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Judging from the mood around Tottenham after another testing fortnight, you could be forgiven for forgetting that they remain unbeaten in the Premier League under one of the planet’s elite managers and are firmly back in the hunt for a return to the Champions League, too.
The drawn-out, tame Carabao Cup outclassing at the hands of Chelsea drew a feeling of deflation, the two-legged defeat coming either side of a tepid win over League One Morecambe in the FA Cup, followed by the frustration of Sunday’s derby postponement.
Those matches played out amid a state of growing restlessness about a lack of activity in the transfer market and brought with them more bad news on the injury front, as well as concerns over Antonio Conte’s future.
Yet the latest bout of doom and gloom belies the fact that in terms of Tottenham’s primary ambition for a season that at various stages has looked consigned to failure, an unlikely opening remains there for the taking.
When Davinson Sanchez headed a 96th-minute winner against Watford on New Year’s Day, Spurs rose to sixth in the table, where they remain, despite not having played a League game in the two-and-a-half weeks since.
Seventh-placed Manchester United dropped points at Villa Park on Saturday, while Arsenal, in fifth, have, at their own request, also gone fixtureless but, like United, have already played twice more than Conte’s side.
West Ham have been busiest of the contenders for fourth and, as a result, are the incumbents, but blew the chance to consolidate that position last weekend and have now played four games more than Spurs, for only a four-point advantage.
Yesterday, Conte bemoaned the disparity across the division that has left the table almost uninterpretable, branding it a “big mess”, but the prospect of having the likes of Heung-min Son, Eric Dier and Cristian Romero back after the international break for a top-four tilt will surely be some consolation, provided, of course, that the inevitable fixture pile-up does not lead to yet more injuries.
Either way, the upshot is that, heading into tonight’s rearranged game against Leicester, where victory will send Spurs above Arsenal and within a point of the top four, opportunity knocks.
Whether they are ready to take it remains to be seen. For all their good League form, that last-gasp Sanchez goal represents Spurs’ only win on the road in any competition since the Italian’s arrival. With trips to Stamford Bridge, Anfield, Old Trafford and the Etihad to come, that record must improve, but tonight’s visit to the King Power could hardly have come at a better time.
Brendan Rodgers’ side remain decimated by injuries and international commitments, and after being denied the chance to face a ravaged Arsenal, Spurs will no doubt take this form of poetic justice, particularly after the saga that revolved around this fixture when it was due to be played in December, when Spurs asked for a postponement in order to play their final Europa Conference League game instead.
The request was rejected, only for the game to then be called off due to Leicester’s Covid outbreak anyway, too late in the day to get the Rennes clash on.
“You have to learn to laugh,” was Conte’s philosophical take yesterday, but the decision was no joke, given it ultimately cost Spurs European football this side of Christmas. A win tonight would at least keep them on course for a more illustrious return to it next season.