Time to answer United jibes

"It was Tottenham at home. I thought please don't go on about Tottenham, we all know what Tottenham is about, they are nice and tidy but we'll f***ing do them. He (Ferguson) came in and said: 'Lads, it's Tottenham', and that was it. Brilliant."
– Roy Keane.

THAT was then. Early noughties. Manchester United always "did" Spurs in those days, even after they gave them a 3-0 halftime lead (2001). It was why it was always Fergie's shortest team talk.

Keano and manager Alex Ferguson shared an undisguised contempt for the neat-passing-but-no-substance Londoners. The midweek collapse against West Ham might suggest otherwise but things have changed.

The League Cup was a missed opportunity for Mauricio Pochettino to break his trophy duck, but it may just have been the timely reminder the Cockerel needed not to get carried away.

They and the critics had certainly been crowing about "living with Real Madrid" after their impressive draw in the Bernabeu. It became even more shrill after the evisceration of Liverpool.

But warning signs were there even before the Hammers game: Slaven Bilic was fighting for his job, Pochettino was saying "it wouldn't be life-changing" if they were to lose. And Harry Kane would not be playing.

It was a 2-0 halftime lead they surrendered on this occasion, but the root cause was the same – complacency. For once, the Spurs boss may have misjudged things – both the determination of beleaguered opponents and smugness of his own side.

But you can bet that he'll use this blip to his advantage before they take the field at Old Trafford on Saturday. One of the impressive aspects of the Argentine's man-management is that he, as Keane said of Fergie, usually knows "the feel of the group".

Indeed, you wouldn't be surprised if he didn't pin Pep Guardiola's quip about "the Harry Kane team" on the dressing room wall.

For they will be well aware that if their talisman doesn't recover from his tight hamstring and Spurs lose, that throwaway line will take on a life of its own.

As Pep's men threaten to run away with the title, the big question is: do Spurs have what it takes to give chase? With a wounded United away and Real Madrid at Wembley in midweek, this has the feel of a defining few days.

Are they "a Harry Kane team" or are they for real? Are they once again flattering to deceive as in the last two title races (not to mention the Keane/Ferguson era), or is this young side finally coming of age?

You want it to be the latter. Off the field, Spurs are very much the underdogs. Yes, they are fully paid-up members of the Big Six (although chairman Daniel Levy probably asked for a discount!) but in financial terms they are nowhere near the Big Three.

Their wage bill is half of Liverpool's who are still way behind what City, United and Chelsea pay as well as Arsenal. Arsenal could make it a Big Four but that's a well-known other story.

So it is Spurs who, along with Liverpool, are really trying to do it on the cheap with both salaries and transfers. Both have billionaire owners but they're not big billionaires and they don't have, as Mike Ashley put it, "countries behind them".

Both are banking on increased capacity to help them compete along with managers whom they feel have the wherewithal to bridge the financial gap. That translates to finding jewels in the academy and getting blood out of the other stones.

Liverpool have enlarged Anfield while Spurs will rely on the new 61,000-capacity White Hart Lane they are building. But the north Londoners run the risk of losing players to other clubs in the meantime.

At £100k a week, highest earner Kane can barely afford a round of drinks in the Cristal champagne company of Aguero, Sanchez and Hazard, while Harry Winks & Co are almost asking for benefits when Levy has written their contracts.

As for new signings, when asked about them in the summer, Pochettino admitted: "It's all about if you pay or not when we talk about top players. If a club is paying double the salary, how do you convince them?"

So he ended up convincing a couple of second-tier internationals, Serge Aurier, and Davinson Sanchez to bolster his thin squad.

Aside from that, he hopes that more promising youngsters will follow Winks and emerge as first-team regulars.

Against that, Jose Mourinho can break the world transfer record and pay wages of almost £300k a week to Paul Pogba. But the Special One is having his own problems with injuries and attitude. Will he park the bus at home? You wouldn't put it past him.

While we're not yet at the "must-win" stage of the season, this match will be one that neither manager can afford to lose.

Mourinho will demand a response to the Huddersfield debacle to prevent City from opening too big a gap. But he cannot afford to repeat the timidity he showed at Liverpool.

Nope, it won't be "life-changing" for Pochettino to lose but it would be a setback on the eve of their clash with the European champions. But win these next two games and it would be a return to the glory, glory days.

If it can be done on the cheap, it will seem all the sweeter. And if it can be done against a far richer club that once held them in contempt, it will make a huge statement: when an opposing manager says 'Lads, it's Tottenham', it will have a very different meaning.

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Bob will be signing copies of his book Living the Dream… or Enduring the Nightmare? at D'Legends Bar, 24, Jalan Datuk Sulaiman, Taman Tun Dr Ismail on Sat, Oct 28 from 6.30pm (before Man Utd vs Spurs).