The 2016-17 season of the Premier League, as predicted by many, should be a close contest. As the official Twitter handle of the League gleefully observed after the previous Gameweek (October 22-23), the top five teams were separated by just a point, a first at this stage of the season. Now, that difference has increased to three points, following Tottenham Hotspur’s 1-1 draw against Leicester on Saturday.
Two among this crowd of London and north-west England clubs are seeking to win their first Premier League title: Liverpool and Tottenham. Liverpool, however, are 18-time champions of the previous version, which leaves the London side of Spurs as the only true outsider here. Spurs have been steadily improving over the years and were the only club to challenge Leicester City last season before falling behind the eventual champions and local rivals Arsenal.
Whichever way you cut it, the consensus among observers is Spurs are the perennial bridesmaid of the Premier League. Can this be the season they become the centre of attraction? Going by what we have seen so far, yes they can.
Under the guidance of manager Mauricio Pochettino, Tottenham have gone about building a team the old-fashioned way; nothing fancy here, but just a group of able players with a great understanding of each other and the hunger to win something collectively.
That they have done this while keeping a close eye on the balance sheet -- Spurs’ wage structure is only the sixth highest in the league -- makes it even more impressive.
Last season, Spurs’ core of English players — Harry Kane, Eric Dier, Dele Alli and Kyle Walker — showed a club eschewing the lure of imports from Spain and France does not necessarily mean curtailed ambition or atavism.
The 4-2-3-1 formation, of which they were the vital cogs, was an impressive and modern unit that relied on quick passing, counter-pressing and transitions. It was a system that borrowed heavily from the ideas of Argentine tactical master Marcelo Bielsa, under whom Pochettino had played.
Since then Pochettino has only sharpened the squad. As observed in the last few games, Spurs have gradually moved to a more aggressive 4-1-4-1 system that relies on just one holding midfielder.
It is clearly a bold move, dropping the assurance of second central defensive midfield is not a decision many coaches would take; the margin of error is just too small. Pochettino, however, has stood strong. The 2-0 win over Guardiola’s City proved he is right.
“It is always a challenge for the team and player to learn about different systems and play in different ways. In the end we are not changing our concept to press high, build from the back and play along the grass,” the Argentine said after Gameweek nine.
“Sometimes it is important for the players to learn and those that can play in different positions on the pitch, only with time can you teach them. Now we are in a group process that the team can play in different ways and systems.”
The recruitment of Kenyan centre midfielder Victor Wanyama from Southampton has certainly been a factor in the manager’s confidence in the new system, so has the progress of South Korean forward Son Heung-min, who has stepped up to replace the injured Kane with ease.
That ability to replace a player with an equally impressive if not better one will certainly be tested as the season gets into the business end.
But from what can be gauged from these early days, Pochettino’s Tottenham have the weapons to pull a coup.