A 5-Point Plan to Secure Premier League Glory for Tottenham Hotspur
Tottenham Hotspur are in the title race but remain far from being favourites.
If they are to lift the trophy at St. James' Park on the final day of the season, they will certainly need luck to break their way.
A young team, few of whom have won any trophies as professionals, they are learning as they go and drastically outperforming expectations.
In mid-September, they had collected three points from four games and comparisons to the disastrous 2008 season were beginning to be drawn.
Now they find themselves two wins from the top of the table and ahead of every team that any apparently informed pundit would have tipped for Premier League glory.
With 13 games to go, an improbable league title could very well be Tottenham's.
Now it's time to examine what Spurs need to do make it happen.
Beat Manchester City
Tottenham's first big test looms on Sunday when they travel to the Etihad Stadium to face Manchester City.
Mauricio Pochettino's side thrashed City in their first meeting this season, but there was little expectation on Spurs then. Now, things have changed.
Spurs have the chance to go four points clear of City and set themselves up as one of the genuine title favourites.
Winning this match would be a huge statement for Spurs and attract attention that has so far bypassed their surprising league campaign.
The injury crisis that has afflicted City (Jesus Navas, Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva will all miss this match) means that the visitors have arguably a stronger lineup on paper.
It is a fixture that looms large in the potential narratives of both clubs' seasons.
City were hammered by Leicester in their last match and a second consecutive defeat to a title rival could send them into a tailspin. Beating Spurs would be a step back in the right direction.
With this in mind, Tottenham need to beat City to keep them down on the proverbial canvas as much as to promote their own title ambitions.
Ultimately, this will not be the fixture to win Spurs the league, but it could be where they lose it.
The margins are already so fine that surrendering their advantage on the league table could prove fatal.
Tottenham need to win this game.
Keep Harry Kane Fit
Harry Kane was identified as Tottenham's most important outfield player virtually from the opening day of the season.
Spurs' reluctance to add to their strikeforce in the summer and winter transfer windows only underlined his importance to the team.
Tottenham have scored 66 goals this season. Kane has 18 of them.
Were the 22-year-old to suffer a long-term injury, their title hopes would likely be scuttled.
Mauricio Pochettino has insisted throughout the season that Heung-Min Son and Nacer Chadli would be adequate back-up for Kane. He would be forced to test that theory in some of the biggest games in Spurs' recent history.
Of course, injury is unpredictable and only so much can be done to mitigate it.
Pochettino must begin withdrawing Kane if and when games are won in order to protect him and conserve his energy.
He must also consider using Son or Chadli in the central role in the FA Cup and Europa League to minimise Kane's responsibilities as much as possible.
Without Kane, Spurs would have little hope of overhauling Leicester City's six-point advantage and holding off the chasing pack.
Rotate Heavily in Europa League and FA Cup
Tottenham have a deep squad, replete with quality options in midfield and attack. Nabil Bentaleb, Nacer Chadli, Tom Carroll and Josh Onomah are all outside Spurs' first team.
Mauricio Pochettino must make full use of those fringe players to ensure that the stars are fit in the next crucial weeks.
He has been happy to switch his full-backs between matches, ensuring that all four make regular appearances and retain match-sharpness. He must take the same tactic with his midfield and attack.
Fiorentina, Spurs' opponent in the Europa League, are a tactically interesting but limited team and Pochettino can afford to leave some of his first-choice players out of the lineup when he takes his side to Florence.
Similarly, when Tottenham face Crystal Palace in the FA Cup fifth round, Pochettino can turn to his reserve players.
Dele Alli has made 30 appearances this season, while Eric Dier and Harry Kane have both played 32 times—more than any other member of the squad. They are the three players most threatened by physical burnout.
For Alli and Dier, this is their first season as indispensable first-teamers, and they are not used to the demands of consistently challenging fixtures.
Kane is similarly young though more experienced than his England team-mates, and he plays a demanding role and is constantly involved in the play.
Toby Alderweireld is also vitally important but, with the injury to Jan Vertonghen and the departure of Federico Fazio on loan, Pochettino has no option but to lean on the Belgian in all competitions.
Sharpen Up on the Counter
Tottenham have won four consecutive games and seven of their last nine. Their only defeat came at home to Leicester City, a team that notoriously defend deep and break efficiently.
For now, there seems to be little wrong with how Spurs are going about their league campaign.
However, they have developed an unhappy trait of failing to kill off games when they have the opportunity.
Against Crystal Palace, there were numerous opportunities to seal the three points, but it was not until Nacer Chadli's 90th-minute goal that the game was finally put away.
The same pattern followed in the 3-0 win over Norwich City when it was Harry Kane who belatedly ensured Spurs' victory.
As a result of their aggressive defensive pressing, Tottenham often win back possession in dangerous areas and create scoring chances.
Once they take the lead, the opposition is forced to take greater risks, and Spurs become more effective at winning back the ball.
Unfortunately, they've been wasteful with those chances in recent weeks. Mauricio Pochettino's side have, according to WhoScored, scored just one counter-attacking goal this season.
Tottenham need to be more effective in those situations to ensure that games are closed down before the opposition gathers momentum.
This would have the added bonus of allowing Pochettino to take his starters off sooner and save their energy.
Spurs have the personnel to be deadly on the counter, and a small improvement in that area would go a long way towards making them league champions.
Win More Points Than Everyone Else
The league title will, of course, be decided by which of Tottenham, Leicester City, Manchester City and Arsenal win the most points from the next 13 games.
Much has been made of the fact that Leicester have far fewer fixtures remaining than their three title rivals. Having been knocked out of the FA Cup and not being involved in European competition, the Foxes only have 13 games remaining. Of those, just five are against top-half teams.
Six of Arsenal's remaining 13 Premier League fixtures are against top-half sides.
Spurs have just five but must also travel to Stamford Bridge to face Chelsea. They haven't won that fixture since 1990.
Additionally, Arsenal's European adventure is likely to end when they face Barcelona in the Champions League round of 16, while Spurs have a far more winnable Europa League tie against Fiorentina.
Manchester City also have six top-half teams on their league schedule and a straightforward European opponent in Dynamo Kiev.
If Tottenham are to win the Premier League this season, they will have to overcome the notable handicap that is their schedule.
They are up against it with the disadvantages of a busy schedule and difficult opponents.
Trailing Leicester by five points, their destiny is not in their own hands, and they are in the unfamiliar situation of potentially cheering for an Arsenal victory when the two sides meet next Sunday.
The good news is that in a season of remarkable parity, there are no guarantees that lower-ranked teams will be any easier to beat.
Spurs have been more consistent than any of their rivals and, with 13 games to go, seem well-placed to make a real run at a first league title since 1961.