It took until late November for most of us to wake up, smell the coffee and realise that Spurs are in with a genuine shout for the title this season.
By then Mauricio Pochettino’s side had already walloped Manchester City 4-1 at the Lane and come away from Leicester and Arsenal with well-deserved points. The hallmark of any champions-elect is the wherewithal to beat your rivals at home, contain them away, and rack up a substantial tally elsewhere. Tottenham were doing all of these things.
Additionally – and crucially – here were a set of players who had bought wholesale into their coach’s ethos and were executing it professionally and consummately week in, week out.
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So what took us so long to cotton on?
In our defence we’d been too distracted by a surreal campaign that piled on so many twists and surprises the plot no longer made sense. Chelsea’s bad days at the office escalated to the point where they were made redundant, unable to make their rent and forced to beg for pocket change on the streets while petting a mangy dog.
Leicester transformed from relegation battlers into world beaters with Jamie Vardy being linked without any irony to Real Madrid. Manchester United forgot how to attack, eschewed anything closely resembling entertainment and consequently became as threatening as a well-worn snuggle blanket.
In such weird times we clung to certainties. Arsenal and City have Cech and Hart, Ozil and Silva, and Sanchez and Aguero: therefore it was between those two for the title. Spurs were mentioned in passing but always as regards to their Champions League aspirations.
It took a comprehensive dismantling of West Ham on November 22nd for the first overdue thinkpieces to be written proclaiming the north London club as serious contenders and even then the suspicion is they were written partly as clickbait. To evoke a modicum of scoffing. To get the comments flowing in.
Few came because now the cat was out of the bag. Having lost just the once all season Spurs were on the march and – unlike the narratives of Leicester, Chelsea and United – it isn’t hard to see why.
In Lloris Spurs possess an exceptional keeper capable of gaining points on rare team off-days. Their defensive partnership of Alderweireld and Vertonghen is not only rock-solid and complimentary but is bolstered on an understanding forged from fifty-plus internationals playing together for Belgium. Having jettisoned their midfield deadwood in the summer the central areas now look leaner and meaner with the emergence of Dier as a defensive-mid of some standing and Alli as a major prospect both hugely significant.
Dembele meanwhile is a man reborn and clearly relishing the energy around him. Up front, well, was there really any genuine concern that Harry Kane would be a one-season wonder? Add to this Eriksen’s artful probing and Son and Lamela’s ability to change games and you’ve got a multifaceted side balanced with strength and poise, youth and experience.
Yet that is only the half of it. In fact it could be argued that is barely the half of it.
Pochettino’s success at Southampton was founded on a high press that requires considerable energy-sapping commitment for the full ninety. Last term he instilled this approach at the Lane but with Kaboul, Paulinho, and Soldado as the foot-soldiers there was compromise.
Now, with the benefit of a full year in charge not only has the Argentinean fully implanted his ethos at the club but two transfer windows has allowed him to mould a side capable of applying the system to its full effect. Bringing through eager-to-learn young devotees in Bentaleb, Mason and Carroll accelerates the process further.
Following Spurs’ late show at Watford this week we saw a second wave of thinkpieces concerning their title claims. Only this time, with half the season navigated and just four points between them and the top, there was not even a whiff of claickbait. This time Pochettino himself weighed in.
I would go further and state here and now that I believe the league is theirs for the taking. I am even prepared to donate to charity should they fail.
There are however two conditions, caveats that must be overcome before I fully stick my flag to the mast.
January brings Everton and Crystal Palace away while Leicester are to be hosted. These are three defining fixtures. Make or breakers. Should seven points be accrued then yes I’m all-in.
There is also the small matter of the Europa League to muddy the waters. Thus far Pochettino has factored in their European distractions superbly but now the knock-outs are here it necessitates full-strength line-ups. Burn-out due to a congested fixture list is a possible concern.
Should that be overcome however it’s Tottenham’s crown for me. Their first since 1961.
Arsenal have the pressure and expectation. They will stumble. City have the key injuries and a defence prone to calamity. They will tumble.
It’s certainly been a strange season so far. It’s due to get stranger.