A week is a long time in football. Things change all the while and for this reason it is never wise to take things for granted. But as of right now Tottenham Hotspur are leading the chase to catch runaway Premier League pace-setters Chelsea. This has a familiar ring to it given that, by the end, Tottenham were the only team with even a remote chance of catching fairytale makers Leicester City last season.
The comparisons will no doubt be drawn, albeit a little unfair. At the end of Game Week 21 last season, Tottenham were only fourth on 36 points. Above them were Manchester City on 39 points, Leicester City on 40 points and Arsenal top of the pile on 42 points. All had played 20 games. We know how the 2015/16 season panned out. Arsenal and City fell away; Leicester built a lead that only Tottenham could bridge, but they fell away at the very end.
This season, unlike last, the runaway leaders are rather more familiar. Chelsea have a new manager but still have the core of a very good side and ample financial resources to strengthen. Adding David Luiz, Michy Batshuayi, Marcos Alonso and N’Golo Kanté for close to £113m proves this. They also have no European Football to distract them so their current seven-point lead in the Premier League cannot come as too much of a surprise.
Tottenham recently brought Chelsea’s Premier League winning streak to an end and have embarked on one of their own, winning six consecutive league games. They have a big test upcoming against Manchester City at the Etihad on Saturday. City will no doubt be licking their wounds from a hammering at the hands of Everton at the weekend. Nevertheless, the North London club find themselves leading the chasing pack once again. For now in any case.
Game 21 for Tottenham in 2015/16 was a critical Premier League defeat at home to eventual champions Leicester City. But Spurs are now six points and four places better off than at the same point last season. Moreover, they seem to be learning from the mistakes of the previous season. West Bromwich Albion, long seen as a ‘bogey’ team for Spurs were summarily dispatched with ease on Saturday by four goals to nil. Had it not been for Baggies goalkeeper Ben Foster it could easily have been seven or eight. There was no way that this team were going to allow Tony Pulis’ side to prove a hindrance again.
To measure Tottenham’s achievement this season, it should be viewed in context. That is against a slow start (once again) and a high number of drawn games. More significant, however, has been the number of injuries to key personnel that they have had to face this season. Prolonged absences for Toby Alderweireld and Harry Kane have been a massive test of squad depth. Add to that injuries to Hugo Lloris, Danny Rose, Erik Lamela and Moussa Dembele then at some point or other Spurs have been without arguably one or more of their best players at any given moment. Jan Vertonghen seems to be the latest player facing some time out after he seemed to aggravate his ankle at the weekend.
But there are seventeen games left of the season and no doubt many twist and turns to come along the way; especially as the current top six in the Premier League appear to be as strong a collective of teams as there has been for many seasons. For now though, it is Spurs that are leading the chasing pack. The question will be if the progress they have shown so far can be maintained; and with the Europa League due to start again in February this will be a big test for them.
Either way, it seems that Mauricio Pochettino is managing to get the best from his squad both physically and mentally. And after the events of last season it will be improvement in this latter area that will be key for his side.