Title challengers again? Tottenham look quietly terrific, and Harry Kane could use rest anyway

Thomas Woods writes Tottenham Hotspur are already positioning themselves under-the-radar for another title bid, and Harry Kane's injury could be a blessing in disguise.
Tottenham’s Harry Kane celebrates scoring their first goal with teammates Dele Alli and Victor Wanyama on Sunday. Dylan Martinez / Reuters
Tottenham’s Harry Kane celebrates scoring their first goal with teammates Dele Alli and Victor Wanyama on Sunday. Dylan Martinez / Reuters

Can Tottenham Hotspur mount a title challenge again this season? Mauricio Pochettino’s men went so close in 2015/16. Although the final table shows them finishing third, 10 points back on Leicester, they were well in the title race with four games to go.

Their last two results, defeats to Southampton and Newcastle, were so obviously direct results of the psychological blow of losing their chance of winning the title because of the epic 2-2 draw at Chelsea.

Wipe away the first four games of the season (a defeat and three draws) and the final four (two defeats and two draws) and Spurs would have been champions.

The reason they rose above the likes of Manchester City and Arsenal as Leicester’s main title challengers was because they had all the elements of a balanced title-winning side. City were lacking the defence, Arsenal were lacking the goalscorer but Tottenham had a bit of everything.

Hugo Lloris is probably in the top three goalkeepers in the league.

Their defence was the joint best, along with Manchester United, conceding just 35 times. They also got 10 goals from defenders.

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Each of their creative midfielders had a starring season. Dele Alli broke out of nowhere to win Young Player of the Year with 10 goals and nine assists. Christian Eriksen set up 13 goals and Erik Lamela finally justified his transfer fee with nine goals and five assists in 28 games.

And then of course Harry Kane improved on his 2014/15 season with 25 league goals up front.

So what has changed? Nothing, and Tottenham’s squad has got even better.

While a lot of the early season attention has been on Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea, Tottenham have quietly gone about laying the foundations for another title challenge.

Sunday’s 1-0 win at home to Sunderland saw Spurs move into third place in the table, four points behind City.

They already have the best defence with just two goals conceded. Tottenham’s defensive unit was so strong last season that Pochettino felt no need to sign any additions.

The arrivals of Victor Wanyama, Moussa Sissoko and Georges-Kevin N’Koudou in midfield mean Pochettino has plenty of options to rotate, especially with Spurs hoping to maintain a Champions League challenge into the knockout rounds. Pochettino needed those options.

Wanyama in particular has slotted seamlessly into the line-up and given Spurs a bit more bite defensively.

The only real issue this season has been the lack of goals from Kane. When you play 4-5-1 and your lone striker loses his scoring touch, it can be a problem.

Last season it wasn’t an issue because Kane was on fire, but it was a good job he was able to play every game because Spurs had very little in terms of a backup striker. This time they have Vincent Janssen, fresh off a 27-goal season in the Netherlands.

Kane’s confidence took a hit playing for England at Euro 2016 and he has barely recovered. Both his goals so far — at Stoke last week and the winner against Sunderland — have been tap-ins but at least he is back on the scoresheet.

But Sunday’s injury, in which he rolled his ankle, looks like it might keep him out for a few games. It could be a blessing in disguise though.

Firstly, it will give Janssen a run of games and chance to get up to the pace of English football. So far he has only started one game with four substitute appearances and it is clear he is snatching at chances a bit as he looks to impress.

If he fulfils expectations it will benefit Kane in the long run as Pochettino will feel confident resting his star striker when needed.

Also, it will show the rest of the Tottenham team that they can cope without their leading man. Tottenham have had 95 shots in their first five games. There is no way they don’t score goals regularly if they continue that type of production

And finally, Kane looked like he needed a rest. If he does miss some action, chances are the England forward returns from his time out refreshed and ready to return to form.

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Published: September 19, 2016 04:00 AM

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