Life is tough at the top. Last year at this stage of the season, Tottenham were propping up the Premier League table. Coming into this game they actually had a chance to go top with a big win, or at least draw level on points. Instead, Stoke gave them a lesson in defensive tenacity and profligacy in should-win games.
Manchester United won the title last season by taking 70 of 72 points from the bottom 12 teams in the league. Wastefulness against lesser teams cost Liverpool the trophy and Arsenal the trophy the year prior. Simple math dictates that you can waste points against the big four, or even the contenders, provided you don’t drop points against the rest of the league.
Tottenham’s misery had all the remnants of a typical outing of their North London neighbors–plenty of chances, some great goaltending saves, and even a ridiculous off-the-line clearance by James Beattie that saved Stoke City at least two points, and probably three. And as any Arsenal fan would tell you, the longer the game remains within a goal, points can be dropped at any second, against any opposition (a lesson that was learned by the Gunners again against AZ in midweek). What Tottenham (and Manchester City, Everton, and Aston Villa) must learn is that in order to have designs on Champions League football, you must not squander points against “lesser” sides.
One other thing was interesting in the game. Roman Pavlyuchenko was criticized by the commentator for not going to ground when he was fouled, since there were no teammates around him for support. Later, Vedran Corluka was tripped in the box–which should have been a penalty–and the same commentator said that he went down too theatrically and this was why he was not awarded a penalty. After all the criticism of Eduardo earlier in the season for his dive against Celtic, and much less pointed at Wayne Rooney for his going down too easily to draw a penalty against Arsenal, it can only be concluded that commentators, or press, or fans, have no standards on whether it is acceptable to dive or not. Judging by the commentator’s difference of opinion on two plays that occurred in the same half, it is clear that only the acting ability of the player is what matters, not whether he was actually fouled. There is too much attention paid to the matter of diving. If FIFA or UEFA really wanted to remove diving from the sport, they would institute a review panel that handed out retroactive bans of three games for any player that dove. You can be sure that the problem would solve itself rather quickly.