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North London Derby: a Q&A with Cartilage Free Captain

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Let’s find out what’s going on up the street.

Cocks And Hens Beauty Contest In Guangdong
not a cockerel
Photo by Zeng Linghua/VCG. (Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images

Well, this season sure has been fun, right? And by “fun”, I mean, wow it’s been a mess. And what better way to continue that mess than by facing our historical rivals, arguably the team in the best form right now, winners of eight consecutive games and only four points behind Chelsea at the top of the table. In short, they are where we wanted to be and playing the way we wanted to play.

So, here we are, with a relatively new formation, playing a team on fire right now, in the last north London derby at their house. Yay?

Anyway, ahead of that game, we chatted with GN Punk of Cartilage Free Captain to get his thoughts on this game and on Tottenham’s season. My answers to his questions? They’re right here!

TSF: Is this season's success something that Spurs fans expected after last season, or is the sustained title challenge a bit of a surprise?

CFC: It's definitely the former of the two. After seeing the improvement in the squad the last couple of seasons under Pochettino and being in the title race last season, there was still the expectation that Spurs were good enough to get into the Top 4 and even threaten as a title contender. Knowing that the Sky Six were all going to be improved, it makes this season even more impressive that Spurs, with five matches to go, are just four off the top of the table and are now a lock for Champions League next season.

TSF: What has been the biggest key to Spurs' success this season so far?

CFC: I could name a lot of individual player efforts, such as Christian Eriksen being the engine or Mousa Dembele essentially being a steamroller in the midfield. I could look at the defense that's only given up 22 goals in league play through 33 matches and easily say that.

But I'm going to go with the one constant through it all: Pochettino.

There's no denying just how good he is. We hear the stories about how training is hell, such as from former Southampton players saying that you'd need three lungs and two hearts to survive. Even former Tottenham player Nacer Chadli during his tenure here remarked about how hard it could be but he had never been fitter in his life. But it isn't just the training style and incredible fitness required: It's the sense that you are playing for the team, not yourself. It's playing for him and the family that is this squad.

TSF: Snarky version of question: How long until Harry Kane follows Gareth Bale to Madrid? Non-snarky version: Do you think Spurs can keep their squad intact for next season, given the success of this one and the likelihood that several Spurs players will be attracting non-trivial attention from other teams in Europe?

CFC: Replace "Harry Kane" with "Dele Alli" and I could probably answer that first question for you in both a snarky and non-snarky way!

I think Spurs keep the band together this summer. Sure there are going to be some rumors that unnerve all of us and they'll include at least half of the Starting XI. With the new stadium on the horizon, Champions League football again next season, and still the youngest squad in the league, I just don't see movement out of the club, save for a couple of the backups like Kevin Wimmer.

TSF: So I've reconfigured your buttons slightly, and now they are: If you push the left button, Spurs win the league and Pochettino gets paid a bazillion dollars to take over Barcelona this summer after they fail to overtake Real Madrid. If you push the right button, Newcastle magically re-appear in the Premier League on the last day of the season and knock Spurs into third, but Poch signs a new 10 year contract, with severe penalties for leaving before five years have elapsed. Which button do you push?

CFC: So, I love Pochettino as does any Spurs supporter, but this is a no-brainer. I press the left button, repeatedly, until that thing breaks.

Full disclosure, I'm a Cubs fan. I remember getting my heart ripped out of my chest in 2003. I remember getting swept a few times in the late 2000s and watched as the Cubs basically went into the toilet for a few seasons.

Last season, I watched the Cubs win an incredible World Series, breaking that stupid ass streak of no titles since 1908. I will remember every moment of that final game: Where I was, how I reacted, how late I stayed up because I couldn't sleep and had the biggest, stupidest smile on my face the entire time. Living in Ohio, I took extra pride in going to work after that and seeing all of the sad, glum faces of my co-workers who are Indians fans.

I would gladly take that moment for Spurs, even if it meant losing Mauricio to Barcelona. There would be an amazing parade, a tearful goodbye as he headed to his next job, but not a single supporter would forget the moment if we saw Hugo Lloris victoriously thrusting the Premier League trophy into the air at the end of this season.

TSF: I promise this is not a snarky question: What does it feel like to be so close to winning the league you can taste it, but to know that Chelsea probably won't slip up? Does it give you hope for next year, or frustration over what could have been this year?

CFC: It's a far cry from the ten years ago, that's for damn certain.

Given how many seasons in a row this team played in Europa after making the quarterfinals of the Champions League in 2011, it's hard not to have hope that this squad will continue to improve. Sure, there will be moments of "what might have been" if just two of the draws or losses could be changed into wins if this season ends and Spurs are still looking up at Chelsea after 38 matches! But, the bottom line is that Spurs are on a big uptick. They play attractive, attacking football and have a vibrant young squad that seems willing to run themselves into the ground for their manager and supporters.

TSF: Is there any downside you can see to White Hart Lane 2: Electric Boogaloo (I'm sure it'll have a boring sponsor name, but c'mon, Electric Boogaloo Stadium is a great name) holding a couple NFL games every season, or is that deal just an enviable case of Spurs taking a pile of NFL cash just because it was there?

CFC: Let's be honest: I'll probably take Electric Boogaloo Stadium over whatever cookie cutter sponsor Tottenham ends up getting for the new stadium. It'll still be The Lane to me, though.

I don't see the downside, personally. The NFL has already confirmed that they've spent £12m on various costs for the new stadium, which more than likely is for the NFL-specific portions like the locker rooms and field turf that will be used for the NFL games. Rumor is that more money will be spent by the American group on top of the £15m-per-season they're paying Tottenham over the next ten years to have those games in the new stadium.

Let's not forget that the NFL is seemingly desperate to get international franchises and what better way to get into London than set up shop in a state of the art stadium? Shad Khan, who owns both Fulham and the Jacksonville Jaguars, is probably looking at this very closely while twirling his magnificent mustache.

TSF: Do you think Spurs will have to significantly strengthen the squad in order to make a deep run in the Champions League?

CFC: I think there's no doubt that they need to strengthen in some key positions.

First, Kieran Trippier and Ben Davies are both suitable backup fullbacks who would start for most Premier League clubs not in the Sky Six. However, if Spurs are going to take the next step and get that deep run in the Champions League or win the league title, they need better players to back up Walker and Rose. I also expect Kevin Wimmer to exit the club, which means another center back is needed, maybe even two given Spurs' preference to play the 3-4-2-1 nowadays. The midfield may get a look but with the emergence of Harry Winks (so long as he comes back from injury with no issues) that is probably the least of Spurs concerns.

Then there's the attacking band. Kane, Eriksen, Dele, and Son have all had amazing moments this season, and unless some incredibly stupid offers come in, I don't see them leaving. Vincent Janssen had a rather putrid first half of the season, but when Kane went down with his injury in March, all we heard was that he was busting his ass in training and it paid off as he found the net a couple of times. The problem is that he is more suited for the 4-2-3-1 and doesn't look comfortable in the now-preferred 3-4-2-1. What that means for him is unclear, but another striker could be targeted to help take the pressure of Kane up top.

I also cannot forget bringing up Erik Lamela, who has been MIA since October 30 of last year. He had a fantastic 2015-16 campaign and, when he went down with the hip injury, the attack certainly sputtered. He just had surgery after a very long rehab attempt, but it may be time to look for someone to replace his role. I love Lamela, but he's lost practically two full seasons to injury since coming to White Hart Lane and the club may decide to move on.

TSF: Fill in the blank: If they want to beat Tottenham, Arsenal will have to (blank)

CFC: "...make sure the lasagna is good and tainted the day before."

All joking aside, beating Tottenham is about creating as much chaos in the midfield as possible. This is easier said than done, of course, but causing issues with Dembele and Wanyama is how you disrupt this team. Even then, getting past Vertonghen, Alderweireld, and Dier is no easy task either.

TSF: Tell me about Spurs' lineup for Sunday.

CFC: Guaranteed out of action for Sunday is Michel Vorm with a knee injury (early May), Cameron Carter-Vickers with a knee injury (most likely Season), Harry Winks with a leg injury (Season), and Erik Lamela with a hip injury (Milky Way - Andromeda collision).

Danny Rose is also on this list, out since January. The worst was feared and that he had blown out his ACL, but he avoided a catastrophic injury and it was reported that he would be aiming for the end of April. Well, here we are, and he's doing just that. Pochettino was asked about Rose on Tuesday and ruled him out for Palace, but kept us in suspense for Sunday. We all know that Rose wants to play in this match (as would anyone) and I wouldn't be surprised to see him make the eighteen with a second half appearance.

Mousa Dembele came off at halftime against Palace because his leg got stomped on, but all reports so far suggest he's okay and will be ready to go Sunday.

The Starting XI isn't going to look much different as it has most of the season:

(3-4-2-1) - Lloris; Vertonghen, Alderweireld, Dier; Davies, Dembele, Wanyama, Walker; Dele, Eriksen; Kane

The bench will more than likely be Lopez, Janssen, Son, N'Koudou, Sissoko, Trippier, and hopefully Rose.

TSF: What's your prediction?

CFC: Stress, and a lot of it. That stress level will only be ramped up if Chelsea crap themselves against Everton before this match and Spurs can claw to within a single point of the top spot.

That being said, I'm confident. Spurs have won eight in a row in the league and, even with the scare against Palace on Wednesday, I remind myself that Palace won at Stamford Bridge and Anfield in the last month while also beating Arsenal at Selhurst Park. It's the North London Derby, so we all know that anything can and will happen. Form goes out the window in rivalries, and Sunday will be no different. But, it's the last NLD at the Lane and Spurs have to keep winning to have any chance at the title. A victory on Sunday also banishes St. Totteringham's Day to the trash can for the first time in 21 years.

Spurs get it done at home, 3-1.

Thanks again to GN Punk and the awesome crew at CFC for taking the time to chat.