Tottenham have at least 17 games left to play before the end of 2017/18. And yet, the next five, taking place between now and the 13th of February, will have the most significant impact on determining the success of their campaign.
It will be an invaluable litmus test of how competitive this Tottenham side is, how resourceful Mauricio Pochettino is and whether players linked with summer moves to alluring destinations are as focused and dedicated as they were during the last two seasons when Spurs pushed hard for the Premier League title. It will also tell us whether, over the course of this term, Tottenham have improved or worsened.
That’s not least because there are so many games in such close proximity. From hosting Manchester United on Wednesday night to travelling to Juventus Stadium in two Tuesdays’ time, Spurs will have five games in the space of a fortnight – roughly one every three days. Much more than simply a question of durability for a club that has used just 24 players in the Premier League this season (two of which have now left on loan), the third-lowest amount in the top flight, however, is the manner in which the next five games combine the only three fronts Tottenham have left this season.
A good run in the Champions League will be something of a bonus for Tottenham, who have already produced some of the most unforgettable nights in the club’s history this season – holding Real Madrid to a draw at the Bernabeu, romping them at Wembley and ripping apart Borussia Dortmund in the Group Stages. Likewise, although their initial encounter proved to be a niggling, awkward affair, the wide expectation is that Newport County won’t be able to repeat their FA Cup heroics in the Fourth Round replay on Tottenham’s patch – the pitch will be wider, the atmosphere will be different and Spurs are unlikely to be so complacent twice.
But that FA Cup clash is nonetheless an added obstacle at the worst possible time, coming three days after a visit to Anfield and three days before the north London derby. It gives Tottenham less time to recover and less time to prepare; even if Pochettino fields a much-weakened side against Newport as expected, his attentions will inevitably be directed elsewhere during a make-or-break period of their Premier League campaign. What’s more, if Pochettino doesn’t give the FA Cup his full focus, Tottenham’s only likely chance of silverware this season will evaporate against League Two opposition.
That’s where Tottenham’s fates in all three competitions suddenly appear to intertwine. It’s a delicate balancing act for Pochettino, and the consequences could be devastating. If Tottenham are knocked out by Newport County, all the worse in extra time or penalties, they’ll have just three days to recover physically and mentally for the North London derby, knowing their season – at least in terms of trophies – is over already. Pochettino prides himself on always fighting to the end, but we have seen Tottenham collapse before when they know the jig is up – it was vastly different circumstances, but the obvious example is the 5-1 defeat to Newcastle at the end of the 2015/16 season.
Of course, losing to Newport County is a very big if, one that Tottenham fans won’t spend too much time fretting over. But Tottenham’s three next Premier League fixtures, two coming before the end of this week, are vitally pivotal as well – especially now that the north Londoners are looking upwards at the top four, sitting two points behind Liverpool. In terms of the race of Champions League qualification, their next three games are all invaluable six pointers that could either put them in the driving seat for a top four finish or leave them marooned in the Europa League positions.
In addition to that, however, each game will tell us something about where Tottenham are at right now and whether Pochettino has provided the improvements you’d expect of a manager with an exponentially rising reputation. Perhaps the most significant of those is the trip to Anfield, not least because Tottenham appear to be in a direct battle with Liverpool for fourth; during his time in north London, Pochettino has masterminded just one Premier League victory against a big six side away from home, also losing 11 of 18, while Klopp has just lost once at home to the same calibre of opponent since replacing Brendan Rodgers. To get something on Merseyside, Spurs will have to remedy a four-season habit.
Upon facing Manchester United too, Tottenham will need to arrest misgivings from earlier in the campaign. When Jose Mourinho reduced their meeting at Old Trafford to a one-goal game, it was the Red Devils who held their nerve and took the late chance that came their way.
There is every likelihood the Portuguese will try the same trick at Wembley, a ground where Spurs have struggled at times against sides defending deep this season. Spurs have only actually scored two goals or more on four out of 12 occasions at Wembley in the Premier League and there was a common approach between the sides they’ve failed to beat there this term – Chelsea, Burnley, Swansea, West Brom and West Ham all claimed at least a point with less than 33% possession.
And then there’s the north London derby, another encounter where Tottenham will look to make amends after losing the reverse earlier in the campaign. That was billed as a definitive moment for Spurs, one where they would announce themselves as the new kings of north London, but Pochettino’s team didn’t truly turn up at the Emirates Stadium and the performance felt like something of a choke. Suffer defeat again to the Gunners, and Spurs could quickly find themselves dragged into a battle to avoid sixth place.
It all creates a tapestry of make-or-break for Tottenham’s 2017/18, but the ramifications could be felt far beyond this season. With Harry Kane and Pochettino reportedly in Real Madrid’s sights, Dele Alli the object of admirations from many rivals, Toby Alderweireld’s contract situation yet to be resolved and Danny Rose’s fate uncertain, these next two weeks and the questions they pose of Tottenham’s credentials as a major force could well determine whether they see their immediate futures in north London or elsewhere.
If Spurs fall flat and their season unravels by the end of their Champions League clash with Juventus on February 13th, the summer transfer window won’t come soon enough for some.
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