Tottenham Hotspur to Win the Premiership Title? Not so Fast
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Tottenham Hotspur are a hot news item as of this writing. This, though, has nothing to do with January transfer.
Instead, it's all about their winning the Premiership title this season.
This idea comes in the wake of Spurs' victory over Everton in midweek, a victory that took them level on points with Manchester United at 45 points after 20 games and leaves them only three points adrift of Manchester City, the current league leader.
Many have since concluded that this is the season in which Tottenham finish above their North London rival, Arsenal.
Naturally, this is not sitting well either with Arsenal fans or players, with both Jack Wilshere and Wojciech Szczęsny confident of their team's chances of finishing above Spurs to maintain a 16-year-long tradition.
At the moment, though, Arsenal are nine points adrift of their rival, but the comparison between the two clubs continues.
While on the one hand this could be a thing of pride to Spurs fans, who must relish their current superior position and their entitled due to gloat over their North London neighbors, on the other, the comparison says a lot about Spurs' psychology.
Luka Modric, like his team, Spurs, powers past David Luiz of London rival, Chelsea.
When, for example, Szczęsny says "getting above Tottenham is the main target; we don't want to finish below them no matter what," Spurs' current psychological advantage cannot be missed. It shows that the measuring standard has reversed, even if momentarily.
But the psychology works the other way around. Even Spurs players cannot but cite Arsenal as a reference point when talking about their ostensible superiority. Here's the opening sentence of a piece published by the Daily Mail in November.
Tottenham's horizons are shifting quickly. After beating Arsenal last month, Rafael van der Vaart spoke of overtaking them.
These are Van der Vaart's words. In them, he measures Spurs' success against Arsenal:
We are better than Arsenal. In our last seven games we have won six and drawn once. It's a long season, but I think we have a bigger and better squad.
In early November of last year, Spurs' captain, Ledley King, thought his club is the best in London this season. Like Van der Vaart, he based his conclusion on his team's form—vis-à-vis that of its London rivals—and on the depth of its present squad.
The side is so strong and the squad is strong. In the 11 that played at Fulham, there's not much weakness. We've got a good blend.
We've got Scott Parker who's been fantastic since he's come to the club, then you've got Luka Modric. We've got pace and width, then you've got the two front men. We have got a great mix and balance, good pace at the back.
Still on Spurs' squad, Van der Vaart declares in a recent interview:
I knew we had a great squad when I arrived but there were maybe a few parts missing. Now we have another fantastic striker and signing Scott Parker was really important for us. I think maybe they were the two missing links. Now you can see we are a fantastic team. Everybody can score, everybody can play. It's a nice mix.
Few will dispute the fact that Spurs have a squad strong and deep enough to challenge for the title. A cursory survey reveals Adebayor, Van der Vaart, Aaron Lennon, Gareth Bale, Luka Modric, Scott Parker, Younès Kaboul and Ledley King as the team's core. A strong core surely.
In terms of depth, one finds such experienced and talented players as Steven Pienaar and Giovani dos Santos unable to get games.
The Independent calls the squad a "well-balanced and coherent team."
The "squad" argument is essential as it seeks to allay any doubts regarding Spurs' ability to maintain her current standing in the coming months. Manchester City's form and squad depth, to draw a comparison, is such that their winning the title this season is taken for granted by most.
Only their recent losses and the absence of the Toure brothers, who are away on international duty for the Ivory Coast at the Africa Cup of Nations, has admitted any doubt regarding City's ability to win the title this year.
Furthermore, Manchester United's ability to rouse themselves and somehow power past City for the title admits few questions, if any. Their consistence over the years means they have little to prove as far as this is concerned.
The same is not true of Spurs, hence their need to advertise their squad's strength and depth.
When one assesses the other standard of measurement—form—one sees an impressive run for Spurs, better than either of Chelsea's or Arsenal's, the other top London clubs. Consider the following diagram:
The last column of the diagram outlines Spurs form in the current season, 14 wins, three draws, and three losses. This matches Manchester United stride for stride, except in goals scored, where Manchester United have plus 29 to Spurs' 18.
Manchester City, of course, are the only other team with a better form than Spurs'. They've won 15 matches, drawn 2 and lost 3.
But while Spurs losses came in the early part of the season, barring the one against Stoke City—a match they could have drawn had refereeing decisions not gone against them—City's losses have occurred recently, which is what leads Van der Vaart to conclude that Spurs may yet overtake City.
City are not so consistent any more [having one win from their past five matches]. They have lost a few games recently and maybe that's a little bit in their heads so we can take advantage. City have many good players, many individual players who can score goals and decide a game. But we are more like a team I think. So it's going to be an interesting game.
However, while a study of Spurs squad and form reveals a promising prospect for them, one caveat may yet derail them—their away fixtures.
While they're likely to have it easy at home, and one may bet that on current form, they're likely to win all their home matches, the away fixtures give cause for pause.
Here's the list:
22 Sun Away Man City
06 Mon Away Liverpool
11 Sat Home Newcastle Utd
26 Sun Away Arsenal
03 Sat Home Man Utd
10 Sat Away Everton
24 Sat Away Chelsea
l should first rephrase my comment about Spurs' home fixtures.
The two matches involving Newcastle and Manchester United are likely to prove troublesome. Draws in both should be considered good results. If, however, Spurs win these, their dream of winning this year's title would receive a massive boost.
As can be seen from the list above, the away matches will test Spurs' mettle.
Spurs must win away to the likes of Manchester United to win this season's title.
Can they win away to big teams?
If they can, then there's little doubt that they could be this season's champions.
If they falter, they could see their promising position shift, and depending on the form of their London rivals, they could find themselves fighting merely to finish among the top-four instead of for the title.
Which of these scenarios will be the reality come May will be revealed in the next 18 matches.
For now, Spurs fans should dream and gloat away. They've earned it.
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