5 Key Remaining Fixtures in Tottenham Hotspur's Premier League Title Quest

Sam Rooke@@SamRooke89Featured ColumnistJanuary 18, 2016

Tottenham’s Christian Eriksen, centre, celebrates after scoring a goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Tottenham Hotspur and Sunderland at White Hart Lane in London, Saturday Jan. 16, 2016. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland)
Tim Ireland/Associated Press

Tottenham Hotspur are five points from the summit of the Premier League table. 

Inconsistent Manchester City, inexperienced Arsenal and inexplicable Leicester City are the only teams ahead. 

The notion that Spurs could be in the title race was floated earlier in the season but mostly discounted. They, too, are inconsistent and inexperienced.

Now though, well past the halfway point of one of the most unpredictable seasons in Premier League history, Tottenham are still right there. 

If they are to do what seemed impossible at the beginning of the campaignand still appears highly unlikelythere are a number of key fixtures. 

The first vital fixture is less than a month away, when Spurs travel to Manchester City on February 14.

Four days before the first leg of their Europa League round-of-32 tie against Fiorentina and seven days before a potential FA Cup fifth-round fixture, Tottenham will need everything they have against City. 

If Spurs are mauled at the Etihad Stadium, their aspirations of a title could very well be strangled in their infancy. 

A rematch of Tottenham's remarkable 4-1 victory at White Hart Lane in September, this could be a hugely significant date. 

The last time Spurs mounted something of a nascent title challenge, in 2012, it was this fixture that brought them crashing back down to earth. 

On that occasion, when a win would have taken them within two points of the top, Gareth Bale's pass slipped agonisingly past Jermain Defoe's outstretched leg before Mario Balotelli's winning penalty. 

City won the title and Spurs missed out on Champions League football. 

Matt Dunham/Associated Press

This time around, the stakes are equally high.

If Mauricio Pochettino can guide his team around that obstacle, another challenge looms when Arsenal visit White Hart Lane on the weekend of March 5/6. 

Just days after a tricky at West Ham United, Spurs must lift for another of their potentially season-defining fixtures. 

Tottenham have a less than stellar record in recent north London derbies. While they've often played at least as well as their bitter rivals, they've only won one of the last seven meetings in all competitions. 

The league clash between these two sides earlier in the season, although it finished 1-1, was the one of Tottenham's finest performances of this campaign. 

Playing one of the division's leading teams off the pitch at their own ground, it was also the first time that a potential title challenge became a realistic topic of discussion for Spurs fans. 

With Arsenal currently heading the league table, this clash will carry the weight of being a genuine "six-pointer." Defeat for either side could signal the death of their title dreams.  

If Pochettino's team can avoid the bite of injuries and fatigue and remain in sight of the top of the table until April, that will be the defining month for their campaign. 

Potential semi-finals in the Europa League and FA Cup would complicate matters further, but even without those additional considerations, April is where the league title will be won or lost. 

Spurs have five league fixtures scheduled for April. 

Among them are a tricky trip to the Potteries to face Mark Hughes' unpredictable Stoke City and the visit of Tony Pulis' occasionally fire-breathing West Bromwich Albion. 

Beyond those tests stand three opponents, much diminished from their former strength but still carrying something of their old swagger.  

Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea have each won European Cups in the last 11 years, but none are anything like so strong in 2016. 

Tottenham are better and should beat each one, but these fixtures will be as much a test of the mental fortitude of Pochettino's young team as of their quality on the pitch. 

Matt Dunham/Associated Press

First up is a trip to Anfield over the weekend of April 2/3. 

Spurs' visit to Liverpool comes after the final international break of the season and begins the sprint to the finish. From this point on, every fixture takes on enhanced meaning as the impact on the table could very well be final. 

Liverpool are still finding their feet under new manager Jurgen Klopp, but they pose a very real threat to Tottenham. 

Playing in a comparable style, utilising an ultra-aggressive press and rapid transitions, Klopp's Reds will be tough to beat. 

Liverpool are currently eight points behind Spurs in a season where such a gulf is significant. With that in mind, they are unlikely to push for a top-four place this season, but they can certainly play the role of spoiler. 

Injury-related variables make it difficult to foresee just how dangerous the Reds will be. They may be mentally preparing for next season and have little stomach for a battle with a desperate Tottenham side. 

Regardless of the context, Anfield is never an easy place to go. 

A week after travelling to Liverpool, Tottenham welcome Manchester United to White Hart Lane. 

Spurs have a historically dreadful record against United, but they have balanced the ledger somewhat in recent years. 

Since the 3-2 victory at Old Trafford in 2012, both sides have won twice each and there have been three draws. 

The momentum of history is no longer with United, but they are the only real rival to Tottenham's top four place. 

Louis van Gaal has been seemingly on the verge of being removed from his position for most of this season, but the reality is that his team are just two points behind Spurs. 

Should that gap remain until mid-April, a victory for United at White Hart Lane would see them inch ahead. 

United remain in the Europa League and FA Cup alongside Spurs, so both sides will face hectic calendars ahead of this fixture, but this will be the biggest match of either club's season so far. 

Tottenham finish the month of April with their biggest test. 

Much has been made of Pochettino's progress in his attempts to build a new culture at Spurs. 

The Guardian named this vintage as "the least Spursy" in recent memory. In short, "Spursiness" is losing the winnable games and wilting under pressure. Ending Tottenham's 25-year losing streak at Stamford Bridge would exorcise this demon.

Mousa Dembele, Hugo Lloris, Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld are the only members of Tottenham's strongest lineup that were alive last time when their team beat Chelsea away from home. 

Lloris, the eldest statesman, was three years old. 

In the intervening quarter of a century, Chelsea have been good, bad and middling, but they have always had Spurs' number. 

Matt Dunham/Associated Press

When Tottenham travel across London to face Chelsea this season, they do it knowing that the outcome of this most promising of seasons depends on them getting the right result. 

This is the biggest fixture remaining in Spurs' season because it will be a huge step towards a title and an opportunity to put their new resilience up in lights.  

The two fixtures remaining after the trip to Stamford Bridge will be meaningless if Tottenham fail to win mostif not allof the five key matches outlined here. 

Victories at Anfield, Stamford Bridge and the Etihad as well as home wins over Manchester United and Arsenal are a tall order, but they are fundamental to Spurs' hopes of breaking their 55-year title drought.


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