A week has done wonders for the outlook of Tottenham Hotspur supporters.
After the 6-0 disaster at the Etihad, Spurs responded by taking seven out of a possible nine points. A 2-2 home draw against Manchester United and a pair of 2-1 road wins against relegation candidates Fulham and Sunderland have shot Tottenham back up to sixth in the table, only three points off second-place Liverpool.
In a season when even some wins have been less than inspiring, the United match was fun to watch. As Spurs continue to experience a goal outage from their strikers and struggle to unlock teams who sit back and defend, matchups with attacking clubs can be more inviting, and David Moyes' team fit the bill. The first half of this wide-open affair at White Hart Lane showed the good and bad of Kyle Walker: His free kick, cleverly drilled under the airborne United wall and past David de Gea, gave Spurs a 1-0 lead; but soon thereafter Walker inadvertently directed a United cross to the feet of Wayne Rooney, who pounced on it and drew United even. Sandro was Tottenham's best player, and he made it 2-1 on a wonderful curling shot from outside the box that found the upper right corner. But again Rooney would tie things up. Hugo Lloris mistimed a challenge on Danny Welback, who conveniently let his trailing foot come in contact with the Tottenham keeper. It was a 50/50 call but the kind United gets more often than not, and Rooney converted the penalty. The match extended Tottenham's unbeaten run against United to three matches, their longest such streak since the 1980s.
Somewhat predictably, Spurs then came out flat for Wednesday's contest against Fulham at Craven Cottage. Etienne Capoue was an awkward fit with Sandro in the defensive middle and the winger combo of Aaron Lennon on the left and Erik Lamela on the right was ill-conceived. Fulham spent the majority of the first half looking more dangerous than they ever should against Spurs, and it was not overly surprising when the hosts took a lead eleven minutes into the second half. Michael Dawson--who had not been blameless on the first goal in Sunday's match--committed a bad turnover near midfield, and former Spurs and United man Dimitar Berbatov found Ashkan Dejagah with a brilliant pass that released the Fulham midfielder for a shot past Lloris.
But Tottenham's keeper put in a MOTM performance and did well to keep it at just 1-0. With Spurs once again looking unimaginative against a team that had parked the bus, Vlad Chiriches's half-volley in the 73rd seemed to have eyes of its own as it found its way through the box and just inside the lower left corner past Fulham's Maarten Stekelenberg. The Romanian defender was Tottenham's best outfield player on the day, and the timely strike gave him his first Premier League goal. Maybe this will prove to be a turning point in Spurs' season, for nine minutes after the Chiriches Express had pulled into the station, Lewis Holtby also introduced himself to the Barclays scoring sheet. The energetic midfielder stepped in front of teammate Andros Townsend to grab a pass, cut in from the right just as Townsend has been known to do once or twice...and that's where the similarity to Townsend ended. Holtby's left-footed strike from outside the box was more like vintage Bale 2013, drilled into the net for the dramatic match winner.
On Saturday at the Stadium of Light, Andre Villas-Boas had to field a makeshift back line with midfielder Ettiene Capoue as a central defender, Michael Dawson shifted to the left side of the central pairing, and Kyle Naughton back in the team as third-choice left back. Spurs again found themselves down 1-0 when Lloris tried to punch away a corner from Ondrej Celustka but left it at the feet of Adam Johnson, who promptly converted the chance. But again Tottenham responded. Just before the half, left winger Nacer Chadli got his head on a free kick and directed it to Paulinho, who scored his second goal of the season. Early in the second half, Moussa Dembele made a nice run and saw his attempted cross kindly directed into the net by Sunderland defender John O'Shea for what would prove to be the match decider. It was a good day at the office for both Dembele and Walker, two integral players that have struggled with inconsistent form.
Tottenham needed these points to stay relevant in the Champions League race, and with a home match against Liverpool next up, followed by an away affair at Southampton and then back home against West Bromwich and Stoke City, Spurs have a chance to climb their way up the table.
But just as the loss to City didn't spell doom, the positive results this past week don't mean all has been solved. Neither Roberto Soldado, who missed the net on a golden opportunity against United, nor Jermain Defoe, who wasted chances against Sunderland, can buy a goal. With all the attention paid to the loss of Gareth Bale this summer, the most glaring absence in Andre Villas-Boas' offense remains someone who can fill the role Rafa van der Vaart played under Harry Redknapp--a polished central attacking midfielder who can link up with the solo striker. Despite his heroics this week, Lewis Holtby is still a work in progress, as is Christian Eriksen, the Danish midfielder currently recovering from an ankle injury suffered during international duty. Lamela offers possibilities for the position, as well. Eriksen has shown the deftest touch to date, though he still needs to prove he can be more than a 60-minute man. (Then again, when did that ever hold back VDV?)
As Tottenham are working out that issue, they have encouraging signs elsewhere on the pitch. Chiriches and Jan Vertonghen have the potential to be the best central defensive pairing in the league, and although Lloris' aggressive style will produce the occasional gaff, he's among the league's very best. Sandro, Dembele, Paulinho, and Capoue give Spurs all kinds of strength and depth in the midfield. And Aaron Lennon has re-established himself on the right wing--please, AVB, on the right, inverted wingers be damned; his linkage with Walker on that side is crucial to Spurs maintaining width and providing any semblance of service to Soldado.
In the meantime, for a team that had gone scoreless in three games, six goals in seven days tasted like sweet medicine.