English Premiership

Spurs emerge as realistic EPL title contenders

2016-02-11 22:35
Mauricio Pochettino (Supplied)

Manchester - Amid the buzz about surprise leader Leicester and the stuttering challenges of Arsenal and Manchester City, another title contender in the English Premier League has been working pretty much in the shadows.

Not anymore.

For the first time in a generation, Tottenham is a real factor in the title race, and is showing the kind of form that could see the club rid itself of the underachiever tag that has followed it around for years.

The team from north London has climbed into second place, ahead of neighbour Arsenal on goal difference, and five points behind Leicester, with 13 matches left. Not since 1985 have Spurs been this high in the standings this late in the season, as they look to capture a first league title since 1961.

This weekend could be pivotal, with the top four facing off. Leicester is away to Arsenal, and Spurs are at fourth-place City.

City has won the last five home meetings with Tottenham, racking up 10 goals in the past two fixtures. There's a feeling it could be different this time.

Repeating the effect he had on Southampton in 2013 and '14, Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino has pulled together a young, energetic, and extremely fit team whose work rate and pressing game is flustering opponents.

"They are like animals," Watford manager Quique Sanchez Flores said of Tottenham after losing at White Hart Lane 1-0 last weekend.

There are positives all over the field for Pochettino. His defence has conceded fewer goals than any other team this season; Eric Dier has been converted from a defender into a powerful holding midfielder; previously inconsistent attacking midfielders Erik Lamela, Christian Eriksen, and Mousa Dembele are delivering consistently effective performances; Dele Alli, in the No. 10 role, is arguably the hottest young prospect in English soccer; and striker Harry Kane is the third best scorer in the league.

With just three losses, Tottenham could have too much energy for an aging, injury-hit City side that was blown away last weekend by Leicester — another team filled with hard-running players. City lost to Spurs 4-1 at White Hart Lane in September.

A problem for Spurs could be fixture congestion, with the team set to resume its Europa League campaign next week — over two legs against Fiorentina in the last 32 — and was also still in the FA Cup. Progress deep in those competitions, and Pochettino's players could be burnt out before the end of the season.

Leicester, meanwhile, just has the Premier League to focus on.

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Saturday, 16 December 2017
Leicester City v Crystal Palace, King Power Stadium 14:30
Stoke City v West Ham United, Bet365 Stadium 17:00
Arsenal v Newcastle United, Emirates Stadium 17:00
Chelsea v Southampton, Stamford Bridge 17:00
Brighton & Hove Albion v Burnley, The American Express Community Stadium 17:00
Watford v Huddersfield Town, Vicarage Road Stadium 17:00
Manchester City v Tottenham Hotspur, Etihad Stadium 19:30
Sunday, 17 December 2017
West Bromwich Albion v Manchester United, The Hawthorns 16:15
AFC Bournemouth v Liverpool, Vitality Stadium 18:30
Monday, 18 December 2017
Everton v Swansea City, Goodison Park 22:00
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