Harry Kane’s return from injury is the main topic around Tottenham Hotspur at the moment. Hopes of lifting the league title are faint, still, but the club will be well aware that Chelsea’s recent indifferences give them a chance.
The attack did not suffer in Kane’s absence and – with not Europa League football to worry about – Spurs are the league’s in form side going into a rather favourable looking run of Premier League fixtures.
An FA Cup semi-final clash with their top of the table, West London rivals remains as a distraction, though it is nothing more than that as the Lilywhites look to topple the seemingly unstoppable Blues at the summit of England’s top flight.
Antonio Conte’s side are faltering in the league – or as much as they have this season. Clean sheets – which were their bread and butter during their relentless winning streak earlier in the campaign – have become a rare treat. So rare, in fact, that they have not enjoyed a zero since January. The back three has not exactly been exposed, but the triumvirate of David Luiz, Cesar Azpilicueta and Gary Cahill is now performing much more how we would have expected it to at the start of the season.
Spurs, meanwhile, continue to be lock-tight defensively. On their current six match winning streak, Mauricio Pochettino’s side have conceded just four goals. Two of those came against Everton in a match they won 3-2. Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen and Eric Dier look impenetrable in a back three, while any combination of wing-backs seems to provide similarly solid results (with the exception of Ben Davies’ nightmare at Anfield).
It may be a tired cliché to say that defences win titles, but it is on course to be proven correct. Chelsea’s defence set the foundations for their terrific autumn and winter form and Spurs are once again in contention with the league’s best defensive record. Manchester City and Liverpool have had to pay the price of defensive howlers on too many occasions. Spurs and Chelsea are not intrinsically defensive sides, they have just struck the balance between defence and attack far better than their rivals.
The teetering of Chelsea’s defence has thrown initial seeds of doubt into their title credentials. Their reliance on the attack firing on all cylinders and pulling them through strife of an almost guaranteed goal conceded must be a worry for Conte. Goals will not always come easily, even with the attacking power they possess. Should Eden Hazard or Pedro suffer injury, suspension or a decline in form, Chelsea could quickly be struggling to keep Spurs at bay.
The truth of it is, though, that Chelsea’s supposed choke has come far too late for Spurs to catch them. It might get nervy in the blue segment of the capital, but they’ll be the ones with the open top bus parade come May.