Giorgio Chiellini, chest puffed out and a hard night’s work visible from the sweat beaming from his forehead, made a very interesting point when speaking after their 2-1 victory against Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League last season. “It’s the history of Tottenham. They always create many chances and score so much but, in the end, they miss always something to arrive at the end.” Referring to the tie between Real Madrid and Paris Saint Germain, in which Madrid won, he then stated that in competitions such as these, “the history it’s important and the experience is important.”
Mauricio Pochettino has received many plaudits, and rightfully so, for his ability to build a team that could be competitive and challenge for major honours. From being the outsider peering in from the wilderness to becoming a top four regular, Tottenham have made significant strides with minimal investment in their squad, compared to the other teams in the upper tier of the Premier League. For all of their attacking verve and industrious work rate, the most important takeaway for this team may be the experience gained, having endured a number of frustrating occasions where, with a little more big-game persona and know-how, they could have removed the “maybe men” monkey from their backs.
After their semi-final defeat at the hands of Manchester United in the FA Cup in April, their closest chance of collecting silverware in a season where they finished third and were knocked out of the EFL Cup in the early stages, questions still remain on their mental toughness in situations where successful teams like Juventus and Madrid thrive.
For them, ultimate success culminates in the addition of major honours season in, season out. In the modern age, success can also be seen in the development and improvement of players, as well as maintaining or growing revenue streams, platforms that allow the very top teams to compete on all fronts. However, when we compare the top sides, how much emphasis should we put on winning trophies and individual accolades as compared to, say, improving the style of play?
Pep Guardiola has been able to bring a clear identity to Manchester City as well as being triumphant in adding silverware to the growing trophy cabinet at the Etihad Stadium. Kyle Walker, a former Tottenham player, will be remembered as one of the players that improved under his guidance and is now a Premier League winner. Jose Mourinho, although criticised for his style of play and lack of player development, is a serial winner, and having added the Europa League and EFL Cup to United’s impressive trophy haul, would feel justified for performing better at his job in the face of those that would seem to suggest otherwise.
In football, those that come second become an after-thought, a co-star who plays a supporting role, whilst the main actor, the team that wins, soaks up all the applause and recognition.
This weekend, Liverpool are the visitors to Wembley Stadium and they, like Tottenham, are looking for that moment that will finally allow them to add some much-needed silverware to a project that has taken them to the final of the Champions League and the EFL Cup under Jurgen Klopp. The loss to Madrid, especially, would have been a bitter pill to swallow in a match where the footballing gods seemed to go against them, and if it was not for Mohamed Salah’s injury and Loris Karius’ mistakes, then Liverpool could be singing to a different tune.
As we enter the fifth game week of the season, this match already has the feel of a season-defining battle. Tottenham seemed to be laying down a marker after their win at Old Trafford, but for all of that hard work and ruthless finishing, the loss to Watford at Vicarage Road gave Pochettino’s critics the opportunity to remind us of his team’s occasional mental blockages.
Momentum is very important when setting the tone for the season, something that Liverpool have done with a 100% start, winning the sort of matches that might have derailed them in the past. The attacking potential in the team is frightening, having seen it in full thrust against a hapless West Ham United team, and for now, showing a grit and determination to grind out results whilst the team continues to gel can only bode well for them going forward.
For all of the improvements that both teams have made over the past four or so years, ultimately the cream of the crop are judged on their ability to grab the headlines and not just challenge for major trophies, but win them. What either of these teams can achieve this season is anyone’s prediction, and with the potential that each squad of players possesses, it is not unrealistic to expect one of them, at least, to have their name engraved in one of the numerous trophies that are on offer. No team wants to be remembered for their potential. Guardiola and Mourinho’s players have winning medals in their armoury; how many players at Tottenham or Liverpool can boast the same?
There must be a return on the investment and faith that has been placed on both these managers. The match at Wembley has all the ingredients to be an exciting affair. A win for either side might push them in the direction that could lead to a crowning moment that they so badly need.