Tottenham Should Embrace Surprising Status as Premier League Villains

Sam Rooke@@SamRooke89Featured ColumnistMay 6, 2016

Referee Mark Clattenburg talks with Chelsea and Tottenham players during the English Premier League soccer match between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur at Stamford Bridge stadium in London, Monday, May 2, 2016. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
Frank Augstein/Associated Press

Tottenham Hotspur's 2-2 draw with Chelsea on Monday handed Leicester City their unlikely Premier League title, but much of the post-match commentary has concerned the nature of the London derby. 

Spurs collected a Premier League record nine yellow cards for their part in the eventful fixture and have subsequently been labelled the chief villains. 

Fans and media alike have coalesced around the idea that Mauricio Pochettino's team are the Premier League's new bullies. 

With Dele Alli already suspended for his pugilistic antics against West Bromwich Albion, Pochettino's team fought with a commitment rarely exceeded by their predecessors in lilywhite. 

Tottenham have been the victims of a scarcely believable series of misfortunes over the last decade. 

Martin Jol's side infamously missed out on the final day in 2006 when food poisoning did them in. 

Harry Redknapp's team, after deservedly claiming a UEFA Champions League debut in 2010 were squeezed out by Manchester City's undeterred benefactors. The Abu Dhabi Group ploughed £143 million into the playing squad after missing out on fourth place to Spurs. 

Two years later, Chelsea's implausible triumph in Munich blocked Tottenham's progress.  

Andre Villas-Boas took Redknapp's place and collected a club record 72 points in his debut campaign. In seven of the last 10 Premier League seasons, that haul would have ensured Champions League football. However, 2012-13 was one of the exceptions. 

Frank Augstein/Associated Press

This season, Spurs have the most prolific attack and meanest defence. Only once since the advent of the Premier League has a side that tops both lists failed to win the title. Tottenham have doubled that total this season. 

Rather than wallow in this misfortune, Spurs must recognise that they are finally on course for sustained success. The last team to produce the best attack and defence but not win the title was Manchester United in 1997-98. The next season, they won the treble.

Pochettino has built a team that should prove impenetrable to the exceptional circumstances that have plagued Tottenham's last decade. 

He has erased Spurs' reputation as a soft touch regardless of any attempts to paint their failure to win the title as continued evidence of weakness. 

Premier league table since Boxing Day. pic.twitter.com/iQBBjjbXPs

— Talking Sport TV (@TalkSportTV) May 4, 2016

They are now a reflection of their manager. Pochettino speaks softly and moves slowly, but there is no doubting the fierceness that lies just beneath the surface. It emerged often enough in his playing career. 

Tottenham's meetings with Chelsea have been brutal affairs for decades. Since the 1967 FA Cup Final and a de facto relegation playoff in 1975both won by Spursthere has been significant ill-feeling. 

That has intensified with Chelsea's rise to pre-eminence since Roman Abramovich's money arrived in 2003. 

In the intervening years, many meetings between these two clubs have been marked by the sort of old-fashioned physicality that marked this latest clash. 

In the past, Chelsea have victimised meek Spurs teams. The key difference this time around was that Tottenham gave as good as they got. 

The aggression that apparently shocked so many in Monday's "Battle of Stamford Bridge" was not exceptional. Ferocity has arguably been the defining characteristic of this, Spurs' best season in decades. If that will earn them the neutrals' ire, so be it. 

Tottenham are not Don Revie's Leeds. They aren't beating their opposition into submission. 

Instead they regularly play the division's most attractive football while simultaneously outfighting their opponents. 

The consistency with which opposition managers have employed animalistic terms to describe Spurs' relentlessness is notable. 

Frank Augstein/Associated Press

If not for Leicester, Tottenham would likely have been the neutrals' favourite to win the title, but that is not a badge of honour. It's an insult. It is a label applied to a team that is drastically over-performing expectations. 

Pochettino has rewritten the expectations this season, and Leicester have shielded Spurs from such faint praise. 

This last big game of the season may help to crystalise Tottenham's new reputation as a hard, harsh opposition that is willing to push the rules when the situation calls for it. They are victims no longer. 

No neutral will be hoping for a Spurs title in 2016-17, because they'll be expected to contend from the opening day.