This was Tottenham’s chance. With Chelsea falling to a shock defeat at home Crystal Palace, Mauricio Pochettino and his team were handed the opportunity to reignite a title race that seemed to have been extinguished some time ago. And, unlike last season, theytook it.
Almost a year to the daySpurs visited West Ham after main title rivals Leicester City had dropped two points against West Brom the previous evening. The White Hart Lane outfit slumped to a 1-0 defeat in one of their worst performances of the season, and from there the Foxes battled their way to the most memorable title winin decades.
Fast forward 12 months, and it was another side in claret and blue who frustrated Tottenham, with Burnley yet again proving themselves to be one of the toughest sides to beat in their own backyard. Forced into changes following the international break, and without the injured Harry Kane, for the most part Spurs played football that was pleasing on the eye without creating a great deal.
Angled drives and a rasping Toby Alderweireld effort were all they could muster in the opening two thirds of the game, with Tom Heaton equal to everything thrown at him. Typical then, that it would be a scruffy corner that finally allowed them to break the deadlock.
Jeff Hendrick’s poor clearance that fell at Eric Dier’s feet may have left him plenty of time to pick his spot, but in truth he still had plenty to do. The England international showed great composure to dig the ball out of his feet before curling fine effort between Scott Arfield on the line and upright. When the moment arrived, Tottenham kept their heads and were rewarded handsomely.
Thereafter the visitors were relatively untroubled save for a couple of wild efforts from Sean Dyche’s side, and substitute Heung-Min Son was able to wrap up the points from Dele Alli’s pinpoint first-time cross. Job done for Tottenham – but can they really catch Chelsea?
They have favourable fixtures, with only Arsenal and Manchester United of the current top seven left to play, and both are at home. They will be forced to play catch-up with the rest of the league given their success in reaching the FA Cup semi-finals, but Chelsea are in the same boat and any fixture congestion should not be the issue.
Instead, Pochettino will be sweating on the fitness of both Victor Wanyama and Harry Winks, with both midfielders forced off with injuries before half-time. Wanyama’s back problem looked innocuous but could yet be an issue that causes him long-term strife while it seems unlikely Winks will play again this season after being stretchered away following a clash with Stephen Ward.
Mousa Dembele also has issues with playing more than one game per week and Moussa Sissoko’s performance in replacing Winks yet again highlighted why few Spurs fans will be sorry to see him leave this summer. For all their talent, the lack of depth in such a key area could yet be the sticking point that denies Tottenham the chance of bridging the seven-point gap in their final nine matches.
For now, though, there is the potential for a title race in the Premier League, and yet again Tottenham are involved. They finally seem to have the mettle, but whether they can cope physically with the run-in will likely decide their final fate.