Title challengers or just a thorn in Manchester's paw?
The halfway point of the 2011/2012 English Premier League has been reached: It's on to 2012 for the top 20 teams in England.
For those Tottenham fans still in hiding following the two-legged 8-1 slaughter at the hands of the red-and-blue halves of Manchester, I bring good news: The season has come a long, long way.
In the August additions of Scott Parker and Emmanuel Adebayor, Harry Redknapp has found the puzzle pieces so sorely missing during last year's fifth-place tumble and this season's toothless opening displays.
Kyle Walker has returned from loan at Aston Villa to cement his place as an integral member of the starting XI. Younes Kaboul has transformed from a decent center-back with a penchant for headbutting opposing players into Spurs' most consistent defender.
And Luka Modric is refocused and working the midfield like the maestro Chelsea so desperately sought. All this has resulted in a return of 45 points from a possible 54 since the Manchester matches.
Tottenham have not only recovered from their season-opening rollicking; they've emerged as England's best shot at toppling the Manchester juggernauts...and, really, it's a nationwide cause at this point.
Redknapp continues to stress that the Champions League is Tottenham's primary goal (i.e a place in the top four). But throughout the first half of the season, Tottenham has forged such a strong foundation on which to build a genuine title challenge that a place in the top four is the bare minimum.
Hopes have become expectations in North East London.
It's a season of bold ambitions for the Lilywhite section of London, and in that same spirit, I offer five bold predictions for the closing half of what looks to be a truly remarkable Premier League campaign.
I'm not sure what this celebration is, but it seems to be working.
Over the last two seasons, Tottenham's goalscoring form has dipped in the second half: 40 down to 27 in 2009/10 and 29 down to 26 in 2010/11. Last season's poor second half was enough to drop Spurs into the Europa League, the European equivalent of the Carling Cup.
Fatigue, of course, plays a role, but that's what makes this team different: This is a squad with incredible depth at just about every position.
Isn't the entire point of having squad depth to combat fatigue?
Tottenham have developed a cast of role players capable of picking up the slack when one of their stars is misfiring.
Through the first 19 games this season, Tottenham have scored 36 goals and have only failed to find the back of the net once. An increase in goalscoring is certainly a tall order, but this is a Tottenham team that has shown it is more than capable of rising to the challenge.
As a side note, within this prediction, I make another: I expect Adebayor (9), Bale (7), Van der Vaart (7) and Defoe (7) to all score in double figures.
Tottenham have never managed more than two representatives in the PFA Team of the Year; this year they will have five. Here they are:
1. Kyle Walker - He has fixed Tottenham's right-back problem with consistent play both going forward and in defense. And with Micah Richards out of favor with Fabio Capello and Glen Johnson drifting further into anonymity, Walker may very well be England's fix for right-back as well.
2. Younes Kaboul - Kaboul has become an absolute titan in Tottenham's rearguard. He has been partnered with four different center-backs and has shined with each of them. His physicality and athleticism can stifle just about any threat.
3. Benoit Assou-Ekotto - With Gareth Bale being given the freedom of all of England's pitches to work his magic, the bulk of Tottenham's formidable left-sided attack has shifted to Assou-Ekotto's shoulders—and he's flourished.
His pinpoint crosses and excellent ball control make him a threat going forward, and defensively he is as steady as ever.
4. Gareth Bale - This one shouldn't need explaining. Last year's PFA Player of the Year has gotten even better, so much so that Redknapp has developed an entire strategy for him (i.e. if the left side isn't working, there's still the rest of the pitch to try out).
5. Scott Parker - Go back and watch the end of the Tottenham-Manchester City match (just before Dzeko's fourth goal). Listen to the announcers: Not even Scott Parker can save this Tottenham team. And you can actually feel them being wrong. And speaking of Scott Parker...
PFA Player of the Year
Yes, Robin van Persie leads the league in goals. Yes, David Silva is really, really good. Yes, Demba Ba has scored a lot of goals. Yes, Juan Mata has adapted incredibly well to England's rough-and-tumble style. Yes, Luis Suarez plays for Liverpool (and no he's not that good).
But Scott Parker has done something no other player has. He came into a squad bereft of confidence and fortitude. Tottenham's fourth-place finish and Champions League campaign were being written off as flukes, and the club was destined to once again take up the prestigious position of farm team for the Big Four (plus Manchester City).
Now Tottenham sits tied for second with Manchester United and just three behind big-spending City.
The difference between Tottenham in August and Tottenham now: Scott Parker. Adebayor has certainly helped, but Scott Parker has completely changed the complexion of the team.
If playing for a dying West Ham team (so really, just playing for a West Ham team) is enough to earn Scott Parker a place as a PFA Player of the Year finalist, surely resurrecting a supposedly dead Tottenham side is enough to win him the award.
They were pretty close to achieving this during the first half of the season. Aside from the two Manchester losses (which, admittedly, were pretty hefty), Tottenham only lost one game (against Stoke City)—and barring questionable refereeing, they would have at least drawn that.
Now this is certainly a bold prediction in that Tottenham play Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea away from White Hart Lane, but this is no longer a team that just rolls over in the face of a challenge.
Tottenham improves and gains momentum with each passing week; of the top clubs, they came out best during the brutal festive period. This is a team that has the ability and the heart to blow through any obstacles that get in its way.
That, and draws still count as not losses.
If you want bold, there it is.
They don't have the payroll of Chelsea, Liverpool or Manchester City. They don't have the experience or Sir Alex Ferguson of Manchester United. They don't even have a red uniform (fun fact: 15 of the 19 Premier League seasons have been won by a team with a red kit).
What they do have is a team that is greater than the sum of its parts (which is pretty outstanding to begin with). This is a team with balance and precision. This is a team whose starting XI is bursting with quality at every position and whose bench has players capable of picking them up when they falter. This is a team led by the man called 'Arry.
Van der Vaart recently said that Tottenham "are close to something special." "Close" may be as near as May 13th.
Tottenham has the hunger to prove it is more than just an upstart pretender, and it has the talent to satiate it.