Why Chelsea’s unstoppable charge to the Premier League title could be a blessing in disguise for Tottenham

JOHN DILLON
Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images

Tottenham are having a better domestic season than they had last year. It is a fine reply to those who claimed they were flaky.

But the most important thing in their favour just now as the run-in cranks up after the international break is that Chelsea are running away with the title. And that should surely prevent a devastating blow-up like the one Spurs suffered last spring.

Yes, of course, it would be best of all if they won the Premier League. But it isn't going to happen.

So this has become a campaign which is all about taking another step forward, with the chance of FA Cup glory also in sight.

With the pressure of mounting a challenge for the big prize removed, there should be far less likelihood of a repeat of the dramatic league collapse brought about by last season's fraught pursuit of Leicester City.

There is a major opportunity to capitalise on the improvements already in place this season - and to claim second place, which would be the club's best finish since they were runners-up in 1962-63.

There is the chance to show that there was no lasting psychological harm done by the stumble through the final hurdles last April and May, which culminated with a humbling 5-1 thrashing against an already relegated Newcastle side on the final day and with Arsenal gleefully shoving Spurs into third place.

The flip side of this, of course, is that a second successive Springtime tumble would lead to plenty of critical finger-pointing about the true strength of the spirit within Pochettino's side.

It would pose a major mental doubt just ahead of a campaign which Spurs could spend away from home at Wembley. So these are critical weeks now for Tottenham's future as well as for their present.

In other sports, a rise of one place on last season's third would be called an incremental gain. The highest finish in 54 years for Spurs would be something more profound than that.

When Pochettino led the team to third place last season, he had already out-stripped the league achievements of a host of N17's most notable managers, including Terry Venables, Glenn Hoddle, Gerry Francis, George Graham and Harry Redknapp.

Yet, against the financial might of Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United, Spurs were always going to have to advance step-by-step.

Their form so far in this campaign suggests they have met head on the doubts posed by the fall they took in the final four fixtures last season.

This time around after 28 games, Spurs have 59 points to last season's 54 at this stage. They won 17 times to last season's 15. They have drawn eight times to last season's nine. They have lost three times to last season's four.

Tottenham Hotspur 6-0 Millwall - Emirates FA Cup 2016/17 (R6) | Official Highlights

They could also win the FA Cup for the first time since 1991. And they are likely to finish above Arsenal for the first time since 1995, and for the first time Arsene Wenger arrived in the capital.

They have scored 55 league goals and conceded only 21. In 2015 -16, the figures were 49, against 22.

Among that tally, Harry Kane has hit 19 in the league, with Delle Alli adding 14, Heung-min Son getting seven and Christian Eriksen six. So the suggestion that they are a one-man side - with Kane sidelined for the second time this campaign - isn't quite set in stone, either.

Pep Guardiola's rampant Manchester City side were brought screeching to a halt by a 2-0 defeat in north London on October 2, without Kane, while Chelsea’s seemingly unstoppable winning run was also halted at the Lane by the same scoreline; Alli with the two goals.

Photo: Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images

True enough, the Champions League and the Europa League have been huge disappointments this season.

But if Tottenham win the FA Cup, it would be the first trophy to arrive at White Hart Lane since the League Cup win of 2008.

Now three straight league wins have followed the blip of a defeat at Liverpool on February 11. And the forthcoming fixture list is one any manager in Pochettino's position would consider favourable, with the proviso that there are few "gimme," games on offer in the Premier League.

The next five league games are against Burnley (a), Swansea (a), Watford (h), Bournemouth (h) and Crystal Palace (h) - before a north London derby at home on April 30.

Anyone who counts their chickens in this competition is liable to end up with egg on their face. But with that said, any team with aspirations of second place, ought to rack up a substantial points haul from a schedule like this one.

Burnley away, it must be said, is no easy trip with all nine of their top-flight victories recorded at Turf Moor.

But Spurs found it trickier than most to dispatch of Sean Dyche’s side at the Lane, making them even less likely to underestimate them come 3 o’clock on Saturday.

Spurs have the chance now to prove they have fully toughened up and are ready for another title challenge next season, when Chelsea won't be aided by any absence from Europe.

It is a big opportunity. But it is also one they dare not blow again in these final, crucial weeks.

EPL | The Premier League table after 29 matches

Pos Team P W D L GD Pts
1 Chelsea 28 22 3 3 38 69
2 Tottenham 28 17 8 3 34 59
3 Man City 28 17 6 5 24 57
4 Liverpool 29 16 8 5 25 56
5 Man United 27 14 10 3 19 52
6 Arsenal 27 15 5 7 22 50
7 Everton 29 14 10 3 21 50
8 West Brom 29 12 7 10 1 43
9 Stoke City 29 9 9 11 -9 36
10 Southampton 27 9 6 12 -3 33
11 Bournemouth 29 9 6 14 -12 33
12 West Ham 29 9 6 14 -12 33
13 Burnley 29 9 5 15 -11 32
14 Watford 28 8 7 13 -15 31
15 Leicester City 28 8 6 14 -14 30
16 Crystal Palace 28 8 4 16 -10 28
17 Swansea City 28 8 3 17 -25 27
18 Hull City 29 6 6 17 -32 24
19 Middlesbrough 28 4 10 14 -13 22
20 Sunderland 28 5 5 18 -26 20
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