Why Spurs are serious top 4 contenders
Tottenham Hotspur are a side who have grown used to misfortune. Since the turn of the millennium, only once have Spurs lifted a trophy. Only once have they appeared in the Champions League. Twice the North London club have missed out on Europe’s premier competition in the cruellest of circumstances, with both food poisoning and Chelsea’s surprise European triumph costing them a place at the top table of club football in the last decade. Now, five barren years after their most recent continental adventure, the time may be just right for Tottenham to return to Europe’s elite competition.
After a tricky start under Argentinian manager Mauricio Pochettino, Tottenham have finally started to develop into a fine outfit. Fifth place in 2014-15 looked like a fair return for the ex-Southampton boss, who had inherited an average squad with the shadow of hefty price tags and Gareth Bale-sized boots to fill. This season may just see Spurs go one better though.
With a season under his belt at Tottenham, Pochettino now looks to be settled and in control of his own squad at White Hart Lane. Inheriting a side that collectively failed to make up for the loss of the magnificent Bale, Pochettino has made subtle changes over his tenure that have streamlined the squad into a much more threatening outlet. Gone are the deadwood of Paulinho, Vlad Chiriches and Emmanuel Adebayor. In have come the young Dele Alli, the classy Toby Alderweireld and the tireless Son Heung-Min. Add this to the already undisputed class of Hugo Lloris, Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane, the Argentine finally has a squad he can mould and direct with confidence.
The Spurs team now is a different animal to the one under Andre Villas-Boas’ failed tutelage. Tottenham are now one of the fittest teams in the league, relentlessly chasing the ball down whilst keeping a resolute and organised shape in defence. Not only are they incredibly hard working, but Tottenham also have quality players that can change a game out of nowhere. Eriksen is one of the most creative players in the Premier League and Kane is now an England regular. Erik Lamela is a maverick who can trip over his own feet one minute but score a rabona the next. Their pressing style, coupled with a series of quality players, has turned the North London club into a very dangerous team.
Not only do Spurs have the ability to score goals, but they are also a very strong defensive unit. Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen are two excellent ball-playing centre-backs. Protected by the young English duo of Dele Alli, a revelation at 19, and Eric Dier, playing out of position in front of the defence, Tottenham have turned into a very tough team to break down. Couple this with the in-form Kyle Walker and the Euro 2016 bound Ben Davies, Tottenham have managed to acquire the joint-best defensive record in the Premier League so far.
Furthermore, Tottenham have improved dramatically throughout the burgeoning season. After an unfortunate defeat away to Manchester United on the opening day, Pochettino’s side have gone nine games unbeaten, and have won four of their last six matches. A 4-1 thrashing over Manchester City has also shown that this Spurs side has the ability to beat the big boys, and should not be taken lightly.
Pochettino’s improved side would have a fair chance of making the Champions League places in any normal season, but 2015-16 has proved to be an unpredictable affair. Manchester City and Arsenal look as if they will battle out for the Premier League crown, but below that, the competition for places seems to be much more open than before. With Chelsea nowhere, for now, and Liverpool implementing a brand new style under Jurgen Klopp, two of Tottenham’s traditional top six rivals appear to be out of the picture, leaving the door open for Spurs to steal a top 4 position.
It will not be as simple as that, however. Spurs may have had a strong start to the season, but they only lie in sixth place by virtue of a worrying inconsistency in front of goal. They may have scored 4 against Manchester City and 5 against Bournemouth, but Spurs have also drawn blank against Manchester United, Everton and Liverpool, whilst dropping further points to Stoke and Leicester. With only Kane, who started the season slowly, as a proven striking option, their goalscoring troubles may worsen should he take a hit in form or an injury.
There is also the Europa League to consider. Notorious for knocking Champions League chasing teams, especially Spurs, off their stride, another long campaign in Europe’s secondary competition may derail their push for the top 4, especially with a trip to Azerbaijan on the horizon.
There are a number of factors which may deny Tottenham that coveted space in the Champions League, but with a weakened Premier League and an improved squad, they might just do it. Mauricio Pochettino has built a young, hard-working side that are tough to beat and have bags of potential. They may have a few weaknesses, but Spurs are one of the top teams in the division. Should things fall their way over the next seven months, we may be seeing Tottenham gracing some of the continent’s top arenas again.
Featured image taken by Allan Slank.
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