It was against West Bromwich Albion late last season that Tottenham Hotspur’s ambitions to win a first top-flight title in 55 years first began to falter. Win and they would have put immense pressure on Leicester City - who six days later were going to Old Trafford to face Manchester United. They drew.
That meant Leicester’s draw with United – combined with Spurs’ meltdown the following Monday night against Chelsea – was enough to hand a first-ever Premier League title to the Foxes. Spurs ended the season in disgrace; their draws with West Brom and Chelsea were followed up with defeats by Southampton and Newcastle – the latter a 5-1 hammering against an already-relegated team.
Spurs ended up third – quite a feat in what had long been a two-horse race – with Arsenal snatching the runner-up spot behind Leicester. Those last four games undermined what had been a sensational league campaign from Mauricio Pochettino’s squad. Until that point they would have proven to be worthy – if relatively unloved – champions.
Leicester were long marked out as the story of the season with Spurs – despite their own outsider credentials – cast in the role of big, bad party poopers. There were not many neutrals willing them to win the league ahead of Claudio Ranieri’s men with the Leicester story captivating fans all over the world. Spurs were a good team but no fairy tale. Most of their work – while admirable – was done in the background as Ranieri led his team to a logic-defying victory.
That night against West Brom at White Hart Lane it all began to fall apart for Spurs; their consistency and ability to that point forgotten. Not only did Craig Dawson’s goals at either end clear the path for a Leicester title win but they also hastened what many expected – a very “Spursy” end to the season.
Tottenham have long been regarded as a pretty team but at key moments in years gone by have lacked the fortitude to do anything meaningful. They were expected to crumble and alas they crumbled, time and again. Pochettino has one such Spurs meltdown already on his CV but is proving to have the capabilities to eradicate those traditional failings.
Spurs are back for another tilt at the title. Leicester are not. The Lilywhites were quietly motoring along under the radar at the start of this season – their best opening sequence in over 50 years – until suddenly coming to prominence with the 2-0 win over Manchester City – the seemingly unanimous tip for the title.
Pep Guardiola had overseen a run of 10 successive wins to start his Etihad career with a bang. Then there was a minor blip in the form of a 3-3 draw with Celtic in the Champions League before Premier League momentum came to a grinding halt at White Hart Lane.
Spurs’ performance that day has been widely analysed with the intensity in their play and Pochettino’s ability to outsmart Guardiola being key factors in their win. It led to title challenges being re-assessed with Spurs in many eyes now the equal of their moneyed counterparts from the north.
Their start to the season admittedly included rather gentle assignments against Stoke City, Southampton, Crystal Palace and Middlesbrough but there has been a gradual and undeniable seriousness about Spurs in recent weeks. There is a rhythm in their play on the ball; a zeal to win it back when out of possession and many routes to goal through in-form attackers like Erik Lamela and Son Heung-min.
They are in possession of some of the best performers in the league in their respective positions, not least the towering central defender Toby Alderweireld. Moreover, they have been doing it lately with half a team. Last season’s top scorer Harry Kane is laid up with injury while other stars like Eric Dier, Danny Rose and Mousa Dembele have also been sidelined. There is more depth this season though with stand-ins like Victor Wanyama and Vincent Janssen performing well.
A quick analysis of league form over the past year confirms Spurs’ credentials. Taking the last 12 months as a season, Spurs are top after 37 games with one theoretically to play. They are second only to Liverpool on goals scored and have conceded the fewest. They have covered the most ground – collectively – and have restricted their opponents to the fewest shots on target. Meanwhile, they themselves have hit the most.
There is no question that Spurs are the best team in the league even if they don’t have the trophy to show for it. More and more people are beginning to realise that and it won’t be long until their potential as league winners cannot be ignored. All they need to do is to prevent any more slip-ups and to fulfil the undoubted potential they possess. No more draws against West Brom.