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“What can we do? What can I do? It is a perception from the media. I said before and I will say it again – it is not about Wembley. It is our performance. Playing that way we can win lots of games.”
As Tottenham came to terms with yet another Wembley defeat, this time in their first league game at the stadium since their temporary relocation from White Hart Lane, manager Mauricio Pochettino knew he would face questions about the venue’s impact on his team’s prospects this season.
The Argentine was at pains to resist suggestions that his side’s title hopes could be undermined by a ground that is coming to be seen as unlucky, the 2-1 loss to Chelsea meaning they have now won only once at the national stadium in 10 matches since a League Cup final victory over the same opponents nine years ago.
Can a stadium that is not your real home be made to feel like it? Can it possess the same atmosphere that drove Spurs on to 17 wins from 19 league games on home soil last season?
If the answer was no against Chelsea, it certainly was not for the want of trying.
Spurs did everything they could to make Wembley, the venue for their Champions League games last season, feel like home.
Their determination to transform the national stadium into White Hart Lane in all but name was obvious from the moment the arena came into view.
Giant screens outside flashed up the famous Spurs motto “to dare is to do” – a slogan even used above the refreshments in the media room – while every object inside and outside Wembley that was not moving appeared to be draped in the club crest.
A giant flag emblazoned with the Tottenham cockerel flew from Wembley’s steepling stands and a blizzard of slogans flashed around the hoardings that separated their tiers.
“This is my club. My one and only club. The game is about glory.”
There was even a pre-match Spurs trivia quiz on the giant screens.
And, of course, the excellent and emotive video evoking memories of Jimmy Greaves, Glenn Hoddle, Jurgen Klinsmann and a whole host of Spurs legends – a pre-match staple at White Hart Lane – was given its usual airing, along with a rousing version of Glory Glory Tottenham Hotspur.
It was all very obvious and all very understandable.
This is a crucial season for Spurs after two near misses in the title race and they need to get the feel of their new surroundings quickly.
If we are to quibble about trying just a little too hard, we can take issue with attaching a drummer to a microphone to artificially pump up the volume, producing a thudding, thumping sound that was an initial shock to the senses and a cause of much mockery and mirth from Chelsea’s fans in the ‘away’ section.
It was all a bit rock concert and did strike a jarring note.
Spurs’ fans did not need artificial atmosphere or prompts – they were revelling in this fresh start as their home for the previous 118 years is redeveloped.
There was genuine excitement and anticipation as thousands arrived hours before kick-off and filled the areas around the stadium. It was prime selfie territory.
As the players prepared to make their entrance, the ‘Spursification’ of Wembley was in evidence once more. The club cockerels were positioned outside the changing rooms and the players walked out flanked again by mottoes.
Sadly, that was where the glory ended and the romance of this opening day concluded – because what followed was a disappointing loss that prompted renewed talk of a Spurs “curse” at Wembley.
Four of the defeats at this ground have come against their rivals from Stamford Bridge, including a 4-2 loss in last season’s FA Cup semi-final.
This is a much happier piece of turf for Chelsea, who have won nine of their past 11 games here. Maybe Spurs’ life at Wembley started in a perfect storm.
The result, courtesy of Marcos Alonso’s late strike, means the nagging doubts for Spurs will only be banished with a convincing win. Pochettino will hope it comes next weekend against Burnley, the conquerors of Chelsea on the season’s opening weekend.
Tottenham’s performance, if not the result, actually provided ample evidence that they can succeed here. They were excellent for periods of this game, especially either side of half-time as Harry Kane and Mousa Dembele demonstrated their quality and importance.
In the end, perhaps adding to the sense that Wembley is an arena where accidents can happen to Spurs, Chelsea were gifted their winning goal two minutes from time when the normally reliable goalkeeper Hugo Lloris allowed Alonso’s shot – hardly venomous – to slide under his body, sending Blues manager Antonio Conte into a wild dance of delight in his technical area.
And therein lay another problem for Spurs as they made a false start to life in their new home.
Chelsea, seemingly united by the criticism they received following their loss to Burnley, are not the sort of guests to invite when you want to make your house-warming party go with a swing.
Spurs will continue to deflect talk that they have moved into a stadium containing too many ghosts of an unhappy past – and there is too much quality in Pochettino’s side for that miserable record to last too much longer.
For all that, they, and their fans, will still feel a whole lot more settled and better about life at Wembley with a first win behind them.
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