to the highest of standards (and they don't) you have to realise that Mo Farrar doesn't run 10,000 metres, in gold winning medal time, every week, while kicking a ball in front of him.

It is also incredibly difficult to mould a squad team - most top clubs have their best sides and a few players who can interchange seamlessly, but start making wholesale changes and form starts to dip. Only Spurs this season have been able to rotate a lot of their players and not look much different; but it has been the rotations that have caused the biggest loss of points (not huge this season, but enough to make a difference). If you asked Mauricio Pochettino what his starting XI for the rest of the season is it wouldn't change (apart from maybe Vertonghen coming back). That's the side that almost won the Premier League and the push on they will need won't be signing star names, but holding onto who they have and signing a few equally as good players to slot in during injuries and suspensions. Most clubs don't really have good B teams - adequate, yes, but unlikely to sustain anything. So, if a club wants to take all competitions seriously, they have to play with teams they think will win and that means some players could end up involved in 60 matches in a season - do the maths, it's just too much to expect.

The question is does English football want to be champions of Europe again or is it happy living off its domestic laurels? It would seem the amount of money about to wash about has made the competitive edge wane. The league is still the important one and for six or seven teams now it will remain that way. Leicester will want to continue being a great side. Spurs won't be looking at a top four finish but a title challenge. West Ham will see the Olympic Stadium move as a bonus to continue the massive improvement under Slaven Bilic. Chelsea will expect their new manager to have instant impact and success. Guardiola's arrival at Man City throws open the possibility that some of the world class players who baulk at our league might be tempted. Arsenal and Man Utd will expect something extra and there's Liverpool to take into account; they have to improve at some point. It all adds up to a forthcoming season where winning the league again becomes the most important thing and with seven or eight clubs in the mix the cup competitions are going to be viewed as a hindrance rather than a bonus.

English domestic cups are utterly devalued, despite what pundits are paid to say; no one takes them too seriously until you get to the business end and even then, depending on what else your team is involved with, there is an element of lack of urgency about them. The League Cup causes problems even now, adding to a fixture list that many managers think is already too busy. One solution would be to revamp that competition but any major changes would be opposed because it carries a European place and without it the competition would be even more devalued. I'm sure that the managers of mid-table Premier League sides would argue it is one of their few ways of realistically winning a trophy, while teams always chasing bigger things will use the competition to keep fringe players happy - with the added bonus of extra game time and the chance to impress. If that fails, then no big loss, the players get a few midweek breaks. The fans would be more than happy with some silverware and they don't care how its got. I'm sure Wigan or Portsmouth fans would struggle to give back their FA Cup wins for a place struggling in the Premier League every season?

The problem is in the post-mortem; this season will have some fans of some clubs wondering if their commitments to cups was the reason they fell short. I'm talking, specifically Spurs and their one big chance of glory in 55 years and how it might not happen because of the club's earlier commitment to the cup competitions. Could some of those draws been wins? So next season, if Spurs are challenging again, could we see them treat the domestic cups with less respect? Part of me actually wants the answer to be yes. If Leicester get through to both cup quarter finals but end up in 7th because of the amount of games they played, will they be happy if the eight points they dropped meant 3rd rather than 7th? Cup quarter finalists are never remembered. If any club can win the league why risk the rewards of a top ten finish with a ultimately pointless cup run? I know it's all to do with pride and glory but some clubs know that will elude them so its really all about money.

The upshot is if England start to treat Europe like a purse rather than a winnable competition it devalues European football. Europe is unattractive without English participation - TV deals become insignificant when a big part of your desired audience isn't in it. So it ultimately isn't in UEFA's interests for England to drift out of European reckoning. The status quo might be restored next season - Arsenal, Chelsea, Man City and Man Utd might dominate with the pretenders back to scratching around for scraps, but if it isn't (and why should it?) then the draw of the Premier League's participation in Europe continues to be eroded because the fan bases of the new breed aren't in the league of the big money clubs and progression isn't assured.

It's a little like solving a conundrum within a puzzle within an enigma and one which every time I try and think of a workable solution I'm stymied by some different wrinkle. Whether it's about glory, money or progression, there is something or someone that will have to give to ensure that it has a fair chance of working and football chairmen are notorious for not giving an inch.

Way back when the Premier League was formed and it went from 22 teams to 20, some people were saying it should be just 16 teams, with one team relegated and one team involved in a play-off with the side finishing second in the lower league. The knock on effect is you'd now have a Premier League 2 with 20 teams, a Championship (League 1) with 24 teams and two regional League 1s (League 2) with 24 (or 20) teams each (the top six from the National league would automatically join the following season. This would immediately solve a fixture congestion for Premier League clubs, with eight games less. Can you imagine the opposition to it now if someone suggested that?

Cups will remain important to the fans of teams still in it at the arse end of the season, that will never change, but it could end up remaining a very fallow period for all of the wannabe league and European champions because there is a bigger prize now up for grabs.

It brings us back to Leicester in next season's Champions League. They will be a fourth ranked team, regardless of their champion status because they have no European form; getting out of a group with at least two top ranked sides is going to be a big ask for them and to be able to maintain the momentum from this season. It will be worse if they're drawn in a group with an Italian side. England will be lucky to get a good return in co-efficient points from the Champions League next season, so ultimately the euphoria of something different finally happening in the Premier League might end up devaluing our place in Europe.

The End of Season Bash (part 1)

Champagne's on Ice, but what about St Totteringham's Day?

Congratulations Leicester City on winning the most unlikeliest prize of all. The claiming of the Premier League title has been a revelation that is both sweet and poison to football fans all over the country.

But... hang on, they haven't won it yet?

No, but they need a minimum of four wins from their remaining six games and while they face in-form West Ham, Man United (desperate for a top four finish) and dethroned champions Chelsea, they also have three very winnable ties against Everton, Swansea and Sunderland and that should be enough, given Spurs' tough run-in.

Arsenal, on paper, look better equipped to make a late challenge, despite having to win 3 more games than Leicester. Five of their final six fixtures are all pretty much guaranteed three pointers - Palace, West Brom, Sunderland and Norwich before a last day 'test' against Villa. However, they also face West Ham at the Boleyn Ground and Man City in sunny Mancsville - two games that will possible define their stop/start season. 15 points would give Arsenal 73 points, meaning Leicester would only need 5 points to guarantee the title.

Spurs have Chelsea away - never a happy hunting ground and against a team playing for pride. They have Man Utd at home, also another team the North London club struggle to beat, wherever they play and whatever form they happen to be in. Stoke away also poses a threat - Spurs can win there, but going to the Potteries is never, ever, a forecast-able result. That leaves West Brom and Southampton at home and a potential crazy last day when they go to St James Park in Newcastle to play a side that may or may not have already been relegated, but might also need a win to save their status. If Spurs can draw against Chelsea, and beat their opponents in the other five, that would give them 16 points and a total of 78 points, meaning Leicester would need to win four matches as Spurs have, by far, the best goal difference in the league. That, on paper could put pressure on Leicester, but the reality is, it is Spurs they are up against.

So, while the league title is still not mathematically impossible, most Spurs fans would have bitten your hand off at the start of the season just to finish above Arsenal, even if that was us in 16th and them in 17th. The gap between the two pernicious rivals is four points, but Arsenal have a game in hand, so that could be one point and a far worse goal difference to overcome - not impossible by any stretch of the imagination. The reality is the fight for runner-up is far more likely to stir up passions among two sets of rivals than the unexpected Leicester title.

Don't get me wrong. If Spurs were to defy the odds and win the title I would not have the slightest problem in partying like it was 1999 all over again, but I also accept that it is as unlikely as Leicester winning the title... oh... But, it has been a great season to watch and live and I never really expected something like this in my lifetime; there was always the hope but never the reality - Spurs usually fall short much earlier than this and it's the hope that gets you in the end.

I decided after the lasagne-gate incident - 10 years ago now - that I would be happy with a) supremacy over the Arse or b) just one year where we finish above the bastards; and, frankly, we've flattered to deceive and always managed to screw it up. This season, as a die-hard Spurs fan, is likely to have the same result, even if we finish 3rd and are guaranteed Champions League group football next year. 3rd would be a disaster if Arsenal were above us.

In the world of harsh realities, Spurs could end up taking just six points from their last six matches and if you were a betting man this is your best bet; except for 28 of the last 32 matches, Spurs have played like one of the two best teams in the country - many managers claim they are the best side their clubs' have faced and unusually Spurs are now tough to beat; they don't concede that many goals (less than anyone else in the top flight) and this is a team that has showed, time and time again, it doesn't know when it is beaten. Most un-Spurs-like.

Against Liverpool, in a game they needed to win and went a goal behind, I never once gave up; I could see us scoring - we did - and I could see us getting a winner - we didn't, but we didn't lose and not losing is a mentality that has benefited both Spurs and Leicester.

So I err on the pessimistic only because recent history demands it. History however has never had a Spurs side quite like this one, at least not for 55 years, and this team is ridiculously young and fit and has gained more points from losing positions than any team in the league; so there is room for some cautious optimism and, of course, this weird season could still throw up some curve balls. Sunderland are fighting for their lives - relegation this season will cost teams so much money it isn't funny - and we all know - because of Leicester's heroics last season - relegation-threatened teams somehow turn it around, sometimes. Sunderland face both Arsenal and Leicester at home and it is arguably their two most important games, because points taken from these are not expected, despite home advantage. Plus they have Big Sam and he likes a challenge, having never been relegated in his career.

St Totteringham's Day - the near-mythical day when Spurs can no longer overhaul their North London neighbours has only gone down to the last day of the season twice in recent years and both times the Arse have triumphed, despite Spurs being in pole position. It would be fair to say that I will be looking down the table over the next few weeks, not above.

If I had any finger nails, I wouldn't.