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Huffington Post: Are Spurs now London’s strongest side?

December 1, 2011

Slightly unfortunate timing on the publishing of this one, coming as it does right after the 2-1 defeat to PAOK, but at least we don’t need to worry about the distraction of the Europa League now and can concentrate fully on a top-four spot.

While the Premier League is almost certainly destined for Manchester this season, a more surprising domestic upheaval is taking place in London.

With a third of the season gone, Tottenham Hotspur sit in third place, two points adrift of the champions and with a game in hand on all of those around them.

Talk of Spurs winning the title is unrealistic given the strength and experience of City and United respectively, but they do have a strong chance of finishing as London’s highest placed side for the first time since 1995.

The club’s rise has coincided with the decline of the capital’s two most dominant teams – Arsenal and Chelsea. The latter have made their worst start to the season since Roman Abramovich bought the club in 2003. Very much a side in transition, Chelsea’s aging squad has lost the aura of invincibility cultivated in the Jose Mourinho era.

Abramovich will surely bring in reinforcements again in January, having splashed over £70 million on Fernando Torres and David Luiz last winter in an effort to overcome his team’s mid-season slump in form. Yet a quick check of said pair’s form demonstrates that such panic buys are not always effective.

Whatsmore, whether manager Andres Villas-Boas will even be there to welcome any new recruits is a question of the Russian billionaire’s patience – not a quality for which he is renowned.

Arsenal, meanwhile, have recovered well from their own nightmare start to the season – including the humiliating 8-2 drubbing at Old Trafford – but Saturday’s draw at home to Fulham offered a reminder of the side’s current frailty.

Of biggest concern to the Gunners is their dependency on the extraordinary form of Robin Van Persie. An injury to the Dutch forward, who has scored an incredible 17 of their 35 goals in the Premier League and Champions League so far this season, could see their campaign swiftly unravel.

That then leaves Tottenham with an opening as London’s dominant club. Few considered such a transition possible when Spurs made an equally poor start to the season, losing 3-0 away to Manchester United and 5-1 at home to City.

Injuries, the unsettling transfer speculation surrounding Luka Modric, and even the London riots (which led to the cancelation of Spurs’ opening fixture at home to Everton), all conspired against the team, who had faded disappointingly toward the end of last season after a dazzling debut campaign in the Champions League.

Yet since acquiring Scott Parker and Emmanuel Adebayor at the close of the transfer window, Spurs have won nine league games from ten, dropping just two points from 30 in a tough away tie at in-form Newcastle.

The astute acquisition of veteran goalkeeper Brad Friedel and the welcome return to something approaching full fitness for captain Ledley King have also been instrumental to Tottenham’s progress, bringing an unprecedented steeliness to the defence.

Tottenham’s players have even been at the heart of the England national team’s modest upturn in form. Scott Parker was named man of the match in England’s recent victory over world champions Spain, while Kyle Walker earned the same distinction days later on his debut start against Sweden.

After making the quarter-finals of last year’s Champions League, Tottenham’s players are now beginning to show they can play at the highest levels of world football.

Over the years Spurs have often been imaginatively and embarrassingly linked with megastars who were well out of the club’s league. An indication of how things have changed came last week when Barcelona President Sandro Rosell admitted his interest in Spurs’ 22-year-old Welsh winger Gareth Bale. Now it is the best sides in the world who are eyeing up White Hart Lane’s finest talents.

But this summer Spurs showed they are no longer a feeder club for the elite. Chairman Daniel Levy’s refusal to sell Modric to Chelsea for £40m was as admiral as it has been instrumental to Tottenham’s current run of form. With an improved contract in the works and a superior league position, the Croatian midfielder may now be counting his blessings on missing out on a transfer to Stamford Bridge.

Like their North London neighbours Arsenal, Tottenham’s progress is all the more impressive given that it has been achieved by playing attractive, attacking football, without substantial expenditure compared to the likes of City and Chelsea.

Tottenham’s preferred midfield and forward line of Gareth Bale (£7m), Luka Modric (£16.5m), Scott Parker (£5.5m), Aaron Lennon (£1m), Rafael Van der Vaart (£7m) and Emmanuel Adebayor (free) were acquired for a total of £37 million.

In comparison, Andy Carroll cost Liverpool £35 million.

Thanks to Levy, Spurs are a well run club with a sensible wage structure and a new stadium in the works, meaning the current progress is financially sustainable.

But other factors make this a pivotal season for Tottenham. Between his recent health problems, the dubious allure of the England job and January’s court case for tax evasion charges, Harry Redknapp may not be managing the club for much longer.

Moreover, with European giants circling like vultures, failure to qualify for the Champions League this season would surely see the likes of Bale and Modric depart in the summer. Such a development would reverse the recent progress, with Spurs slipping back into mediocrity and normal order resuming in London.

On the other hand, finishing above their London rivals would aid Tottenham to retain their top players and might just convince Redknapp that his heart would fare better if he resists the perils of managing England.

If Spurs can continue the form that has made this their best start to the league since the double-winning season of 1960-61 then this will be the year they establish themselves as the top team in London.

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