Is it really out of reach for Tottenham?
Tottenham’s superb recent form in the league has seen them slowly but surely move away from the race for a top-four position this term after opening up a small gap ahead of their rivals and with Sandro recently going as far as to claim that a title challenge wasn’t out of the question still, could they still have a part to play come May?
Under Harry Redknapp last season, Tottenham blew a significant point lead over bitter rivals Arsenal to somehow manage to finish fourth in a three-horse race, briefly threatening to disrupt the Manchester duopoly. This season, though, under the guidance of Andre Villas-Boas, the side have picked up 22 points from their last nine games, winning seven of them, with only league leaders Manchester United picking up more (25 points). Something is clearly going very right at the moment.
Brazilian midfielder Sandro stated after the comeback win away against Sunderland: “Everybody talks about United, City and Chelsea, but never Spurs. We have just won a hard game at Sunderland and Manchester City could not beat them here. We are not content to be just a top-four side. We are looking up the table. But no-one is talking about Spurs as champions and that suits us. I hope it carries on like that until the end of the season and then bang! We are there. We believe we are as good as the top teams.”
This prompted some mocking responses from plenty of fans of rival clubs, but are they really that far away from challenging the top two? Considering the rate of change at the club over the past six months, with a new training ground, style of play, formation and management team, not to mention losing the hub of their midfield in Luka Modric, that they’ve managed to be so consistent of late speaks volumes for the job that the Portuguese man at the helm has done.
I’ve always been a big supporter of Villas-Boas and have found the hatchet job that the media have done on him both unprofessional and deeply personal; they don’t like him, that much is clear, but their reasons are not football-based, rather solely to do with self-interest and their own fragile egos. I’ve seen the man walk up to respected football journalist Brian Glanville before and shake him by the hand and warmly wish him a happy Christmas, the image we often get is of a bumbling, clueless clown and it couldn’t be further from the truth.
Quietly, Moussa Dembele and Sandro have come to form the best central midfield partnership in the division taking over the mantle from last season’s equally dynamic pairing of Yohan Cabaye and Cheick Tiote, while on the wings both Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon have been exceptional. Up top Jermain Defoe has been consistent and Emmanuel Adebayor is working his way back to full fitness, while they’ve coped reasonably well with the long-term absences of key duo Younes Kaboul and Benoit Assou-Ekotto at the back, with summer signing Jan Vertonghen proving an astute piece of business.
They still require more strength in depth (how many times have we said that these past few years?) but they look only a handful of top class players away from being a true force to be reckoned with. While Sandro may have left himself open to ridicule with his bold statement, it could very well apply to next season, even if it looks like they’ve left themselves too much to do this term and having such lofty ambitions is a positive approach to adopt.
There’s still a suspicion of a soft underbelly to the side, which capitulations against Everton and Manchester City clearly point to, but wins over Manchester United and Sunderland show that there’s just as much of battling spirit on display too and it’s all about keeping that consistency up, with Dembele absolutely vital to their hopes as perhaps the single most important player to any one side in the entire league.
They have come out of the busy festive period extremely well with ten points out of a possible 12; a time that often sorts the wheat from the chaff, but it’s around March and April time where their credentials will really be put to the test where they face Arsenal at home, Liverpool away, Fulham at home, Swansea away, Everton at home, Chelsea away, Manchester City at home and Wigan away in a truly daunting run of fixtures; should they come away from that potentially season-defining sequence with a similar tally that that they have just won themselves with their great form recently, then Sandro might not be looking so silly after all.
This is a campaign of transition for the club, just as it is for many others like Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea, but Tottenham could be the biggest winners out of all of them with some genuine room for movement up for grabs in the higher echelons of the top flight for the first time in recent memory. There’s plenty still to improve upon, but they are heading in the right direction and can take great satisfaction from the giant strides they have made this season. A title challenge looks beyond this term, but with a bit of tinkering here and there and a strong end to the campaign, it could be a feasible possibility come this time next year.