Six wins from the last seven and with Kane and Alli on fantastic form, Tottenham are looking like serious title challengers – how has Pochettino improved this side yet again this year and can they challenge Chelsea for the title?
22 games into the season and Tottenham’s season is looking like a flashback to last year. After starting in second gear Spurs have put their foot down and leapfrogged many of the clubs around them.
They will be looking up to Chelsea, just out of arm’s reach on 55 points. But Tottenham threw down the gauntlet after playing them off the park in a 2-0 victory at White Hart Lane, ending Conte’s hopes of a record-breaking winning streak and provoking us to consider their credibility as title contenders.
Pochettino’s team boast the youngest average age of any PL side, and it is from this Spurs have carved out an identity of a team with a voracious appetite for victory and a relentless work ethic.
Tottenham soak up praise primarily for a well structured back four, who are well protected by solid anchormen, usually in the form of industrious Eric Dier and the powerful Victor Wanyama. Goalkeeper and skipper Hugo Lloris established himself on the world stage at Euro 2016, and he might just be the catalyst in a Tottenham title coup. Indeed, the Spurs defence has only been breached 16 times this season, fewer than any other team in the league, bar Chelsea. Evidently this is at the forefront of Pochettino’s philosophy, with Spurs bragging the best defensive record of the 2015/16 season.
But of course games aren’t won without goals, and it’s the malevolence in which they attack that has earned them so many points. Harry Kane has been consistently lethal this season, averaging a goal every 112 minutes (a strike rate bettered only by Olivier Giroud). The reputations of Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen continue to burgeon, and with good reason. Alli is the league’s highest scoring midfielder, finding the net 11 times, whilst Eriksen is second in the assist charts – setting up teammates 8 times this season already. The aggressive and forward-thinking nature of Tottenham’s play is highlighted by the impact of defender Kyle Walker, who has already chipped in with 6 assists himself.
the greatest weapon in the Spurs artillery has to be manager Mauricio Pochettino
Though the greatest weapon in the Spurs artillery has to be manager Mauricio Pochettino. The young Argentine has proved potent with his tactics and transfer acumen, whilst impressing fans with passion similar to his players. What were initially understated signings, Eric Dier and Dele Alli have become hallmarks of this impressive side – both players have risen from promising talents to international stalwarts. Moreover, Pochettino has been able to retain the invaluable services of Kane and Lloris, despite interest from Europe’s superpowers. Hence Pochettino deserves credit for building a squad with tremendous depth as well as world-class individuals.
The one stumbling point Spurs have experienced this season is an adventure in the Champions League truncated far too early. Unfamiliar opposition didn’t fear the London outfit and were able to exploit errors that Pochettino’s men were guilty of making compulsively. Furthermore, the North Londoners were unable to impose their sleek pressing game and it cost them a place in the last 16. Humbled by Bayer Leverkusen and the plucky AS Monaco, Tottenham have to now settle for the less prestigious Europa League. A run in the competition might be popular with fans, but the cup is often seen as a thorn in the side of teams chasing a domestic title.
As dismal as the campaign was, it might be just the alarm bell the Lilywhites needed. In fact, since crashing out of the competition, Spurs have gone on to collect 22 of a possible 30 points, culminating in fight back to draw 2-2 with Manchester City. Indeed if such form continues, the Champions League exit may be seen as a blessing in disguise, allowing Spurs to zone their focus on the Premier League title.
Cynics will note that Spurs capitulated in their title bid last season, after heavy defeats at Stamford Bridge and St James’ Park handed Leicester City such a remarkable title. But Pochettino says his team is “hungrier” and more experienced, and it’s hard to argue after such merciless recent performances, notching 6 consecutive wins over the Christmas period.
Chelsea however are still 9 points better off than their London rivals and hence title talk may be due a reality check. The Premier League is notorious for its lack of predictability and constant shift in momentum, but The Blues still are in the driving seat and Spurs will have to improve even further in order to derail them.