We are just over two months into the 2013-14 Premier League season, and Tottenham Hotspur currently sit in fourth place.
It is a position the North London club have become very familiar with in recent times, situated as it is on the cusp of the Champions League places which form such a central part of their aspirations.
Manager Andre Villas-Boas and his team have plenty of work ahead of them to achieve such a high placing this season.
Up next on the schedule is a visit to in-form Everton this Sunday, one of a number of clubs with similar ambitions and a reasonable chance of fulfilling them.
That the fixture has top-four implications—albeit relatively minor ones at this early stage—is, in part, a testament to the job Villas-Boas has done since taking over at White Hart Lane in June 2012.
Coinciding with the club taking up residence at an expansive and expensive new training ground, the Portuguese's appointment has seen Spurs move away from elements of the Harry Redknapp-era in tactics, player recruitment and the way certain things are approached (for example, the greater seriousness with which the Europa League is taken.)
For all of the changes to a more modern football outlook Villas-Boas has instigated, his biggest contribution has been the general achievement of keeping Spurs competitive in the aforementioned upper echelon of the Premier League.
With only one full season under his belt in North London, that might seem a tad premature in the grander scheme of things. Oppositely, you could argue it would have been hard for him not to keep Spurs in rarefied company given the resources at his disposal and the quality players Spurs already possess.
There is some truth to both.
Nobody knows how things will play out exactly in the Premier League's new post-Alex Ferguson landscape.
Last season, Villas-Boas was able to spend decent money on players the calibre of Mousa Dembele and Hugo Lloris to augment existing talent like Gareth Bale.
But you can only play with the cards you're dealt, and in fashioning a chase for Champions League football, that lasted until the final day in 2012-13 when Villas-Boas nearly played a blinder.
Spurs have not qualified for the Champions League since 2010. They would have in 2012 had fifth place Chelsea not semi-usurped them by winning the competition. Remaining in the hunt as they have done over the last four years is it not to be sniffed at, though.
|Premier League season||Tottenham's finishing position (out of 20)||Manager|
|2008-09||8th||Juande Ramos/Harry Redknapp|
|2007-08||11th||Martin Jol/Juande Ramos|
|2004-05||9th||Jacques Santini/Martin Jol|
As noted in the above table, Spurs enjoyed two consecutive fifth place finishes in 2006 and 2007—their best in the Premier League era. Heading into the 2007-08 campaign, they were being tipped by many (this writer included) to push on and break the top-four dominance of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United.
The majority of the squad that had initiated the renaissance under Martin Jol were kept, and the club brought in Charlton Athletic's star striker Darren Bent, as well as highly regarded young prospects such as Bale and Kevin-Prince Boateng.
The upheaval that followed the team's poor start, with Jol being replaced by Juande Ramos, undoubtedly contributed to the disappointing league form.
Things may have proved difficult regardless. Not only were the "big four" dominant again, but teams that had been below Jol's side the previous year—notably Everton and Aston Villa—improved markedly to take advantage of Spurs' drop-off.
Villas-Boas did not face the difficulty of a midseason handover of power, but he was posed challenges nonetheless.
Heading into 2012-13, he was losing the considerable influence of Ledley King, Luka Modric and Rafael van der Vaart. Changes in personnel would have been forthcoming anyway. Still, losing three previously important players meant others would be needed to step up in their absence.
Their eventual, narrow miss on fourth to Arsenal means some might scoff at the manager's perceived success in handling this.
Yet as much as Spurs were often saved by the brilliance of Bale, the work done in incorporating players such as Dembele, Lloris and Jan Vertonghen was good enough to supplement the Welshman's efforts. Furthermore, it has paid off in that those three players now truly form key parts of this year's squad.
Greater success—regular Champions League qualification, cup success, perhaps even challenging for the title—will ultimately, if it is to come to fruition, be part of larger progress, one formed by the footballing principles of Villas-Boas and the means through which the club as a whole wish to make them work.
Simplistic as his biggest contribution may seem (and in many respects, it is all entwined), the foundation will be the manager maintaining Spurs' status as a top-four contender.
In the current climate of the Premier League, where the prestige of the Champions League holds sway over almost all, it is the minimum a club like Tottenham have to do.
Thus far, Villas-Boas has kept Spurs where they need to be. In his own ability and in the performances of his team, there is substantial promise that they will be there again.