Tottenham Hotspur's 2016 Review: Title challenge overshadowed by continental disappointment

Tottenham Hotspur's 2016 Review: Title challenge overshadowed by continental disappointment

2016 was a year of high's and low's for Spurs.

Oliver Emmerson

Tottenham Hotspur firmly established themselves as one of English football's 'big six' with another year of progression under Mauricio Pochettino, but wil be left feeling that 2016 could have delivered so much more.

A title challenge, new signings and Champions League football is one way to look at it.

A failed challenge, new signings disappointing and a Champions League exit is another.

One January result proved costly in the long term

Tottenham's early year form was promising. Progressing in the FA Cup up until the fifth round, where they were defeated by Crystal Palace, it allowed them to focus on their league form, as they were quickly becoming Leicester City's main rivals at the top.

One landmark game in terms of the title race, at least in terms of challengers, came at the Etihad Stadium in February. In years prior, Spurs had been hammered at nearly all top grounds in the Premier League, but Christian Eriksen's winning goal against Manchester City saw the tide turn.

Unfortunately, despite seeing Spurs into second, Eriksen's 83rd minute strike left them two points off Leicester. A month prior, Leicester had travelled to White Hart Lane, winning 1-0 thanks to a Robert Huth header. Had the result been reversed, Spurs would have sat top going into March, with less than three months of the season to go.

Title charge gathers pace as Spurs exit EL

March didn't get off to the best of starts, as it came with two tricky looking London derbies. West Ham, enjoying an impressive season under Slaven Bilic, would get revenge for a hammering earlier on in the season by beating Spurs 1-0 in the two teams' final clash at Upton Park.

A week after that, we saw Harry Kane's superb goal against Arsenal at White Hart Lane, a goal that was only enough to earn a 2-2 draw. Leicester were five months clear.

Tottenham would pick up routine wins against Aston Villa and Bournemouth in the next few weeks, but did exit the Europa League at the last 16 stage. Playing a weakened team in both legs saw Pochettino criticised by some, and it showed on the field as Spurs lost 2-1 at home and 3-0 away against Borussia Dortmund, well and truly humbled by the Germans.

Dortmund would eventually be knocked out of Europe by Liverpool, and it was against the Reds where Spurs dropped more points a day after April fools day. They came from behind following Philippe Coutinho's opener, with Harry Kane equalising, but had to settle for a point. Advantage Leicester, even further, as the Foxes went seven clear. 

Arsenal and Manchester City had fallen even further away by this point, and Manchester United were well out of contention by the time Spurs beat them 3-0 at home, a week after the Liverpool game. 

That gave everyone at the club a boost, with morale lifted even more when Leicester dropped points to West Ham at the weekend. The gap closed to five as Spurs hammered Stoke City 4-0 in the Potteries the following Monday night, with the first signs that the Foxes were cracking.

That couldn't have been further from the truth. The opposite came to fruition, as Tottenham didn't win another game all season.

Miserable season end compounded by St Totteringham's day

Tottenham played two more Monday night fixtures in consecutive weeks following the Stoke thrashing, and threw wins away in both.

Leading at West Brom for nearly the whole game, Pochettino's side missed huge chances to make it 2-0, and were punished 17 minutes from time when Craig Dawson scored from a sporadic Baggies attack. 

The title could have been over then. Looking back, had Leicester beaten Manchester United six days later to seal the title, it might not have been so painful for Spurs fans. The Foxes had looked like favourites from February onwards, and would have sealed the league if they'd beaten United. However, they drew 1-1, giving Spurs a chance to keep the pressure on for one more week at least.

It looked like they'd do so, going 2-0 up away to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Kane and Son had scored, Spurs were breezing against the title holders that were losing their crown. Until the second half, at least. 

Nerves crept in when Gary Cahill pulled one back, but Spurs held on for 25 more minutes, until Eden Hazard curled home one of the goals of the season to level the game, handing the title to Leicester.

At that time, Spurs had lost the league but were still in 2nd. Three points ahead of Arsenal, with a far superior goal difference. That mean that when they lost their next game, 2-1 at home to Southampton, they kept their place in the table.

The final day was a chance to finish ahead of Arsenal for the first time in the 2000's, a chance to finish second, capping a marvellous season under Pochettino.

(Relegated) Newcastle United five, (Champions League qualifiers) Tottenham Hotspur one

Thumped on the final day by an already relegated side, Tottenham were embarrassed. Arsenal won and leapfrogged them into second, Gunners fans celebrating St Totteringham's day once again. A holiday was needed, the summer beckoned.

Not an ideal summer

Looking to strengthen off the back of their impressive season, Spurs entered the summer in hunt of some clear targets. Another winger and backup for Harry Kane.

Therefore, it was a surprise when Victor Wanyama arrived as the first man through the door. The Kenyan had established himself as one of the best holding players in the division during his time at Southampton, but given the strength of Eric Dier's midfield partnership with Moussa Dembele just months prior, heads were scratched.

Ryan Mason, Alex Pritchard and Nacer Chadli left for a combined fee of £35million, impressive given that they rarely played, but the concern was over where the money was reinvested.

Michy Batshuayi was reportedly a top target, but went to Chelsea, seeing Vincent Janssen arrive as Kane's new backup, a deal that reportedly contributed to head of recruitment Paul Mitchell leaving the club. 

Georges-Kevin Nkoudou came in as the pacey winger to challenge Lamela and Son whilst providing some added quality off the bench, but there was a feeling that Spurs lacked some quality that they'd need for a lasting European campaign.

The answer when you're lacking quality? Moussa Sissoko, apparently. 

Indeed, Spurs beat Everton to his signature on Deadline Day, paying £30million to a Championship club desperate to get rid of the Frenchman, who - in fairness - had enjoyed an impressive Euro 2016 campaign with his national team.

Spurs fans felt that there had to be an element of trust in Pochettino's decisions, and they entered their Champions League season full of hope.

Early European exit overshadows previous 2016 work

Tottenham started the 2016-17 season well enough. Not losing until November 26 in the league, they were the first team to defeat Pep Guardiola's Manchester City, winning 2-0 at home against the Sky Blues in October.

What happened after the City game though, is what will leave Tottenham fans with a bitter taste in their mouths heading into 2017. Spurs won just one of their next 10 matches and were knocked out of both the League Cup and Champions League.

The European campaign started in disappointing fashion, with a 2-1 defeat against AS Monaco at Wembley, but it appeared to have been rescued with an away win against CSKA Moscow, and a point earned in Leverkusen. Spurs were in a solid position to qualify going into their next three games, two of which were to be played in London. 

At home to Bayer Leverkusen on Matchday Four, they disappointewhen the going got tough once more. Not turning up, Kevin Kampl's winner separated the two teams, leaving Spurs on the brink of an exit.

That exit was confirmed in the next Champions League week as they lost in France to Monaco, leaving them out of reach of both the Ligue 1 team and Bayer. A 3-1 win at Wembley against CSKA saw them qualify for the Europa League, again, but it wasn't enough to satisfy supporters.

Amidst all of this, Sissoko, Janssen and Nkoudou had barely made an impact, and they'd fallen off of pace with the top four in the league, let alone top spot.

December restores faith ahead of another big year

Fortunately for the Lilywhites, they have come good in the past month, winning four of five league games.

Hammering Swansea City 5-0 to claim just their second win in 11, Pochettino's side showed the quality that made them such an attacking threat last season. 

That was followed up by a defeat against Manchester United, one that didn't act as the catalyst for another poor run, with consecutive wins against Hull, Burnley and Southampton following.

So, after all that drama, they sit just a point off Arsenal (who sit 4th) going into the New Year's Eve fixture list. They're 10 points from table-toppers Chelsea, but no team look like catching the Blues, and this season is now about Tottenham solidifying themselves as a consistent Champions League team.

They failed to do that under Harry Redknapp last time they were in Europe's premier club competition, and it's imperative that Pochettino doesn't oversee a repetition of past mistakes.

Despite the disappointment, 2016 was a fantastic year for Tottenham. Improvement in Europe is needed in 2017, but domestically more of the same would suit just fine.