Spurs have probably just recently arrived back in London after their flight back home from an away game that can only charitably be described as a ‘European’ game, so that’s probably not really the situation you’d usually want to suffer before a game against the Premier League champions.
But this season it may make very little difference. In fact, all things considered, you might prefer to play Chelsea than any other Premier League team after such a long trip – it’s better to be well-rested for that tricky trip to Norwich than it is for the visit of the Champions this season. Bigger days lie ahead and all that.
At least, that’s what the table will tell you. Spurs sit fifth in the league and only two points behind Arsenal, not only the local rivals, but possibly the team Spurs will have to beat if they’re to win the title this season.
It’s been a while since we’ve done this, but this certainly isn’t the first time in living memory when we’ve had Spurs down as a genuine title challenger, and we usually speak too soon.
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The best example was probably 2012 under Harry Redknapp.
Spurs were establishing themselves amongst the best in the league and were at the top of the table in January when a trip to Manchester City – a game they should have won, but lost thanks to a last-gasp Mario Balotelli penalty – saw the wheels come off the title challenge.
Redknapp kept the Spurs train on track well enough to finish fourth, but were deprived of a Champions League campaign by Chelsea’s triumph in the final of that particular competition.
Defeat this weekend, mitigated by a long flight from deepest, darkest Azerbaijan, wouldn’t derail their title hopes, though. It would be only their second defeat of the season, and given that they are only four points off top spot it wouldn’t be a disaster. Especially since you’d expect Leicester to tail off a little bit between now and the end of the season.
The other thing that Spurs have in their favour is the fact that their goal difference is up there with the rest. Only a couple of weeks ago, Manchester City’s goal difference was looking spectacular, but their goalscoring has dried up and a heavy defeat to Liverpool has cut the goal difference down to size. Spurs are now in a very good position to strike.
But they aren’t in that position thanks to stellar form. Pochettino’s side have drawn as many games as they’ve won, and they’ve drawn more games than anyone else in the Premier League this season. It’s thanks to their consistency that they’ve climbed up the table.
Some turgid performances early doors, including a fair number of draws, were the signs of a defence becoming much less penetrable than it was last season, but since then Harry Kane has found his shooting boots, and Dele Alli and Eric Dier in particular have been good enough to merit England call-ups and will be hoping to find themselves crossing the channel to Euro 2016 next summer.
In order to win the league you need to be consistent, and so even though Pochettino’s team haven’t won as many as the three big guns above them, they’ve lost fewer games. No one has an unbeaten record in the Premier League this season, but only Spurs and Leicester have been beaten only once. Yet Spurs have played both Manchester clubs, Arsenal and Liverpool as well as Everton and table-toppers Leicester.
Apart from Chelsea this weekend and Southampton just before Christmas, Spurs don’t have many big games left in the first round of fixtures. Leicester, meanwhile, still have to play both Manchester clubs, Everton and Liverpool before the turn of the year.
Consistency is key to Tottenham’s season. If they can continue to keep the opposition from dominating them, if they can continue to avoid defeat and turn even some of those draws into wins, Spurs will do well this season. If not because they’ll be the best team, then because they’ll be the most consistent team.
The Europa League doesn’t have to be a burden on them this season. The players are young and hungry enough to take both competitions seriously and success will breed confidence and more success. What’s more, Pochettino’s demand that his players are one of the fittest squads in the league will pay its dividends too.
Spurs are the most consistent title-contenders so far this season, but it’s worth remembering that Spurs are always consistently Spurs. Pochettino will need to make sure his team maintains their consistency in the league, but he’ll have to guard against his team falling back into being consistently Spurs.
Remembering they’re Spurs this weekend could be fatal!