Nine games in is pretty much a quarter of the season. To many, 25% is arguably the first substantial percentage of them all. 10% is not to be sniffed at but the difference between 10 and 25 per cent off a garment in a department store – is significant.
Apply this to a Premier League campaign and it means it is a large enough sample size for people to start getting excited – and justifiably so.
Let’s get it right then. A quarter of the way through the 2023-24 Premier League season, Tottenham Hotspur are top of the league. Now the cynical out there, and there are a few, will point to similar seasons where the club had good starts and roll their eyes.
Indeed, last season was the best the club has had in the Premier League. But even the most partisan of fans must admit that the football was not good. We were winning games solely through the brilliance of individuals and that formula does not last – just look at Manchester United this season.
Quite rightly, I believe, I laughed incredulously when some people tried to make a comparison between the manager of month successes of Ange and Nuno. Nuno won his after three 1-0 victories. Now I will not take anything away from him for the City win.
But the subsequent performances over Watford and Wolves were turgid and lucky. Conversely, Ange’s draw and two wins, were jammed full with daring, verve and panache. Above all, there is a plan and a clearly defined way of playing.
Roll on to the ninth game and very little has changed. The team has stayed true to their principles and sit on top of the pile. Unlike those previous campaigns, you cannot point to any lucky points acquired. Admittedly, we were, for once, on the right side of fortune with the Liverpool VAR debacle, but based on the stats for that game, we should have won.
People may argue that we could have won against Arsenal, but conversely, we could have lost quite easily – so a share of the spoils was about right.
Thus, I am left with a dilemma. Do I, in true Big Ange Cult tradition, commit to a wholehearted belief that we could indeed win the league? Or do I err on the side of caution and play down the possibility?
If I wanted to consider the title a viable option, I could draw on the Leicester experience of 2016. Weirdly, there are a number of similarities.
Both sides only had a fixture list consisting of mainly league games. In the make-up of the teams, there are genuine comparisons. A free-scoring forward: for Vardy, read Son. A centre midfielder capable of dictating play and breaking up attacks: Kante/ Bissouma, and a midfield maestro capable of scoring and assisting: Mahrez and Maddison. All of whom played in front of a solid, consistent and well-drilled defence and ‘keeper. Even as I write this, I am tempted to believe.
Can Tottenham really win the Premier League?
Yet I can’t do it – for two reasons.
Firstly, the ability Leicester had that season to put out the same starting eleven almost beggared belief. Too many of our key players have a history of picking up an injury and being out for a period of time: Maddison, Bissouma, Son and Romero have all had significant lay-offs in the last couple of years, and an injury to one or more of those players could prove fatal to any potential title charge.
Indeed, the Fulham gamed served to illuminate quite starkly our lack of depth outside the starting eleven. Without Bissouma, the slick play out from the back was just not possible at the level it has been. Credit to Sarr and Hojbjerg for trying, but they do not have the skillset to receive the ball, spin on a sixpence and release the forwards in a fluid motion.
Not many do. This in turn meant the defenders, Romero in particular, were more profligate on the ball and were trying to force the issue more than they have done recently.
Similarly, if Romero or Van de Ven were to miss games, the drop-off would be significant. The pace, awareness and technique of our defensive duo has been beautiful to behold and has evoked nostalgic memories of Jan and Toby.
However, with Sanchez being sold the back-up looks bare. Ashley Phillips has been commanding a place on the bench of late and I wonder if he is showing something in training that gives Ange the impression that the youngster could be ready to step up.
Even so, he is untried, unknown and ostensibly a shot in the dark. Our full-backs have defied expectations and have performed at a superb level so far this season, but an injury to either, Destiny in particular weakens our team significantly.
Further up the pitch, it has become apparent that James Maddison is the literal and metaphorical heartbeat of this team. There is no one in the squad who comes close to giving us what he offers. The same could be said of Son, who is proving to be ruthless in front of goal in his new central position.
Indeed, the striking options beyond Son and Kulu, don’t scream out ‘consistent high performance’. Brennan Johnson is an exciting prospect, but needs to be given time to bed into the forward three.
The injuries to Perisic and Solomon do not help the cause, the Croatian, in particular, seemed to finally have been clicking into the player we thought we had signed.
Then there is Richarlison. Although I was never convinced that he had the ability to play for a top Premier League team, I wanted to give the benefit of the doubt. Sadly, the previous eighteen months have brutally demonstrated that Tottenham is too much of a step up – especially in this new way of playing that demands high technical ability, vision and subtlety.
All this could be potentially excused if he was able to convert chances. Unfortunately, he is not and it even appeared against Fulham that the opposition were happy for him to be on the ball, whereas Maddison, Kulu and Son were instantly harassed and closed down.
He is just not good enough and Spurs should cash in as soon as possible, because he will only depreciate in value.
The second reason I can’t entertain a title tilt is the quality of opposition. In 2015-16, Tottenham should have won it. Not only did they fail to, they came third in a two-horse race.
There were few viable contenders that year in all fairness. Arsenal were limping towards to end of the Wenger era, Klopp’s time at Liverpool was just in its infancy, and Manchester City and Chelsea were awaiting the arrival of Pep and Conte respectively.
Manchester United, for those that are interested, were in another fruitless transitional phase as they desperately sought (and still seek) to effectively replace Sir Alex Ferguson.
This season the calibre of opposition is much greater. The Manchester City juggernaut shows little sign of abating, despite the De Bruyne injury. At Liverpool, Klopp’s recent reinvention is in full swing and, as much as we hate to accept it, Arsenal are a formidable opponent under Mikel Arteta.
To be finishing ahead of one of these teams would be impressive – all of them, highly unlikely. Add into the mix teams such as Newcastle, Villa and Brighton and it looks like a tough league to be competing in.
I am loving watching Tottenham, but any fans who truly understand football will understand that Spurs supporters saying ‘Why not?’ are saying so with their tongue firmly in their cheek.
Certain outlets and radio shows will try and advance the ‘Tottenham for the title’ talk because it provokes outrage and debate. The truth is that this team need to evolve and improve without the added pressure of being identified as title contenders.
The future is bright and undoubtedly exciting, so let’s just enjoy the ride without worrying about the destination just yet.
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