As the new year approached, fans of the English Premier League would be forgiven for taking a moment to draw breath and rightly so. What had transpired the previous four months was roller coaster of emotional highs and lows in what has turned out to be the most topsy turvy start to a Premier League season in history. In years gone by, the Christmas break was the point in the calendar when the league began to settle down and the divide between the top five (Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal) and the rest was starting to take shape. However this season was different with the gap between the supposed rich clubs in the league and the others narrowing to a point where the division was no longer recognizable.
This has resulted in one of the most open seasons of all time with surprises across the board. Last years winner Chelsea find themselves in the lower half of the table and now Mourinho-less, sacking the Special one after an unprecedented poor start. Liverpool also ditched their manager Brendan Rodgers as they stuttered at the beginning replacing him with German supremo Jurgen Klopp but even he has struggled to ignite the fires at Anfield. Crystal Palace find themselves in 7th place just behind West Ham after both teams went on good runs whilst the story of the season so far is Leicester, many peoples favourites to go down who are very much in the title race. Results have shown that no one is unbeatable with several shock results (Bournemouth’s 2-1 win over Man Utd, Southampton’s 4-0 hammering of Arsenal and Stoke’s 2-0 win over Manchester City good examples) leaving the race for the title wide open.
Former champions Arsenal are now considered widely as the strong favourites given recent performances but a glance at form books suggests that they may not be the only north London club in the hunt come May. Arch rivals Tottenham have started the season very much as underdogs and are relishing that tag under boss Mauricio Pochettini. Currently sitting fourth in the table six points behind leaders Arsenal, Tottenham have been one of the leagues most consistent performers to date and if they can maintain their form in the second half of the season could be challenging not only for a Champions League place but potentially for the title itself. It would be a remarkable turnaround for a club that has always competed against the big five but has only been able to on a few occasions threaten their dominance. Not since the 1960’s when Tottenham won their last title under the management of the legendary Bill Nicholson has Spurs possessed a squad that many see as title challengers. But this season that may change with many tipping Tottenham to be the dark horse in the most exciting and unpredictable Premier League race of all time.
Most of the plaudits have rightly gone to manager Mauricio Pochettino. In the two years he has been in charge, Tottenham have made huge strides towards building a side not only capable of challenging this season but for the next few years (if he can hold on to the nucleus of his team). Pochettino has shown that his achievements at Southampton were not a one off and has continued that work at Tottenham. His philosophy has stayed the same – promoting youth talent alongside a mix of experienced and talented internationals. Throughout his side, Pochettino has drafted in battlers – players who will run that extra yard to get on the end of a loose ball or track back when possession is lost. But unlike before these players are are not only work horses but talented footballers into the mix who operate well in the fluid system he has created. Like most good teams, Tottenham have a robust spine that provides the focal point to all of his line ups – Lloris in goal, Belgian duo Vertonghen and Alderweireld at centre back, Eric Dier as holding midfielder behind Deli Ali and Eriksen with Harry Kane up front. All seven players have played in at least 90% of the 20 games so far in the league and have made huge contributions along the way. At the back, Tottenham have been solid leading the table in least goals conceded (16). Upfront Kane has helped his side to fourth in the scoring charts with 11 of the 34 goals scored by the team by him alone. But its the midfield that has played a pivotal role in Tottenham’s success chipping in 15 goals in 20 games so far. The emergence of Deli Ali and the revival of Erik Lamela in particular stand out as two pieces of excellent work by Argentine manager Pochettino. Ali has been a revelation so much so that the player who less than a year ago was turning out for Milton Keynes Dons in League One is now a permanent fixture in the Spurs side and is pushing for a place in Roy Hodgson’s England squad for this summers European Championships.
Based on current form Tottenham have a chance of really upsetting the apple cart but before the White Hart lane faithful can get excited there is a warning attached. Spurs major downfall this year has been their inability to hold onto a lead with five times this season drawing games letting in goals that have turned three points into one. If they had managed to hold onto these games and seen them out to the end, Tottenham could have been top of the table by some way going into the Christmas period. The other concerns is the risk of injuries to those key players identified earlier but most noticeably Lloris and Kane. Without reliable replacements in the squad, Tottenham could suffer if either of those two found themselves on the sidelines for a lengthy period. Reinforcing in the January window could solve that problem with support for Kane arguably the more important one for the Spurs manager to focus on. If they can add to this already impressive squad and improve on the games where they are faltering, it could be a fantasy end to the season for Spurs as they lift the Premier League trophy for the first time in over 55 years.