A Year in Review – Matches of the Season, Pt. 2
Who loves a good roller coaster? There is not a better analogy for the 2021-22 Tottneham Hotspur season than that of a roller coaster, and I am here to guide you through the roller coaster that was this season. My name is Dustin Gentile, and over the next few weeks, I will be here to give you my take on the 2021-22 Tottenham Hotspur season. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I will be bringing you my take on the best goals, most exhilarating games, the biggest moments, and brightest stars from the season that was 2021-22.
Here are the countdowns from the previous weeks:
Week 1 – Goals of the Season – Part 1 – Part 2
Week 2 – Matches of the Season – Part 1 – Part 2
Week 3 – Moments of the Season – Part 1
Without much further ado, let’s look at this week’s list…
Moments of the Season (#5-1)
Just a reminder in creating this list, I followed a simple criteria: what moments had the greatest impact on the season. From the highest of highs to the lowest of lows, I will be bringing you the moments that made 2021-22 the roller coaster it was. Let’s get back to our countdown…
#5 – Stevie B in stoppage time
Surprised to see this moment on the list? I figured you weren’t. I know I have said a lot about this game already, so I am actually going to keep this one a little shorter. Once again, be sure to check out Jeremy Morehouse’s post “The Shove Seen ‘Round the World” here on the Podspur blog if you have not already. It is still a great reaction to this match, and very much worth your time to go and check out.
This moment checks in at number five on my list because I think it was the beginning of the end of a certain word us Spurs fans had heard for way too long, “Spursy.” I think it has become the recent equivalent of the phrase “doing a Leeds.” If you are not familiar with it, there are countless videos on YouTube videos and an entire Wikipedia page dedicated to the subject. This word has plagued the mentality of our club for a long time. I cannot tell you how many times I have had my friends who support other clubs have texted me when things are going well for Spurs and said “it would be awfully Spursy if your boys [insert backhanded comment here].” It is that mentality that even when times are good, it is only a matter of time until things fall apart. That January day was mere seconds away from becoming “Spursy.” In part two of my goals of the season countdown, I mentioned how Leicester was playing a mixture of first team players, reserves, and academy players due to a string of injuries and multiple players being away on international duty. It should have been a decisive win for the club; however, it was not. Victory seemed far from a given into stoppage time. Prior to the tying goal from Steven Bergwijn, the squad had just a 0.02% of leaving the King Power Stadium with a victory.
The come from behind victory thanks to two stoppage time strikes from Stevie B was a sign that Antonio Conte had begun to imprint on this roster. He was starting to get his players to believe and keep fighting. Too many times have I seen a Tottenham Hotspur team give in and accept a result. That was not the team I saw that afternoon. When the chips were down, they kept pressing forward. They did not sit back after going down 1-0 or 2-1, they kept working to find an equalizer. They were never going to count themselves out of that match. Then, when the equalizer came, it was not time to celebrate. Earlier this year, Arsenal’s Alexander Lacazette scored a stoppage time equalizer against Crystal Palace, and his team ran and celebrated like a team who had just won a trophy. That match ended in a draw. When Bergwijn scored his equalizing goal, both he and Kane ran to get the ball and set it for play. There were no knee slides, dog piles, or signature hand gestures, there was the mentality of “we have time to find another.” Then, they went and did just that with Steven Bergwijn scoring another less than 90 seconds later. Then the celebration was on. Why? Well, this math teacher knows wins are greater than ties and three points will always be greater than one point. I will always take the extra two points that come with a win. By the way, here is something else to think about. Steven Bergwijn’s winner gave Spurs two extra points. How many points did Tottenham finish above Arsenal? Two. Maybe Lacazette should have gone and reset the ball against Crystal Palace? Maybe that’s the difference between playing on Wednesday nights as opposed to Thursday nights? Oh what a feeling, what a night!
#4 – Son catches fire and wins the Golden Boot
Entering the 2021-22 season, two Tottenham Hotspur players had won the Golden Boot in the Premier League: Teddy Sheringham and Harry Kane. With Harry Kane’s slow start to the season, it did not seem like the Golden Boot would be making a return to North London. The chances seemed very unlikely coming out of the final international break, the leading Premier League scorer for Spurs, Son Heung-min, sat on just 13 goals, which was seven fewer than league leader Mohamed Salah from Liverpool. If Son was going to catch Salah, he would have to have to heat quickly, which is precisely what leads up to our number four moment of the season.
With nine games remaining for both teams, Salah was the clear favorite to win the award for the third time since 2017-18. It seemed very unlikely that the Egyptian would be caught. Sonny did keep his name in the back of everyone’s mind as he followed up his goal at home to Newcastle with his second career Premier League hat trick at Aston Villa to bring his total to 17, but Salah would respond the following week with a brace in a rout of Manchester United to pull his total to 22 goals while Son and his team struggled in a home defeat to Brighton. Both players would fail to score in their teams’ final match of the month setting the stage for a blistering run down the stretch.
Son would start the month with a brace of his own as Spurs dominated Leicester at home, a game which included an incredible curling effort from the South Korean that landed him at the number six spot of our goals of the season list. Salah would only make a cameo appearance against Newcastle, which would set the stage for the two to square off at Anfield, a game which had huge implications for both sides as the season wound down. One of these two men would find themselves on the score sheet that afternoon. The other would find themselves at the center of multiple quality chances, but would be bested by the opposing keeper and backline. It was Son Heung-min who landed on the scoresheet as he was gifted a wide open net due to great build up play from Harry Kane and Ryan Sessegnon to give Spurs a 1-0 lead in the 56th minute of action to cut the Egyptian’s advantage to 22-20. While the teams would split the spoils on the evening, there was no doubt that the race for the Golden Boot was truly on.
While Salah was once again left out of the Liverpool starting XI against Aston Villa, Sonny was firing on all cylinders as his second half strike wrapped up a MASSIVE North London Derby win and brought the South Korean to within a single goal of the league leader. Neither man would score in the penultimate match of the season nor would they score in the first half of the final game, but the second half would see a sprint to the finish. Son, who had seen chance after chance turned away by Norwich keeper Tim Krul, would finally make his breakthrough in the 70th minute as a creative pass from Lucas Moura would free the South Korean to draw level on the season with Salah. As he sprinted away in celebration, you could see how massive this was for Son, his teammates, and the fans. Just imagine the scenes if he would go on to score again… Well, I am here to tell you you did not have to do much imagining as the South Korean saved his most impressive goal of the season for the 75th minute. The scenes were incredible! The joy on everyone’s face was impossible to miss. It was a moment that we all felt as supporters of the club regardless if we were in person at Loftus Road, in North London, or anywhere else in the world. Salah would go on to draw level in the closing minutes against Wolves, and the season ended with both forwards at 23 goals. I will dig deeper into this with next week’s list, but it amazes me just how under the radar the South Korean has been during his time in North London. People will rant and rave all off season about how prolific of a goal scorer Mohamed Salah is, and Sonny will still be considered second best. It does not change the fact that Spurs have a world-class player in their squad who is entering his prime years and still has a lot left in the tank. Moments like these make me appreciate more and more how lucky we are to have Son Heung-min in North London.
#3 – From Juventus with love – The signings of Dejan Kulusevski and Rodrigo Bentancur
So Tuesday I mentioned the departures of Giovani Lo Celso, Tanguy Ndomebele, and Dele Alli were a bit of addition by subtraction. That is great, but this math teacher will tell you that it is much easier to perform addition by addition. Pair those three departures along with the loan move to Valencia for Bryan Gil, and Spurs were definitely in need of some reinforcements. Enter Director of Football Fabio Paratici. When Paratici made the move from Juventus, there was a lot of curiosity on how the position would function within the club. Tottenham chairman, Daniel Levy, had always handled the sporting direction at the club, and his shrewd business tactics divided opinions. Yes, his moves paved the way for the modern cathedral that is Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, the first of its kind that has indeed proved to be an incredible revenue stream for the club. That shrewdness has also caused some friction between himself and managers like Mauricio Pochettino and Jose Mourinho. It was the hope of the fans that Paratici would serve as the needed bridge between club and manager. That bridge seemed to be in full effect as the January window drew to a close.
It would be a return to his former club, Juventus, where Paratici would greatly impact his new club with two swift moves. The first move was the permanent transfer for 24-year Uruguayan midfielder, Rodrigo Bentancur. After moving to northern Italy from Boca Juniors, Bentancur had made 181 appearances in all competitions over four-and-a-half years to go along with 49 appearances for the Uruguayan national team since 2017. Additionally, he was a winner. Bentancur had won two league titles and a Copa Argentina during his time at Boca Juniors before moving to Juventus and winning three Serie A titles, two Coppa Italias, and two Supercoppa Italianas. His strong box-to-box style along with a high work rate made Hot Rod an ideal piece for Spurs as he would allow the likes of Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Harry Winks to play in a more progressive role after the season ending injury to Oliver Skipp. One needed piece was secured, now it was time to see who else Paratici would be able to secure from Juventus.
The second return trip to Turin would yield another young talent in the form of 22-year old Sweden International, Dejan Kulusevski. After debuting in Serie A for Atalanta in 2018-19, Kulusevski would make his name known with a strong loan spell at Parma where he would net four goals and dish out two assists in the first half of the 2019-20 season. This led Juventus to sign Deki on a four-and-a-half year, €35 million contract before being sent back to Parma on loan for the second half of the season. The Swede would go on to net six goals and dish out one assist in the second half of the year netting the Serie A Best Young Player award in the process. He would continue to be a force during the 2020-21 season netting a Champions League winner against Zenit St. Petersburg in the group stage and adding a goal and an assist in Juve’s 2-1 victory over Atalanta in the Coppa Italia Final. So what led to his move to North London? Deki saw his playing time cut under new manager Massimiliano Allegri, which led to Paratici to orchestrate his move to Spurs. The move saw him come to N17 on an 18-month loan with an obligation to buy should certain goals be met. I am here to tell you that the club will not feel like the move is an obligation, it will be a much desired move.
So why does this move come in at number three on our top moments of the year? It has everything to do with results. While Bentancur has yet to score in a Spurs shirt, his four assists, and stellar box-to-box play have been a superb compliment to Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg. Kulusevski made an instant impact in his time in North London scoring five goals and racking up eight assists in 18 Premier League appearances. His strong, creative play down the right wing have been the perfect accompaniment to the team’s attack of Son Heung-min and Harry Kane. I may be biased, but if you are going to debate who has the strongest front three in the Premier League, the trio from Tottenham has definitely entered the conversation. If the individual performances of the additions from Juventus were not enough to convince you, team performance was also a huge indicator of the impact of these two as Spurs amounted 35 points from 18 matches while piling up a goal differential of plus-27 and keeping eight clean sheets. Hot Rod and Deki were a major influence on that run of form.
#2 – Leap Frog – Spurs jump ahead of Arsenal in a crazy five day span
As the month of May approached, it became very apparent that the race for the final Premier League spot in the 2022-23 Champions League was a two-horse race: Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal. Two clubs from North London who just flat out hate each other. Two clubs separated by a mere four miles. Two clubs who want nothing more than to crush their rivals’ dreams. Two teams on a collision course for Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on May 12th because one team hoped to once again finagle their way past their rival. It would start a raucous five day span that saw one team assert themselves in a sprint to the finish and another team lose their footing and face plant in the final stretch. Buckle up, this moment is a good one.
As the teams entered the home of Tottenham Hotspur, it would be the visitors who controlled their own destiny. As both teams entered the day’s contest with three matches to go, Arsenal held a four point advantage over Spurs in the standings. To add to the drama, an Arsenal win would see them clinch that coveted final spot in the Champions League in the backyard of their most hated rival. In 2004, Arsenal clinched a Premier League title at White Hart Lane much to the chagrin of everyone in lilywhite. This was not a bit of history anyone associated with Spurs wanted to repeat itself. A Spurs win would bring them within one point of the Gunners and put them into the driver’s seat as they had the easier run of matches to end the season. It all culminated in a must win for both squads, as well as Podspur’s choice for Match of the Season. Since this match has been covered pretty extensively over the last two weeks, I will keep things concise by quoting the great philosophers Chas and Dave, “in the North London cup, [Arsenal] was only runners up.” It was one of the greatest moments in my Spurs fandom. It was a moment where every Arsenal fan I knew could not help but concede that Spurs were the better team on the day.
While the North London Derby win was gigantic for the club, it would have meant absolutely nothing had they dropped points to relegation-battling Burnley on the weekend. Once again, Spurs faced a must-win situation. While the Burnley match lacked all of the thrills and intrigue of a derby day matchup, Tottenham finished the job and ended the match with a well deserved 1-0 victory thanks to a first half penalty from Harry Kane. This was huge as the victory took Spurs to 68 points on the season, two ahead of their rivals from North London. It was now up to Arsenal to regain their lead as they traveled to St. James’ Park to take on Newcastle. While the teams remained scoreless entering the second half, the game would be turned on its head thanks to sliding effort by Arsenal summer signee, Ben White. What does £50 million buy you at the Emirates? Try an own goal in the most important match of your season. That’s right, Ben White’s sliding clearance ricocheted off the defender’s foot and into the back of his own net to give Newcastle a 1-0 lead. The Magpies then locked up all three points in the final ten minutes of play as Bruno Guimaraes pounced on a rebound and drove it into the back of the Arsenal net to ensure that Spurs would finish the matchweek with control over their own destiny! What an amazing five day span it was for Tottenham Hotspur Football Club.
And now, for the moment you have all been waiting for…
#1 – The Hiring of Antonio Conte
So we ended part one of this week’s countdown with the sacking of Nuno Espirito Santo and my friend Jacob Gaddie’s comparison of Nuno to that of a rebound prior to a more serious relationship. I think it is time we discussed this more serious relationship. Just one day after announcing the removal of Nuno, a familiar face returned to the Premier League to take the reins in North London. That familiar face was none other than Antonio Conte. Fans thought they had seen everything when Jose Mourinho was named manager of Spurs, now it was time for Antonio Conte to take charge of the team. It was a sign that Daniel Levy was serious about restoring order to his club. For those who may not know the extensive list of accolades the Italian has earned in his coaching career, Conte entered his tenure as manager of Tottenham Hotspur having won four Serie A titles, one Serie B title, two Supercoppa Italianas, one Premier League title, and an FA Cup. If there was anyone who could quickly turnaround this squad, it was Antonio Conte.
While there were a few bumps in the road, it was clear that Daniel Levy had undone all of the errors made in the horrific summer manager search of 2021. One of the things that Conte has done to transform this team is play a system that suits the team’s strengths. For whatever reason, Nuno decided to abandon the back three system that made his Wolves’ teams so successful in favor of the back four most Spurs fans were accustomed to. Upon arrival, Conte pulled the trigger on the back three system he had played virtually everywhere to massive dividends. Was it smooth sailing from the beginning? No. Injuries plagued Spurs throughout the winter months, but the pieces came together in February for a stretch run that will forever be remembered in North London. On top of that, he was able to take Eric Dier and Ben Davies, two defenders who many fans wanted out at the beginning the season, and turn them into two of the most consistent center backs in the Premier League. The argument could be made that either of these players could lay claim to the title of most improved players in the entire league. With a back three of Cristian Romero, Eric Dier, and Ben Davies, only two clubs could claim they gave up fewer goals than Antonio Conte’s men – Manchester City and Liverpool. While the defense was the biggest area that improved under Conte, this was not the only place that the Italian was able to work his magic.
The most impressive work that was done by the new manager was his transformation of wingbacks Ryan Sessegnon, Matt Doherty, and Emerson Royal. Emerson Royal had the toughest transition of the trio as the Brazilian was brought in over the summer to fill a void at the right back position. It may have taken some time, but the work done was immense. While the attacking numbers may not indicate the improvement of Emerson, Spurs fans will all agree that there was a reason that the Brazilian was the club’s first choice right wingback as the team progressed throughout the season. Then we have Matt Doherty. To say the Irish international’s time in North London had been underwhelming to this point would be an understatement. Spurs had seen very limited glances of the quality they were expecting from Doherty. He had been a huge part of a Wolves side that thrived in their return to the Premier League, but never really got out of the starting gates in North London. Things started to change for Dock in January as he was able to string together a number of strong performances under the guidance of the Italian. The new manager seemed to unlock something dormant in the Irishman, and fans were treated to a number of high flying performances that the team desperately needed. While a harsh tackle from Aston Villa’s Matty Cash may have prematurely ended his season, Matt Doherty’s time in North London just may have been extended due to that uptick in form.
This brings us to one of my personal favorites, the arrival of Ryan Sessegnon. While the wingback made his name creating goals for Fulham in their promotion winning season of 2017-18, the Premier League had yet to be kind to the England international. Even after a move to Spurs in 2019-20 saw him score in his first career start at Bayern Munich, the 21-year old had never been able to grab the bull by the horns in the Premier League. The tide started to turn for Sess when Conte made the decision to play him exclusively at the position of left wingback. I think this was extremely crucial for the youngster as his constant flipping between forward, midfield, and defense seemed to negatively impact him. With his talent and potential, he was in desperate need of a manager that would find him a permanent position on the field. When Conte did that, the strong performances added up. He was a huge part of the build up offensively, and he was able to lock up the likes of Raheem Sterling, Mohamed Salah, and Bukayo Saka. Those three combined to create as many goals as I did in their matches against Spurs. It definitely feels like the marriage of Conte and Sessegnon could be a long term success for both club and manager.
With the back end straightened out, Conte was able to work his magic on Spurs’ attack as he unlocked a stagnant Spurs offense thanks to the likes of Harry Kane, Son Heung-min, and midseason addition of Dejan Kulusevski. The front three would combine to score 31 goals and create 19 assists over the course of the last 16 matches of the season. Any team who’s front three is going to average just over three goal contributions per match is going to find success, and Spurs indeed found success as Antonio Conte was able to lead his men to 56 points over the course of the 28 Premier League matches where he was manager. In that time, Spurs would also compile a plus-36 goal differential. A vast improvement over where the club started on November 1, 2021. To cap it all off, Conte was able to bring this team together and lead them to a massive return to the Champions League for the 2022-23 season, which is where this club belongs! With Conte at the wheel, I know big things are in store for this club. I cannot wait to be along for the ride.
There you have it, my list of the top ten moments of the season. Did I get it right? Am I missing one? Please feel free to comment on this page or let me know on social media of your thoughts. Be sure to join us next Tuesday and Thursday as I round my season review with the top ten players of the season. Where did new additions Deki and Hot Rod end up in the rankings? What player’s improved play shot him into the top three? I will answer all of those questions next week here on the Podspur blog.
Thanks for reading. If you’d like to follow me on Twitter, you can do so by clicking here. Let me know your thoughts in the comments. COME ON YOU SPURS!