The difference between 2011-12 and 2012-13 for Tottenham Hotspur was, when it boils down to it, one game.
Tottenham's record for the two seasons was virtually identical. Except, they won one more league match in this past season than they did the previous year. This three extra points gave them their highest points total (72) of the Premier League era. Yet, Andre Villas-Boas' side still managed to finish a place lower (fifth) than a season earlier.
It illustrates how misleading some statistics can be in not telling the full story.
In Tottenham's case, they could not account for Chelsea's improved league form this season. Nor the impressive late run Arsenal strung together to pip their North London rivals to fourth. Spurs were actually unbeaten in their last eight matches and lost just two league outings in 2013. In comparison, post-Christmas in 2011-12, they lost six times.
Given the changes they had undergone in coaching and playing personnel, despite the eventual disappointment, Spurs put in a commendable year's work.
Judging their progress is more complicated than what the numbers tell us.
In some cases though, both areas are entwined and serve as a decent (if not entirely representative) barometer of this current team's development.
The greater resilience Spurs showed later in the season was testament to the increased understanding between coaches and players who had gotten use to each other. Earlier in the season, those relationships had not yet been established. With new signings bedding in and new tactics being implemented, understandably this process took time.
That was something Harry Redknapp did not have to worry about a year earlier. His well-established side bounced back from two opening defeats and would lose only one of the following 19. Yet as noted earlier, Redknapp's side fell apart in dramatic fashion late in the campaign. A humiliating 5-2 loss away at Arsenal severely bruised his unprepared team's ego.
Spurs would suffer the same result at the Emirates Stadium in Villas-Boas' first game there with the club. Yet this time around, not only were they tougher away from home, they fared much better overall against teams they would classify as their rivals for a top-four place.
Villas-Boas led his team to 10 away wins, compared to the seven Redknapp managed in his last season. In addition, while the latter's team won just once on the road after the turn of the year, his replacement's side managed a healthy four victories in a similar time period.
Admittedly, Redknapp's team faced tougher opposition away during the late winter/early spring months, but you can only beat who is put in front of you.
With the players Redknapp had that Villas-Boas did not—notably Luka Modric and Rafael van der Vaart—his side might have been expected to do slightly better than it did.
Spurs' aforementioned, early-season problems corresponded with defeats to Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City. Optimistically for the club's fans, they can point to improvements in similar return fixtures, as well as when key players like Mousa Dembele and Gareth Bale were available.
Not to mention, vastly improved showings against the Premier League's top two: Man United and Man City.
The September win over the eventual table-toppers was Spurs' first in 23 attempts since their last league win over them (May 2001). April's 3-1 win against Man City was the North Londoners' first in six versus a team they had previously enjoyed quite a hold over.
Perhaps it is a case of two steps forward and one step back, considering the frustrating losses to the weaker Merseyside pair of Everton and Liverpool. Still, getting positive results against the two best teams is something Villas-Boas can point to in getting his side up.
Prior to Christmas, much was made of Tottenham's fragility late in matches.
Going through the numbers, as they applied to Spurs' 2012-13 season and the areas of improvement, it was a reminder of how far the club has come. There was little that was particularly startling. And as emphasized early in this article, many statistics said a lot without revealing all that much.
But in the categories that mattered—points, goals for and against, home and away form—seeing Spurs genuinely competing with the likes of Arsenal and Chelsea should not be taken for granted.
In the first decade of the Premier League era, Spurs finished in the top half seven times out of 11. In 10 seasons since then, it has been eight.
Six of those top-half finishes have seen the Lilywhites fifth or higher.
Finishing in the Champions League places has come to be equated as a success (somewhat) comparable with winning a cup.
Spurs have gotten consistently closer to becoming a regular name on this modern victors list. We now wait, anxiously, to see if Villas-Boas proves to be the man to make them a permanent fixture on it.
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