Spurs are firmly in the title race but can they maintain their form this time?
12:49 15 February 2016
PA Wire/Press Association Images
Tottenham have often been in strong positions in mid-February, only to fall away. Can they buck the trend this season as they chase their first league title since 1961?
There can be little doubt now – Tottenham are firmly in the title race after Sunday’s victory at Manchester City took them within two points of the leaders.
It is difficult enough to beat the top sides at home, but to win such an important ‘six-pointer’ at the Etihad – having lost the last two visits 6-0 and 4-1 respectively – shows how far Spurs have come under Mauricio Pochettino.
The Lilywhites are seven points better off than they were at this stage last season – when they sat seventh - and leaders Leicester City (53pts) are seven points behind Chelsea’s tally (60pts) after 26 games of the respective campaigns.
With the defending champions surprisingly out of the picture altogether this time and Manchester United and Liverpool also struggling for consistency, this is a huge opportunity for Spurs to record their best ever finish in the Premier League, and their claim to the crown must now be taken seriously.
So can they finish top for the first time since 1961? On current form the answer has to be yes. The Lilywhites have confidence and momentum, with Sunday’s triumph – their best result of the season – being their seventh successive victory in all competitions.
Tough challenges lie ahead, of course. A trip to West Ham early next month is followed three days later by a home game against Arsenal, which is looking like the biggest north London derby for many years. Spurs then face Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea in April – two of them away from home.
Yet Sunday’s result shows Spurs have nothing to fear from any of the challenges that lie ahead of them. Instead, the biggest concern is a historical one – the Lilywhites’ habit of fading in the final months of the season.
There is little sign of a collapse at the moment - if anything, Spurs are accelerating. But we have been here before.
On February 15 2011, Tottenham sat fourth in the table and won 1-0 away against AC Milan in the Champions League, earning their fourth successive victory. They side went on to win just one of their next 13 matches and had to stage a late revival, beating Liverpool and Birmingham in their last two games, to finish fifth – six points outside the top four.
Few need to be reminded of what happened the following year. On February 11 2012 Harry Redknapp’s side thumped Newcastle 5-0 at the Lane, leaving them third in the table – 10 points ahead of Arsenal.
But a 5-2 defeat to the Gunners in the following league game sparked a disastrous slump, with just one victory in nine league games.
Again there was a late recovery – three wins from the last four matches – and Spurs finished fourth, but a cruel twist of fate meant that was not enough for Champions League qualification as Chelsea won the competition and stole Tottenham’s place, and Redknapp lost his job.
The Lilywhites were more consistent under Andre Villas-Boas towards the end of the 2012/13 season, but back-to-back top-flight defeats to Liverpool and Fulham in March were damaging as they missed out on the top four by one point.
One year on, with Tim Sherwood at the helm, Spurs won 4-0 at Newcastle on February 12 2014 and lay three points outside the top four.
However, they lost three of their next four league games – against Norwich, Chelsea and Arsenal – and although they won five of their last eight matches they finished sixth, 10 points outside the Champions League spots.
Spurs also fell away after being in an encouraging position under Mauricio Pochettino last term. After the 2-1 derby victory over Arsenal on February 7, the Lilywhites were only one point outside the top four, but they won just four of their next 15 games in all competitions, culminating in an embarrassing 3-0 defeat at Stoke. Again, Spurs recovered to win their last two games but they finished six points behind fourth-placed Manchester United.
The lesson is clear – Tottenham have often been in strong positions in mid-February and have repeatedly been unable to maintain their form.
Much has been made of Spurs’ fitness and energy levels this campaign, and their work-rate was again a key factor of Sunday’s victory in Manchester. But the same was true this time last year and the players’ exertions appeared to catch up with them in the final third of the season.
Tottenham fans have every right and reason to be excited but there is also cause for caution and the head coach and players have been choosing their words carefully when it comes to declaring their ambitions.
Only time will tell whether things will be different this time, and the return of the Europa League this week means Spurs are now fighting on three fronts - but Pochettino is hopeful his players will still be full of running in May.
“This is our challenge, to try to keep the same intensity in every game, and the same level of our fitness,” he said. “This is one of our challenges for the next period, the next three months.
“We try for that, in our plan from the beginning of the season - from the pre-season - to try to provide the tools to the players to be consistent during the whole season.
“All the staff are concerned about that and are trying to give the best condition to keep the level through the whole season.”
Follow me on Twitter @BenPearceSpurs