Paul Higham lays out why Tottenham need to be taken seriously as Premier League title contenders, and calls for Mauricio Pochettino to get a bit more respect.
The reluctance to take Tottenham seriously in this Premier League title race astounds me, and there’s still not enough credit being thrown Mauricio Pochettino’s way for my liking considering the jobs he’s doing.
Sunday’s win may have been on the fortunate side given how good Leicester were and the chances they spurned, but it was a tough, gritty victory that solidifies their hold on third place – nine points ahead of Manchester United and only five off Manchester City and Liverpool.
City are favourites, Liverpool pegged to run them close, but Spurs aren’t being mentioned in the same breath but, for reasons outlined below, they really should be given more respect as title challengers.
There’s also a special mention for Pochettino, who with all the mitigating circumstances is performing miracles and is arguably doing an even better job than either Pep Guardiola or Jurgen Klopp.
Here’s why they’re bang in this title race...
Chance to close the gap
Liverpool have lost just once all season, City have hit top gear recently and have just thumped Chelsea to go back to the Premier League summit, yet by the time both of the runners in this two horse race take to the field again Spurs could be lurking just two points behind them.
Spurs play at Burnley a week on Saturday, where a win would put them a couple of points behind league leaders City, who will be playing the Carabao Cup final the day after.
That Sunday also sees the small matter of Jurgen Klopp’s side taking a trip to Old Trafford to face a flying Manchester United – where defeat is now a real possibility.
They simply have to be considered contenders with so little needed to get within one win of top spot.
Still to face the big two on the road
Upcoming fixtures against Chelsea and Arsenal will be tough tests, but the way those two sides have played of late there is no reason why Spurs shouldn’t win both derby games.
The crucial fixtures could be the end of March and middle of April trips to Anfield and the Etihad respectively - games that could well decide the title one way or another.
Although they’re the two toughest games you can play in the Premier League, Spurs are top of the away table, they should have Harry Kane back by then and they won't be scared of the opportunity to make inroads - in fact the pressure will be on the hosts for both.
Kane to provide late boost
Kane could return for that game against Burnley in a couple of weeks according to Pochettino’s latest update, but three wins without him ensure that there will be no panic if the wait is extended slightly.
If there is a worry with Spurs, particularly without Kane, it's that they often create chances they can't take. That won't be an issue for the England captain, who typically ends the season in red-hot form and could do so again.
Over the last three seasons he’s scored six goals in the last eight games, ten in eight and eight in nine to end the Premier League campaign – something similar will keep Spurs well in the hunt.
Spurs grinding it out
Spurs don’t do draws, which is remarkable given the situation they’re currently in without their top scorer. This season they’ve lost six games but have won as many as Liverpool and just one fewer than City.
And just look at the recent wins – they got a stoppage time winner at Fulham, two goals in the last ten minutes at Watford and an 83rd-minute winner against Newcastle. If City or Liverpool were winning like that they’d be described as ‘how you win a title’ games.
It’s a great sign for Spurs that they can do it the hard way, as we all know they can carve teams open when on song, and that will be much more likely with Kane back in the side.
A special word for Pochettino
As a paid-up member of the Pochettino fan club there’s no surprise that my final word goes on the manager, but you really can’t give him enough credit for what he’s doing at the club.
Consider the fact that City and Liverpool have spent vast sums of money of late and are on unbelievable runs this season, yet Spurs are just a few points behind having spent precisely zero in the last two transfer windows.
Whether the club could and should be spending money is another matter, but Pochettino has to play the hand he’s dealt and so far he’s really making miracles out of the situation.
All this, of course, is also being played out at Wembley, with the opening of their new stadium dragging on and on. The uncertainty surrounding when and indeed if they'll move can’t be helpful – in fact they’d be better just sticking under the Wembley arch for the rest of the season.
So Pochettino is doing all this, challenging a big-spending duo with zero investment, bringing young players through and keeping his best players happy, all the while playing in a ground which isn't really home - one which you could even say inspires opposition players to up their levels.
They’re certainly in the title race, make no mistake about that, and just being able to say that in February under the circumstances is in itself a modern-day footballing miracle – one that needs to be celebrated.