Why Tottenham can take third place - and hold it into April
REWIND just 16 days and Spurs’ hopes of sealing a top four spot for the second season in a row looked slim. In fact, some fans had already given up.
Tottenham had taken two points from three league games and lay fifth, three points behind Chelsea and seven behind Manchester City – albeit with a game in hand over Roberto Mancini’s side.
The Lilywhites had failed to reinforce their misfiring front line, while Chelsea had signed Fernando Torres and City had recruited Edin Dzeko.
If one of the top five teams was going to miss out on the Champions League, it looked for all the world like it was going to be Tottenham, who had just lost 4-0 at Fulham and were eyeing worryingly tough trips to Blackburn and then Sunderland.
Harry Redknapp had stated that his side needed to “hang on in there” during a potentially disastrous spell of away games – and they were struggling.
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But suddenly, just two weeks later, the whole picture has changed. Having scraped past Rovers 1-0, netted an injury-time winner against Bolton at White Hart Lane and then come from behind to beat Sunderland on Saturday, Spurs have somehow taken all nine points available over the last fortnight – five more than both City and Chelsea.
All of a sudden, Carlo Ancelotti’s Blues are two points behind Tottenham after failing to score for two games in a row since Torres’ arrival, while City are just two points ahead, having played that extra game.
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Amazingly, given the standings at the start of the month, the Lilywhites will go THIRD if they beat Blackpool next week, which they really should do – and there is more good news.
Looking at the next five league fixtures, should Spurs take third, they have every chance of holding that position into April, and extending their lead over their top two rivals in the battle for the top four.
The home clash with Arsenal is yet to be arranged, but Tottenham are set to face four of the bottom five teams between now and April 9, as well as a home clash against Stoke.
The upcoming meetings with Blackpool, Wolves and Wigan all come away from home. But, given that Spurs have recently beaten both Blackburn and Sunderland on the road, those fixtures suddenly look far less daunting.
Blackpool have the worst home record in the top flight and Tottenham won 3-0 at Wigan last season, so the biggest test is likely to be the trip to Wolves, who did the double over Spurs last season.
Mick McCarthy’s side may have beaten Manchester United and Chelsea at Molineux since the turn of the year, but they have also lost 3-0 to Liverpool, and are currently bottom of the league.
There are real echoes of a similar set of fixtures last season, as Spurs faced Wolves, Wigan, Everton, Blackburn, Stoke and Portsmouth in successive league games between February 10 and March 27 – and took 15 points from a possible 18 before taking on Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and City.
Once again, there are pivotal games on the horizon this campaign – Arsenal, and then trips to City, Chelsea and Liverpool among Spurs’ last six games.
Twelve months on history repeats itself and, while those final head-to-heads will ultimately define Tottenham’s season, the 15 points that are on offer over the next five games could build up an invaluable margin for error.
Next five league fixtures:
West Ham (home)
* Arsenal home game is yet to be arranged