Tottenham Hotspur: Contenders or Pretenders?

Eden Hazard scored that famous goal. A party erupted in Jamie Vardy’s house. Leicester City were Premier League Champions and virtually the entire footballing world celebrated with them.

The only one’s not celebrating were a certain club based in North London. Tottenham Hotspur’s quest for their first league title since 1961 had ended, their dreams crushed by their hated neighbours Chelsea.

Many months later and it was Chelsea’s turn to take a blow to their title credentials. Leading by six points and their rivals floundering around them, Antonio Conte’s men came into the match against Spurs on the back of a 13 game winning streak.

Two Dele Alli headers later and the winning streak had come to end. Chelsea suddenly looked catchable, and Spurs as likely as anyone to do the catching.

Can Tottenham Hotspur win the Premier League title this year? Yes they can. Will they? That is a far more complicated question.

The example most relevant to Spurs right now is the recent success of Atletico Madrid. It seemed unlikely when Diego Simeone took charge in 2011 that Atletico could challenge the supremacy of Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Yet just three years later they stormed to the La Liga title with their highest points total in history. This was achieved by a careful assembling of quality players and installing a second to none work ethic.

Leaving aside the superficial similarities (an Argentine manager in his third year at the club), it is the work ethic that relates the two clubs. That and having to recover from losing top players; Atletico lost Falcao early in Simeone’s reign, and Spurs had not recovered from losing Bale when Pochettino took charge in 2014.

Image result for mauricio pochettino
Like Diego Simeone at Atletico Madrid, Mauricio Pochettino has been key to Tottenham’s resurgence in the last number of years.

Last year’s near miss was no flash in the pan, but rather the culmination of a long-term project. Four of the last five PFA Young Player of the Year awards have gone to a Spurs player.

While one of them (Bale) departed for pastures new, the other three (Walker, Kane and Alli) are all key members of the team. They sit third in the table, seven points off the top and have won their last six matches in a row.

They have the league’s best defence and a habit of outsmarting the big teams. Remember, it was a defeat to Spurs that ended Pep’s impressive winning start to life at Man City.

Tottenham are a good enough side to capitalise on a Chelsea slip up and storm to the title. The main problem they face is that they are reliant on Chelsea slipping up.

One defeat in January is not enough to unravel a title challenge. Chelsea do still lead their nearest rivals Liverpool by five points.

Image result for tottenham vs chelsea 2017
Chelsea’s defeat to Tottenham ended their 13 match win streak.

Yet the two sides are scheduled to play on January 31st. Losing both of the big games in the first month of the year could unsettle the Blues.

The Europa League could prove a hindering distraction for Tottenham if Pochettino does not decide to essentially ignore it. Neither Chelsea nor Liverpool have European football to distract them.

This is to say nothing of their over-reliance on Kane and their inability to sign a top-quality back-up striker in the summer. Should Kane get injured it is hard to see the team scoring enough goals in his absence.

Ultimately though, Spurs’ chances will be decided not by talent, injuries or luck, but by mental strength. Hazard’s goal sparked a horrendous end to the season for Spurs that culminated in a 5 – 1 thrashing by the already relegated Newcastle.

The mental toughness that rivals Arsenal have lacked in recent years is the final ingredient needed. If they find that resolve then no sane man should bet against them being at the business end of the table come May.

Brion Hoban

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