Reasons why Tottenham can challenge for the Premier League title
By Peter Smith
Last Updated: 15/01/17 11:18am
Tottenham thrashed West Brom to back up their big win over Chelsea and Mauricio Pochettino says they’re now well placed to fight for the “big things”.
But can they take the leap they didn’t quite manage last season and win the Premier League?
Here, we look at six reasons why Tottenham are serious contenders in the title race…
The Kane & Alli combination
Harry Kane capped what he described as “a whirlwind week” with a hat-trick to celebrate the birth of his first child. He could – indeed, should - have scored more but that treble moves him up to second in the Premier League scoring charts, one behind Chelsea’s unsettled Diego Costa. With 13 goals in his last 13 games, Kane is driving Tottenham’s charge.
His accomplice in attack, Dele Alli, is in fine form, too, and the duo linked up superbly for Kane’s third, with Alli – who has scored seven in his last five Premier League games himself – lobbing the ball over the West Brom defence for his team-mate to volley home.
Their partnership is currently one of the most thrilling in the league – and one Sky Sports pundit Jamie Redknapp says Mauricio Pochettino must continue to encourage. “You can see they are getting so close together now and every time Alli gets the ball Kane is on the move,” he said.
“It’s telepathic. Alli knows what he’s going to do and that little one-two for the goal was a joy to watch. Tottenham fans must love it.”
Is there a finer pair of full-back/wing-backs in the Premier League than Danny Rose and Kyle Walker? The stats would suggest not.
Ahead of this weekend’s games, no duo could match the 133 chances they’d created from open play between them over the past three seasons, while they’ve also played their part in Spurs registering the best defensive record in the Premier League over the last year and a half.
But importantly for Pochettino – and Tottenham’s title ambitions – they’re improving, too. Walker’s cross for Kane’s second took him to five assists for the season, his best haul for an entire Premier League campaign, while Rose is already closing in on his personal record for accurate crosses in a season, with 17 games still to play.
Spurs’ switch to a 3-4-3 formation has further emphasised their attacking threat. While Alli, Christian Eriksen and Kane do damage through central areas, Rose and Walker provide vital width to Tottenham’s attacks. “I think when you have the full-backs that we have they are offensive players,” said Pochettino earlier this season.
Central midfield domination
Thierry Henry, describing why the 3-4-3 system works so well for Tottenham, highlighted the freedom the formation gives the team’s attacking players. The reason they have that licence to “create chaos”, as he called it, is because of the discipline, defensive skill and ball-playing ability of central midfielders Mousa Dembele and Victor Wanyama.
“Dembele and Wanyama are there to protect the ‘what if’ situation if Spurs lose the ball,” said the Sky Sports pundit. “They are there to offer protection in front of the back three and you’re still safe and sound if you ever lose the ball. That liberty [the attacking players] have within the plan and structure means they can open up a team – and they did that against West Brom.”
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Among the Premier League’s top six teams, only Jordan Henderson and N’Golo Kante have made more tackles than destroyer Wanyama, while no player from those sides to have played as many games as Dembele can match his 91.65 per cent pass accuracy. Between them, they make Pochettino’s system work.
Title success is traditionally built on defensive strength and the midfield solidity offered by Dembele and Wanyama at Tottenham is backed up by the meanest backline in the division.
Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld and Eric Dier, who has stepped back from the defensive midfield role he excelled in last season to offer another centre-half option, have frustrated some of the division’s most threatening attacks.
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Behind them, goalkeeper Hugo Lloris has the best save percentage from shots inside the penalty area of any regular No 1 in the Premier League. Indeed, only twice this season have Tottenham conceded more than once in a league game.
Come Saturday evening, only Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne had more assists than Christian Eriksen this season. Only Dimitri Payet had carved out more chances. Every title-chasing team needs a player able to unlock defences, and the Danish creator performs that role superbly for Tottenham.
Eriksen teed up Kane’s opener against West Brom with a neat, close-range reverse pass and would have got on the scoresheet himself had his shot from the edge of the box not been ruled as a Gareth McAuley own goal.
59 chances created (2nd in PL)
8 assists (2nd in PL)
5 goals (9th in PL among midfielders)
The 24-year-old has shown his appetite for delivering on the big stage this term with a screamer at Chelsea and by assisting both goals when the league leaders visited White Hart Lane earlier this month. But it's his consistent impact which is key to Tottenham – he’s made 11 goal contributions (five goals, six assists) in his past 10 matches across all competitions.
“We are showing a good maturity, the team learned a lot from last season,” Tottenham boss Pochettino told Sky Sports after the win over West Brom, and there’s a definite feeling this Spurs side is better prepared for the rigours of a title challenge than the 2015/16 edition which fell away late on in the previous campaign.
'Spurs better than last season'
Jamie Redknapp believes Tottenham's latest win will make their Premier League title rivals worried
Indeed, the draw at home to West Brom in April was a key moment in Tottenham’s downfall last year. But they swept Tony Pulis’ men aside on Saturday and Redknapp is in no doubt about the strides the team have made since that tough-to-take finale to last season. “They’re looking better than last season,” he said.
“Tottenham are in a great position, they’ve got players signed up on long contracts and they are playing better. This result against West Brom will have sent shockwaves through the league today. I’m sure Manchester United and Liverpool will have been watching it thinking, ‘Wow, Tottenham are on the march. They’re flying.’ They’re a really powerful side.”
Much has been made about the youthfulness of Tottenham's squad but with the harsh lessons of last season fresh in their minds, and the rapid improvement of key men, they have emerged as serious contenders for the crown.