How far can Tottenham Hotspur go this season? Spurs are undefeated in the Premier League since the opening day of the season and, as a result, have risen to fifth in the table and lie just four points off the top.
Some are quietly suggesting a title challenge may be on the cards. Lofty ambitions such as these may have come a little too early for Mauricio Pochettino’s young side but a top four finish is certainly within their grasp this year.
Here we take a look at some of the factors that have been pivotal in Tottenham’s new found consistency.
1. Embracing the Pochettino philosophy
The Argentine had built a reputation at previous club Southampton for adopting a high-intensity pressing game in the style of Pep Guardiola’s legendary Barcelona side. Now Southampton or Spurs are clearly not at the level of the Camp Nou, legends but Pochettino’s message is certainly getting across as has been proven in Tottenham’s steady rise up the table.
Pochettino has proved at both St Mary’s and now at White Hart Lane that he is a great advocate of youth. The Argentine is evidently more comfortable working with young, hungry players rather than expensive stars who may not buy into Pochettino’s maximum effort style so wholeheartedly as younger players who are eager to impress.
The squad seems to be pulling in the same direction with every player chasing down balls and harassing opponents when not in possession. Pochettino deserves huge credit for creating a spirit that has every player working hard together as a team.
2. Harry Kane proving his pedigree
The big question surrounding Kane pre-season was whether he could cope with the regular diagnosis of second season syndrome. After delivering 31 goals in an astonishing breakthrough 2014-2015 season, it was perhaps only natural many harboured doubts as to whether the England striker could replicate that level of form.
Those doubts looked justified as Kane scored only once in his first eight league games. A visit to the south coast in late October saw a revival in the goalscoring stakes for Kane however as he scored a hat-trick in a 5-1 win over Bournemouth. Since then Kane hasn’t looked back and is now scoring with the same regularity as he was last year.
To be fair to Kane, even when the goals weren’t flying in, he was still in excellent form and proving to be the focal point of the team. When you add goals to the other attributes he possesses, you have a player in whom hopefully Spurs and England can build a team around for years to come.
3. Centre back issues resolved
The stereotype that has stuck to Spurs like superglue over the years has been the one that they can be a little flaky. It is true to say that Tottenham teams of the past haven’t done themselves any favours when trying to shed that reputation as their defensive frailties have been laid bare for all to see.
This season has seen a new solidity in the backline at White Hart Lane though following the arrival of Toby Aldeweireld to play alongside Jan Vertonghen at centre-back. Vertonghen’s talent has never been in question but he has been prone to lapses in concentration in seasons past. The arrival of his compatriot Aldewiereld, however, has seen the Spurs backline look more resolute than it has for many a year. The pair played together at Ajax for two seasons and are also team-mates at international level with Belgium and their familiarity is shining through.
It is still early days of course and where Tottenham are concerned you can never be too sure when that unwanted unreliability will re-emerge once more. For now though at least, Spurs look to have one of the best defensive units in the league. Only Manchester United (with nine) have conceded less than Tottenham’s total of eleven.
4. Deadwood shipped out
The sneaking suspicion that Spurs may have wasted most of the £85 million they received for Gareth Bale in 2013 has not been lost on anyone. With the exception of Cristian Eriksen, Nacir Chadli and arguably Erik Lamela, the big money purchases of that summer all proved to be a disaster on an epic scale.
Pochettino has seemingly identified the players he wanted to stay and the ones he wanted to go whilst navigating his way through his first season in North London. Roberto Soldado, Paulinho, Benjamin Stambouli, Younes Kaboul, Etienne Capoue, Vlad Chiriches and Aaron Lennon were all shown the exit door in the summer.
With the exception of Lennon, these players never settled at the Lane and their exits have allowed for further opportunities for the younger players, such as the excellent 19-year-old Dele Alii. When you add Alii to other youngsters such as Kane, Christian Eriksen, Erik Lamela and Ryan Mason, this seems to be a settled squad that may form the base of a successful side for years to come.
5. Players stepping up in form
There would have been plenty of White Hart Lane regulars hoping for Erik Lamela to be added to that list of personnel to depart N17 in the summer. Lamela had an injury-plagued first season followed by a more positive yet ultimately inconsistent second year. To the surprise of many the 23-year-old Argentine has fully embraced the hard running and commitment his manager requires. Lamela is now chasing down every ball whilst adding more goals and assists and has seemingly cemented himself as a regular starter.
Another previously infuriating talent has been Moussa Dembele. There has never been any doubt over Dembele’s technical ability – it was just a case of the Belgian actually doing something productive with the obvious skill he possesses. A player who can glide past a player with ease but seemingly with little idea of what to do afterwards is gradually changing perceptions. The Belgian midfielder is producing more decisive forward runs and has also added goals to his game.
Danny Rose and Kyle Walker have also improved their performances to form part of the newly resolute defence. Walker has always been a fine full-back in an attacking sense but has been all too regularly prone to a lack of concentration when it comes to fulfilling his defensive duties. The England right-back has responded to the challenge to his starting spot thrown up by new signing Kieran Trippier though and has look far more composed so far this season.