On one level, the Premier League is just a footballing competition. Teams play, they win or lose, they accrue their points, and then at the end of the season the best team gets a big shiny trophy, the three worst get exiled to the forgotten wastelands of the lower leagues, and everybody gets a couple of months off.
On another, it is a grand clash of characters: each of these clubs has a distinct personality, and it’s these personalities that do the fighting. So as well as being a football team, Liverpool is also a fallen aristocrat, agonized and desperate at the loss of greatness, and the unfairness of a world that seems determined never to allow that greatness to return. Arsenal is a highly-strung, quivering mess of beauty, insecurity, and frustrated entitlement. Manchester United is a dark, soulless, churning cash flasher in an exceptionally expensive, oddly ill-fitting suit. Chelsea is … well, you know who Chelsea is.
And you know who Tottenham is, too. Spurs, after all, are so fundamentally Spurs that there is even a word, “Spursiness,” that acts as shorthand for the character. Well-meaning, but inherently shabby. Pleasant, but ineffective. Cursed, at all times, to find their best efforts undermined by equal measures of misfortune, mistakes, and the machinations of those stronger and richer. “Lads, it’s Tottenham.” Even their moments of joy — all football clubs have them — always seem to come with more foreshadowing than most.
Which is why what happened this weekend was so strange. Manchester City made its way to White Hart Lane; that wasn’t weird, there was a game to play. Then City took an early lead; that wasn’t weird either, particularly since it came in wonderfully Spursy fashion, directly from a Tottenham corner.
Then it all went contrariwise. Spurs totally failed to Spurs in on themselves, instead grabbing an equalizer, then a winner, and then a couple more goals just for fun. It was assertive football. It was confident football. It was so weird that the officials completely forgot about the offside rule. And while it owed plenty to some messiness on City’s part — not least Willy Caballero’s rush of blood to the head, a cock up that left his goal exposed, his defense shafted, and really made things hard for his team — the performance was almost shockingly un-Spursy.
Is something serious going on here? It’s possible, of course, that Mauricio Pochettino’s methods are finally taking root, and that Spurs are starting, slowly but surely, to turn into something solid, something decent. That the team is finding an identity, a spine and a focus to go along with all the talent that’s sluicing around the squad. That Son Heung-min was the missing piece of the jigsaw. But … well, that doesn’t sound very Spursy.
Better, it’s more comforting to assume one of two things is under way. Maybe, Spurs are just playing the long game and setting themselves up for a greater fall in the next week or so. Thump City, then get turned over by Swansea. That would be nice and appropriate.
Or maybe they just ran into something bigger than themselves. If history has taught us anything, it’s that there are forces in English football that are even stronger and deeper and more compelling. Spursiness is quite something. But it’s a mere trifle when set against the eternal mystery that is Cityitis.
Liverpool won! Just about. Aston Villa’s Rudy Gestede scored twice, but Brendan Rodgers’ brave soldiers scored three times, and so are back on the road to glory. Afterwards, Rodgers refused to make too much out of what was just one win, and simply remarked that while he was pleased with the three points, it was a home game against one of the early favorites for relegation, and there was a long way to go before Liverpool was anything worth getting excited about.
Joke! He actually decided — following a game, we remind you, in which he’d tactically outwitted Tim Sherwood by buying his best striker — to rail against a “frenzied” and “hysterical” campaign to force him out of the club. “I am the same man who nearly won us the league, but better,” he announced, before going on to tell all his current players that they were useless. “If you give me the tools I’ll do the work.”
We don’t know who is behind this campaign, of course; we don’t know anything. But we think he might be talking about his defense.
If Jose Mourinho Was Literally A Volcano update: look, we’ll level with you here. When we started this running joke, we did so in the expectation that Mourinho and Chelsea would sort themselves out fairly quickly, and so we wouldn’t have to go much beyond a couple of jokes about Pierce Brosnan. Instead, well, they somehow contrived to concede twice to Newcastle, and we’ve run out of alternative ways of writing “hot angry plume of fiery death.”
We can only apologize to you, the valued reader. Let us hope, for all our sakes, that either Chelsea can finally start to make some kind of sense, cheering Mourinho up in the process, or that we can think of another joke. Let us admit, too, that it’s not looking good.