Manchester City and Liverpool’s meeting eight days ago was a cacophony of English football; blood and thunder, and thud and blunder, concocted by managers hailing from small-town Spain and rural Germany, respectively. It was a match of fine margins, of calamity, and of intermittent artistry, but the overriding takeaway from many pundits was clear-cut: Manchester City’s 2-1 win rewired a title race between Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp.
With 51 points left to play for, Tottenham are only six points adrift of league-leading Liverpool. In the Champions League, they overturned a dire return of one point from their opening three group-stage games to qualify for the knockout phase. On the domestic scene, they have eased wins past Chelsea and Manchester United, pulverized gifted collectives like Everton and Bournemouth, and are 90 minutes away from a League Cup final.
Still, there remains a tendency to write off Mauricio Pochettino’s team in the Premier League title hunt.
“It doesn’t bother me too much because I prefer us being under the radar anyway,” Chris Miller, one of the most renowned club-specific bloggers and podcasters on the Premier League circuit, told theScore.
It has been a peculiar season for Tottenham supporters. The novelty of playing in England’s hallowed backyard has long gone. Spurs are tip-toeing around their boisterous landlord, looking on as NFL events and Anthony Joshua bouts stain and scuff the Wembley carpet. The Spice Girls reunion and other concerts are mercifully staged when the season’s ended, but the repeated delays to the opening of the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium – as it has been imaginatively named before an inevitable sponsorship deal – have caused unrest. There is little homeliness in the echoey, shiny guts of Wembley Stadium, and the club will continue to play there until the end of February at least.
Tottenham’s achievements this season are even more impressive when considering the supporters’ irritation. Attendances have dipped in the club’s temporary abode, but Spurs are still competing for four pieces of silverware.
The stadium move has also necessitated a tightening of the purse strings in north London. Ahead of this term, Tottenham became the first team in Premier League history to make no summer signings. However, Miller admits Spurs may have to stretch their resources to ensure their overlooked push for honors doesn’t falter.
“I feel slightly pessimistic about our central midfield when compared with other teams,” he said, noting the wealth of options Manchester City boast in the same area, and tagging Lyon’s Tanguy Ndombele and Lazio’s Sergej Milinkovic-Savic as ideal acquisitions. He also identifies full-back as an area of concern; right-back appears well-equipped despite Kieran Trippier’s downturn in form, but the left-back slot is currently occupied by Ben Davies, who is not particularly strong going forward, and an injury-ravaged Danny Rose.
“The problem is that Pochettino doesn’t tend to buy players in January and put them immediately into the team,” Miller explained. “Lucas Moura came in January and didn’t really play until this season, and I would suspect that if we were to sign someone in January then he might do the same again and not really play them.”
So, even if Tottenham do spend this month, it won’t necessarily trigger a significant change to the playing personnel. Spurs are likely to look very similar in mid-May, and Miller questions whether this will be enough to finish above their rivals from the northwest.
“We’ve done really, really well to do what we have so far this season, but it’s probably quite unsustainable if you look at the numbers behind what we’re doing. We’re not actually doing as well as last season or the season before,” Miller said.
“It feels a bit like we’re squeezing the absolute maximum out of our squad at the moment, with all the injuries we’ve got as well it feels like we’re just about clinging onto a run of form at the moment.”
But Spurs are in the title mix, and the underlying statistics Miller alludes to suggest they can improve their performances. Among the simplest numbers that demonstrate Tottenham’s slight slump compared to last season are that their shots per game have dropped from 16.4 to 12.6 and that their opponents have been allowed an extra three shots per match. While their ability to carve out chances and ward off attacks is not what it was during the 2017-18 campaign, they remain in third place and sit eight points better than at the same point last term.
The last time Spurs made a convincing push for England’s summit, they cowered under the spotlight during an ill-tempered draw at Chelsea that handed Leicester City the 2015-16 title. Right now, while most journalists are trying to peg this season as a two-horse race, Tottenham are spared from extreme external pressure and should lean on their previous experience if they begin to close the gap and draw attention.
With a bit of fine-tuning, Tottenham can mount a serious title pursuit.
“We know we can do better,” Miller said.