By Billy Stephens @BillyLaughs @TLE_Sport
At the start of the season most pundits tipped Tottenham to finish fifth or sixth, with a few tipping them to push for a Champion’s League spot but nothing more. Now however, after a club record 14 Premier League games unbeaten, people are starting to ask if Spurs can challenge for the title.
Head Coach Mauricio Pochettino has publicly played down their chances of winning the league, but one would imagine that behind the scenes he’s been licking his lips at the faltering campaigns of Spurs’ top four rivals. With the battle for the Premier League more open than in living memory, he’ll know this is a great chance for Tottenham to seize the title for the first time since 1961.
It’s not just the results that have pleased the Spurs fans however; they’ll be equally impressed with how the team have gone about it. Tottenham were the better team in their loss to Manchester United on the open day of the season and they have been the better team in every game since.
Liverpool and Arsenal both had chances to beat The Lilywhites but were both dominated for large portions of their respective stalemates, and commanding 4-1 victories against Manchester City and high-flying rivals West Ham have been early highlights. Tottenham’s goal difference is currently third best in the league (13), just one behind Man City and Arsenal (14).
Pochettino has been largely responsible for the turnaround in fortunes at White Hart Lane. Alongside his brand of attacking, pressing football and punishing fitness regime, he has instilled an inner belief in his players. He likes to recruit and, more importantly, play young, talented footballers, a policy of which Tottenham Chairman Daniel Levy has long been a fan, but, until now, has been unable to implement successfully. Pochettino also deserves credit for getting increasingly impressive performances out of inconsistent players such as Kyle Walker, Erik Lamela and Moussa Dembele.
The biggest difference for Spurs this season has been their rigidity at the back. The partnership between Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld has stabilised the defence and Eric Dier’s statuesque performances in the holding midfield role have enabled the side’s attacking stars to express themselves.
Many expect Dier to eventually settle as a centre back but he has all the composure, strength, pace and vision to become a world-class midfielder. He would have received a lot more credit this season had it not been for the eye-catching displays of his midfield cohort Dele Alli. The defence can’t stop everything though and when they’ve been breached, club captain Hugo Hugo Lloris has been a rock with some world class and point-winning saves.
The partnership between Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen will also be important to any aspirations Spurs hold. Kane has scored 8 league goals so far this season, but struggled early on when Eriksen was out injured.
What about their rivals? Manchester City have been playing some exhilarating football this season but on too many occasions they have not displayed the penetration they showed when they won the title 2 years ago. Their levels of performance have been inconsistent – as demonstrated in their 2-0 defeat to Stoke City at the weekend.
Arsenal have also played some great football but injuries are hampering their season. A Gunners injured XI would give their fit XI a run for their money at the moment with the likes of Sanchez, Coquelin, Cazorla, Wilshere, Rosicky, Welbeck and Arteta all unavailable. Manchester United keep picking up points, but at times the players themselves seem frustrated with Van Gaal’s preference for slow, possession-based build up play and are by no means the force they once were.
I personally think Leicester will make the top four but they concede more goals than their top four rivals. The Foxes have conceded 21 goals this season, 5 more than Manchester City who have the second worst defensive record out of the current top five. They will have to work on this side of their game if they wish to compete for the title.
Tottenham have an Achilles’ heel of their own – they draw too many games. Their 1-1 draw with West Brom on Saturday was their eighth this season, more than any other side in the league. Turning dominant draws into wins however, doesn’t seem to me as big a hurdle as dealing with prolonged injuries to key players, overcoming inexplicable inconsistency or fixing a leaky defence.
This season has been so unpredictable that there are 5 or 6 teams still with a shout of the title, which is almost unheard of in December. Pochettino will continue to pour cold water on Tottenham’s title credentials but with the Premier League so open this year, Spurs have all the ingredients to go the distance and I except them to be amongst a few teams still fighting it out for top spot come May.