Gareth looks at how we consistently fail to take the final step
Another final comes and goes and the opportunity to end a now 13 year wait for a ‘trophy’ is extended much to the glee of our adversaries.
Let’s park the debate about the significance of trophies (compared to sustained top 4 league finishes) for the moment and just take it as given that winning an FA Cup or League Cup is better than not winning one but that attainment in the League is not a mutually exclusive pursuit. The subject was expertly covered on this week’s the Game is About Glory podcast (from 31:00 specifically).
As was pointed out the cup trophies in England have been hoovered up by those with significantly greater wealth and resource than we have.
|Year||FA Cup Winners||League Cup Winners|
|2021||Chelsea or Leicester||Manchester City|
|2019||Manchester City||Manchester City|
|2016||Manchester United||Manchester City|
|2011||Manchester City||Birmingham City|
The outliers in that list are Wigan, Swansea and Birmingham – it is frustrating that we weren’t able to capitalise on the power vacuum that existed in the competitions in those particular seasons. (but look out for a future blog exploring our bizarre disconnect from the FA Cup). Annoyingly, unlike the mid to late 90’s when The League Cup was legitimately labelled a ‘Mickey Mouse’ trophy as the best teams – Manchester Utd and Arsenal – were apathetic towards it, the big boys now take great pride in winning it – the City players and staff celebrated this fourth successive victory – in a week in which they play a Champions League Semi Final – as if it was their first trophy.
You’ll need little reminding that our last silverware came in 2008…far too long ago but not quite as far back as the meme’s you’ll undoubtedly have been receiving today from West Ham fans whose last trophy arrived when there were only 3 terrestrial TV stations available.
They say you need to lose a final to know how to win one; presumably the heartache of seeing your opponent lift the trophy and celebrate in front of you provides that added determination to get it right next time. Yesterday’s defeat to a vastly superior Manchester City was our fourth successive final defeat dating back to the 2008 League Cup victory over Chelsea.
To lose 4 successive finals is something of an anomaly and coupled with our infamous streak of losing 8 successive FA Cup Semi Final’s suggests that there may be some sort of mental block. Other teams have suffered similarly – Liverpool lost 4 successive finals between 2012 and 2018: FA Cup (2012 v Chelsea) League Cup 2016 (v Manchester City) Europa League 2016 (v Seville) and Champions League (2018 v Real Madrid). Equally Sunderland had gone 8 Wembley appearances without a win between winning the FA Cup in 1973 and beating Tranmere in the Papa Johns Trophy against Tranmere in March this year.
We have been unfortunate that our four finals have all come against undisputedly brilliant teams.
- 2009 League Cup Final v Manchester Utd (0-0 – lost 4-1 on penalties) – Man Utd were English and European champions and would go on to win the league and reach the Champions League Final.
- 2015 League Cup Final v Chelsea (0-2) – Chelsea would become Premier League Champions
- 2019 Champions League Final v Liverpool (0-2) – Liverpool had just recorded 97 PL points; had played in last season’s Champions League Final and would go on to win the league at a canter the following season.
- 2021 League Cup Final v Man City (0-1) Champions elect and possible Champions League Winners too
I find it hard to accept that Spurs can ‘never win the big games’ because we have done in both the Premier League and Champions League. This hasn’t always been the case between the 90’s and until the early 2010’s our records against Arsenal (no wins between 1999 and 2008), Chelsea (no league wins between 1990 and 2006), Manchester Utd (no win at Old Trafford between 1989 until 2012) were appalling.
However, the league by its format provides few high stakes matches with the instant jeopardy that cup ties provide. The 2010 game at Manchester City is perhaps the closest we have been to a true league ‘cup final’ and of course we won on that memorable evening. Between 2015 and 2018 in the peak Poch era we won fixtures against Manchester City, Man Utd, Liverpool and even finally ended the hoodoo at Stamford Bridge in April 2018 – a result that effectively secured a finish above them.
The last two league campaigns have seen a steady regression back to pre Poch times. In fact, the biggest problem Pochettino created was the rise in expectations. The graphic below shows how between 2010 and 2016 the number of points remained roughly the same (between 62-72) but the incredible 2016/17 (the last at WHL) saw a big fluctuation and sadly since then the points have dropped off at an alarming rate though should consolidate this season probably rising a little.
You must also look at the Champions League…though the wins over Inter Milan in the ‘taxi for Macon game’ and the thrilling victory over Real Madrid at Wembley were in the group stages. However, beating Dortmund over two legs in 2019 was an emphatic example of getting the job done. The incredible QF victory over Man City did of come courtesy of a large slice of luck but only by winning the home leg 1-0 and denying City an away goal and then scoring twice in 10 minutes in the return leg provided us a platform whereby we earned the luck needed by a narrow VAR Offside call.
In fact, almost the whole of the group stages in 2019 had aspects of jeopardy – we were going out for more than we were going through and crucial late goals against PSV, Inter and Barcelona saw us progress.
However, when thinking about our inability to win a cup competition, you can’t help think that there may be something intangible missing from the psyche of the club:
|2008/09||League Cup SF||Burnley||Won (2 legs)|
|2008/09||League Cup final||Manchester United||Lost (penalties)|
|2009/10||FA Cup SF||Portsmouth||Lost (0 – 2)|
|2011/12||FA Cup SF||Chelsea||Lost (1 – 5)|
|2014/15||League Cup SF||Sheffield United||Won (2 legs)|
|2014/15||League Cup final||Chelsea||Lost (0 – 2)|
|2016/17||FA Cup SF||Chelsea||Lost (2 – 4)|
|2017/18||FA Cup SF||Manchester United||Lost (1 – 2)|
|2018/19||League Cup SF||Chelsea||Lost (2 legs)|
|2018/19||Champions League SF||Ajax||Won (2 legs)|
|2018/19||Champions League final||Liverpool||Lost (0 – 2)|
|2020/21||League Cup SF||Brentford||Won (2 – 0)|
|2020/21||League Cup final||Manchester City||Lost (0 – 1)|
Once you remove the 3 League Cup Semi-finals against lower league opponents (Burnley, Sheffield Utd and Brentford) it makes the Ajax win very much the outlier in the list. These results have spanned 4 very different managers with some of our best players in a generation all involved.
On further analysis of the 9 defeats seven have occurred against an opponent who we had either already beaten in the league that season and/or finished above in the league too – i.e., we were more than capable of beating them. To have failed on nine successive occasions is surely not just unfortunate even though there is mitigation with nearly all of those games in isolation.
I think we all acknowledge that we are the Junior Partner in the ‘Top 6 cartel’ even though we have enjoyed finishing above all of them at least once in the last 5 seasons. Though a look at their comparative cup result data highlights the bizarre rate of failure that we have experienced.
Our record is undisputedly the worst – especially as the few green bars have invariably come against lower division opposition (LD). Arsenal and Manchester City have the best records (10 – 3) whereas Chelsea have beaten us three times in their record of 9-4. Manchester Utd will need to find a way to reverse any psychological damage suffered in losing their last five significant cup ties.
It is interesting to compare Arsenal with Liverpool. The former has established themselves as Cup Specialists having previously focused on sustained entry to the Champions League. This run started though with highly fortuitous semi final draws in 2014 and 2015 (Wigan and Reading) and then by playing Hull City and Aston Villa in the respective finals. Liverpool, meanwhile, have done the opposite – Klopp has sacrificed domestic cup competitions to prioritise the Champions League as a process towards winning the League but of course with the exception of ‘Dr Tottenham’s help they have lost their last 4 finals having been masters of winning them in the decade prior (they had won 7 of their 8 previous cup finals).
Have we always been this bad in key cup ties? No is the short answer. The 13 semi-finals and finals prior to 2009 which culminated in the 2008 League Cup success are detailed below:
|1990/91||FA Cup final||Nottingham Forest||Won|
|1991/92||League Cup SF||Nottingham Forest||Lost|
|1992/93||FA Cup SF||Arsenal||Lost|
|1994/95||FA Cup SF||Everton||Lost|
|1998/99||FA Cup SF||Newcastle||Lost|
|1998/99||League Cup SF||Wimbledon||Won|
|1998/99||League Cup final||Leicester||Won|
|2000/01||FA Cup SF||Arsenal||Lost|
|2001/02||League Cup SF||Chelsea||Won|
|2001/02||League Cup final||Blackburn||Lost|
|2007/08||League Cup SF||Arsenal||Won|
|2007/08||League Cup final||Chelsea||Won|
The first thing to spot is that there are six green bars and none with the caveat of lower league opposition. There is no doubt that Chelsea and Arsenal (in 2008) were better teams than us and likewise with Chelsea (2002). Leicester also finished above us for the three seasons before we beat them in 1999 and the 1991 victory over Nottingham Forest (our last FA Cup success) came against a backdrop of being knocked out of both domestic cups by the same opponent in 4 of the 6 seasons either side.
For those of you old enough to have lived through the cup glories of the early 80’s I’d be intrigued to get your take on what mental benefits were gained by the perpetual successes and ability to win semi-finals. Between 1981 and 1984 we won 6 from 7 of these ties resulting in 2 FA Cup’s and the 1984 UEFA Cup final. Why were we able to win these ties? Was it know-how, was it luck or was it just being a bit better than our respective opponent?
Whilst the previous comparisons identified failings when compared to the rest of the ‘top 6’ I have also compared our achievements against that next tier of clubs:
What this shows is that we have far more frequently reached the latter stages of cup competitions than the clubs listed. It cements the view that whilst we are the Junior Partner of the so called ‘Big Six’ we are a long way ahead of the chasing pack using a variety of metrics.
My time parameter was 30 years – Everton and West Ham have only played in 13 ties between them in this period. Villa have been frequent semi-finalists but have not won anything since the 90’s. Leicester have a lot of green but look at their opponents and also consider that their successes in the 90’s were during the period that the League Cup was de-prioritised.
As the dust settles on yesterday’s somewhat predictable yet commendable defeat against a rampant Manchester City side what will change before our next big cup tie? How many more lessons can this group of players, and football club as a whole, learn in order to make things better next time.
When we hear the standard platitudes from our players through heavily managed club PR/Comms about ‘going again’ and ‘we’ll learn our lessons for next time’ you have to wonder what actual conversations are taking place. Maybe we need a Sports Psychologist to work with the squad; maybe we just need to win once….or perhaps we just need to hope that Manchester City and Chelsea get knocked out in the early stages and that we can capitalise?