Spurs dominated Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final at Wembley but still found a way to lose 4-2 to Chelsea. Kane and the rest of the Spurs players were crestfallen afterwards, left needing an unlikely Chelsea collapse for them to have any chance of winning silverware in this, Mauricio Pochettino’s third season at the club.
As well as Spurs have done under Pochettino, Saturday raised serious questions – or at least failed to answer existing ones – about when Tottenham will make that final step from a good team to a winning team. Kane, speaking after the game, said that there is no simple solution, only more work, more time and more luck.
“It is hard because we have to find a way to win this sort of game, the big games, the big moments,” Kane said afterwards. “We need to find a way to get over the line, even when we are not playing so well. It hurts even more when we can’t do it when we are playing well.”
Ultimately Spurs’ performance on Saturday was strong in general but poor on specifics. They dominated the ball and set the tempo, but were let down by sloppiness in both penalty areas. “It is hard to put a finger on why, and what you can do to change it,” Kane admitted. “We are playing great football for most the game, the better team, but for one reason or another we didn’t get over the finish line. That is what we have got try to do. I don’t think there is an easy answer to it. It comes over a period of time.”
That was Pochettino’s argument, too, that Spurs simply have to keep faith with what they have been doing. It might hurt to see them beaten in the biggest games by the biggest teams, and to end another impressive season without a trophy. But they are still on the right track. They have to trust themselves to stay on it.
“When you play the way we did and lost, there is nothing to say,” Pochettino said. “Chelsea were lucky today, [they had] a lot of luck. We played well and if you take away the result, today there was only one team who played. But there is nothing to say, nothing to do and it is hard for me to explain.”
Pochettino was delighted with how Spurs dominated possession and forced Chelsea back, and said bad luck was decisive. Chelsea’s second goal came from a penalty Victor Moses won from Son Heung-min, on the Nigerian’s only serious incursion into the Spurs third.
“That was unlucky,” Pochettino said. “They found time to score four, and they only had one corner, we had 11. If you see the stats, it was a completely unfair result. But that is football. Sometimes you can get nothing when everything is against you.”
So now what? Spurs are still four points behind Chelsea in the Premier League and need what would be a very unlikely meltdown for them to win the title. Had Chelsea lost on Saturday they might have wobbled, but they showed such mental strength it is almost inconceivable they will lose the league from here.
All Spurs can do is win their last six league games and put as much pressure on as possible. They could very plausibly get to 80 or even 85 league points, which is a serious achievement for any team, never mind one with Spurs’ resources.
For Pochettino, Spurs just have to keep doing what they have been doing. “For the rest of the season, nothing changes,” he said proudly. “The team are showing unbelievable performances and playing well. It is a big disappointment today but I will change absolutely nothing.”
On Wednesday they go to Selhurst Park to play Crystal Palace, a game that is at least as important to Pochettino as this one was. That is why first-choice wing backs Kyle Walker and Ben Davies did not start, even if the players themselves might have rather played at Wembley.
This time last year Spurs crumbled when they realised the game was up and the title was beyond them. This year they have to show that they can keep competing even when the odds are against them. Kane hopes that they can. “That is what we have to see,” Kane said. “No one really knows until we go out there on Wednesday. I think we have learned from last year. Hopefully this is just a blip in what's been a great season so far.”