Following his trip to the UK alongside the rest of the NBC Sports Premier League team, Kyle Martino spoke with ProSoccerTalk about his thoughts on Tottenham and Chelsea and what he thinks of the Premier League title race.
Q: What was your biggest takeaway from seeing Tottenham play in person at White Hart Lane?
Kyle Martino: Well, first off it was the first chance I’ve gotten to go to White Hart Lane which was pretty spectacular. An old, beautiful stadium with so much history and we saw it right before the curtain call. We also got to see construction of the new stadium and it’s going to be a pretty special place. But, what overshadowed the amazing experience at White Hart Lane and the fascinating experience of seeing the new stadium was how irresistible Spurs were. They were as good as I’ve seen them in a long time, probably since we saw them last year. In person, Dele Alli, Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen, the fluidity and preternatural understanding of each other’s movements was pretty remarkable.
But, the one takeaway which is something you don’t notice when you are watching on TV is how [Mauricio] Pochettino was, I don’t want to say dissatisfied, but just holding the team throughout the entire game to a very high standard. Every little missed pass or failed attempt to put them under pressure and win the ball back was met with a sort of primal scream from the sidelines from Pochettino just to make sure everyone was switched on during every second. I don’t remember that from him when we were there watching them at the Britannia last year. So maybe that’s one of the changes down the stretch this season, that Pochettino’s just not going to let any of the standards drop for a moment to make sure they don’t slip up like they did at the end of last season.
Q: You guys saw an uncharacteristically poor performance from Chelsea against Manchester United at Old Trafford. What were your thoughts seeing that?
KM: I was shocked. Everything in a positive way that I just spoke about Spurs is the complete inverse for Chelsea. They looked languid, disorganized, disinterested and incapable of a Plan B in a way that I’ve never seen with Chelsea this season and that includes the beginning of the year and that Arsenal game when they were so poor. It’s difficult to remember the struggles before they switched to a back three so the stretch of dominance is probably skewing our opinion of Chelsea in terms of analyzing them in that one game against Manchester United.
Marcos Alonso went out with a stomach bug and supposedly it’s gone around the team a little bit and that’s one of most powerful stomach bugs I think I’ve ever seen because it took the animation out of Antonio Conte on the sideline. He looked like a statue and the energy and endeavor was gone from the best team in the Premier League this season.
Q: With that said, do you think Tottenham will be able to chase down Chelsea for the title?
KM: We’ve been saying for a long time there wouldn’t be much of a title race, but I think we definitely have a title race that’s going to go to the last day. I just look at a Chelsea team that in the reverse fixtures of the games they have left, won every game by an embarrassing score margin. I think this game against Manchester United was exactly what Antonio Conte needs to refocus and revitalize the group.
[ MORE: Do we really have a PL title race? ]
He had a quote recently saying when I don’t feel there’s pressure on the team, I put pressure on them. Well, there’s definitely pressure on them now. It doesn’t need to be manipulated, it’s not going to be artificial. But, it would be really surprising to me if Antonio Conte, for the first time in his managerial career, let a title race slip through his figures with such a talented team that have proved over a very long period that they are capable of walking over any team in the league.