Things are looking up for Tottenham. They’ve won nine Premier League matches in a row to push Chelsea all the way in the title race. They cancelled St Totteringham’s Day with an impressive derby day win over Arsenal. They boast one of the best coaches in all of world football. They have a young squad which is getting better and better. The members of that squad are regularly renewing their contracts. And they’ve got a swish new stadium on its way. But there’s a but…
By all accounts, the 61,000-seater ground will impress and, importantly and unlike West Ham’s London Stadium, it is being designed first and foremost to be a football ground, even if other sports will use it too. Yet the problem is that Spurs will have to vacate the area for a season while the new venue is being completed. That means they’ve have to play their “home” matches of the 2017/18 season at Wembley and it’s no exaggeration to believe that this puts their recently achieved top four status in danger.
Already Tottenham were given a taste of what it’d be like to call Wembley home when they played this season’s Champions League and Europa League matches there and it left a sour taste in the mouth. Monaco and Bayer Leverkusen both conquered Mauricio Pochettino’s men in north-west London in the former, before Gent earned a 2-2 draw in the latter to knock Spurs out of continental competition for the season.
With an FA Cup semi-final loss to Chelsea in April, Spurs’ Wembley woes have now seen them win just one of the nine matches they’ve played there since winning the League Cup final against the Blues in 2008. During Pochettino’s tenure, the record stands at played six, won one, drawn one, lost four.
Of course, part of the reason for Spurs’ struggles at Wembley has to do with the fact that it is still unfamiliar to them and after a few matches there they should become more used to playing at the 90,000-capacity landmark.
Overall, though, the move is likely to impact their home advantage significantly. West Ham have shown just how difficult it can be to transplant a boisterous atmosphere to a new home, with decades-long seating patterns proving impossible to rearrange straight away. Although Spurs attracted 85,000 for the home matches against Bayer Leverkusen and Monaco, the novelty is unlikely to last a whole season and the expected pockets of empty seats will surely dilute the atmosphere further.
It should also be noted that a trip to Wembley will also encourage opponents to up their game and to make the most of a rare chance to grace the national stadium’s hallowed turf. “It’s true that it’s a big motivation for the opponents to come to England and play at Wembley,” Pochettino said during the Champions League campaign, but the same can be said of players at smaller Premier League teams who have never before played there.
The fact that Tottenham are one of the best teams in the country means they should still win the majority of their home fixtures in the next Premier League season, but it would be a major shock if there is not some sort of drop-off in their home form, with which they are on course to claim 53 points from a possible 57 this season.
At the current rate, it will require 74 points to finish inside the top four this season and, assuming that mark and Tottenham’s away form both remain the same next year, Spurs would require 42 home points in 2017/18 to keep their top four status. It is not, therefore, unfathomable for Spurs to slip down to fifth. If they pick up 11 fewer points at Wembley next year than they are expected to claim at White Hart Lane this season then it could well happen. For comparison’s sake, West Ham are on course to finish this campaign with 29% fewer home points than they earned last year, a drop-off which would, if applied to Spurs, cost Tottenham as many as 15 home points.
It remains to be seen how well Tottenham cope with the move and they may well succeed at their temporary home. Yet it certainly isn’t impossible that Wembley could cost Tottenham Champions League football.