To say the 2015-16 English Premier League season has been a wild one would be a gross understatement. Months of waiting for tiny Leicester City to fall off has lead only to the Foxes still sitting atop of the EPL table, Watford have gone from relegation favorites to fighting for a European spot and Chelsea have gone from funny joke to serious relegation fighters.
We can add one more thing to that list — Tottenham Hotspur as serious title contenders.
Early in the season that wasn’t a thought, even amongst the most ardent of supporters of the boys from White Hart Lane. However, a combination of point-getting results and no one around them really taking grasp of the league means Spurs are in prime position to contend for the title heading in to the second half of the season.
Monday’s 2-1 victory over Watford was all the proof one needed. Unlike past seasons, Spurs have found a way to get more results from the jaws of draws or defeat than ever before.
That happened again on Monday, as Spurs took to the pitch in a changed 3-4-2-1 formation. Manager Maurico Pochettino moved Eric Dier to the backline and gave his defense more cover. It worked well, with Spurs virtually eliminating the 1-2 punch of Watford’s Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo throughout the game.
Spurs got off to a quick start with a 1-0 lead thanks to a bad defensive giveaway and a clinical finish from the suddenly hot Erik Lamela. It was his eighth goal of the season in all competitions.
The Argentine wasn’t done being dangerous, as he nearly scored a brace later on and had multiple runs deep in to the Hornets’ defensive end. One of which nearly gave Tottenham a 2-1 advantage early in the second half.
With the game tied at 1-1 after an Ighalo strike in the 41st minute, the game became wide open. So much so that Watford’s Nathan Ake attempted a high kick in the midfield and wound up catching Lamela in the groin.
He was sown a straight red, and the bunker mentality took hold for the next 30 minutes. It led to a crazy finish, as Watford thought it was ahead after a corner kick that seemed to cross the line. Instead, it was inches off a goal and Spurs would turn around and finally make 10-man Watford pay for the red card.
Just seconds after the missed corner kick opportunity, Spurs got deep in the Watford end and substitute forward Son Heung-min got just enough of a re-direct on a cross to bang home the winner, 2-1 to Spurs.
Why do the details of this match matter? It’s because they tell the tale of a team who is unlike previous campaigns for Spurs.
In the past, this was a squad who would’ve had that near-goal be a goal for Watford and it wouldn’t have scored that second goal. Points dropped against teams it needed to have points from have been the hallmark of previous Spurs sides.
While it has happened at times (Newcastle loss and West Brom draw), the occurrences are far fewer. It has led Spurs to just two losses all season long and 4 points clear of where it was just this time last season.
Currently the side sits on 35 points, just three off leaders Leicester City, and one point off second place Arsenal. Last season, Spurs were on 31 points with a goal differential of 0 (as in ZERO) and a record of 9-4-6 on the season.
Spurs’ current record is vastly different, sitting at 9-8-2. Getting draws from defeats and extra points has been the difference, so was a 14-game unbeaten streak against a group of fellow contenders that have been wholly inconsistent.
No doubt Spurs would have liked to turn some of those draws in to full points, and had it done so against the likes of West Brom and Chelsea this is a side sitting atop the table.
However, it is that consistency that keeps ssthem in the mix and makes them a dangerous contender against teams who have dropped points to other contenders over the past few weeks. Spurs already have a 0-0 draw with Leicester, a 1-1 draw with Arsenal and a 4-1 thumping of Manchester City on their record.
Manchester City is tied with Spurs on 35 points, but have a game on hand to be played against league leading Leicester City on Monday. The Sky Blue side of Manchester have dropped full points to fellow contenders Arsenal and Spurs already, making this game vital to their hopes going forward.
It’s one thing to beat up on the bottom of the table, but taking home the title requires consistency against the top contenders as well. That’s where Spurs have the advantage going forward.
It’s been a total team effort as well, with Spurs’ backline finally reaching its potential thanks to the Belgian duo of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vergtonghen in the middle and healthy play out of both Kyle Walker and Danny Rose at right and left back respectively.
That back four has allowed just 18 goals, trailing only Crystal Palace and Manchester United for fewest in the EPL. At the same time, a resurgence of the once-dead career of Erik Lamela, along with the emergence of the young Dele Alli has buoyed the struggling Christian Eriksen in one of the more dynamic midfields in the EPL.
There’s also Harry Kane, who has shrugged off a goal-less start to the season to knock home 11 goals in EPL action this season and 13 in all competitions to date. After a surprising first full season on the first team, Kane has emerged as a more than one-year-wonder for Spurs and has become one of the most feared strikers in the EPL.
All of it has led to a squad with 33 goals in EPL action, a total that is second to Leicester City and Manchester City’s 37 goals scored. Combine the the consistent defense and offense and Spurs top the league with a +18 goal differential.
Add in Hugo Lloris’ usually stellar goalkeeping and you have a squad that is as fit to contend for a title as any in this crazy 2015-16 season.
Spurs’ resolve for a title chase will be tested in the next month, as they face tests against Leicester City in both the FA Cup and EPL in a three-day span and must also take full points from the likes of Everton, Crystal Palace and Sunderland.
There’s also a final five-game span that sees Spurs avoid any of the big competition currently at the top of the standings, playing the likes of West Brom, Chelsea, Southampton and Newcastle to end the season.
In a season that has been crazy from top to bottom, simply being consistent may be enough to take the title. Keeping pace with Leicester City in terms of consistency, it’s no coincidence Spurs are sitting right in striking distance of what was thought a long-shot to start the season — an EPL title.