Eyebrows were raised when Tottenham Hotspur became the first Premier League club to spend nothing in the summer transfer window but they are proving there is simply no price you can put on stability and familiarity.
Mauricio Pochettino’s team were not even at their slick best against Manchester United at Old Trafford on Monday but came away with a clinical 3-0 victory that maintained their 100 percent start to the season.
Earlier this month, when other clubs were indulging in the customary spending frenzy, Tottenham defied convention and decided to stick with what they had — prompting criticism from even the club’s own fans.
Pochettino, who has taken Tottenham to three consecutive top-three finishes, said there was no point in making signings for the “sake of it” although he too might have felt frustrated by the lack of a statement purchase and concerned the still-to-be-completed 800 million-pound ($1 billion) stadium would start eating into the squad budget.
Crucially, however, Tottenham have not sold anyone despite the likes of Belgian duo Toby Alderweireld and Mousa Dembele and England left back Danny Rose all being expected to leave.
That trio played at Old Trafford on Monday as Tottenham won there for the first time in Pochettino’s reign having lost the last four without even scoring a goal.
After failing to win at any of so-called big six since beating Manchester City in February, 2016 it felt like a landmark night for Pochettino and his players.
Alderweireld, a target for United boss Mourinho, and Rose both fell out of favour last season but slotted seamlessly back into a defence that has become the platform from which Tottenham have become consistent Champions League qualifiers.
While Spurs did ride their luck at times, especially in the first half, they picked United off with ease in the second with Brazilian Lucas Moura scoring twice after Harry Kane had headed Tottenham in front.
Moura arrived with little fanfare from Paris St Germain in January and had few chances to impress last season but he has begun the season in superb form — offering a viable alternative in attack to Son Heung-min and Erik Lamela who were both unavailable against United.
Tottenham playmaker Christian Eriksen was not at his best on Monday, yet even on an average night for the Dane he provided the corner for Kane’s opener and played in Moura for his first.
Kane’s pass to Moura helped the Brazilian kill the game — another example of the intuitive inter-play that comes from players well-coached and clear in what they are doing.
Tougher tests will come for Tottenham, starting at Watford, who are also on nine points from three games, on Sunday.
But Pochettino’s blueprint is now so ingrained on the Spurs squad that a title challenge cannot be ruled out — even if Liverpool are tipped as the most likely side to pose a serious challenge to champions Manchester City.
While a stony-faced Mourinho went through a bizarre post-match ritual of applauding the United fans in one corner of the stadium before angrily ending a news conference, Pochettino oozed contentment, embracing his players one by one.
“It’s belief, always. Belief in the way that you work, the trust, the confidence and all together trying to fight for one objective,” he said.
“It was clear we’re a team on the pitch and outside.”