There’s no easy arch of explanation as to how exactly Tottenham now find themselves the hottest team in the Premier League.
Yes, prior to the season Tottenham were largely predicted to lodge a second title challenge, or at least make the Champions League.
This is a team, after all, that features Harry Kane, Toby Alderweireld, Hugo Lloris and Dele Alli. All the club had to do was hold on to their players and progress seemed assured.
In practice those predictions hasn’t always bore itself out. There were times in the season’s first half that Tottenham lacked ideas in front of goal. Defensive consistency kept them in the running — indeed, they stayed unbeaten in the league through the end of November — but overall the team appeared lopsided.
Mauricio Pochettino attempted a whole slew of shapes and team sheets to find some spark of creativity in his teams. While there were moments that resembled the highs of the prior season, for the most part Tottenham made due with draws and narrow wins.
Case in point: in the 13 Premier League matches Spurs played prior to December, only two were won by a margin of two or more goals. Though they only recorded one loss — a 2-1 result at Chelsea in late November — it wasn’t the kind of form that would propel them to the title.
More from Tottenham News
- Storybook ending after difficult period for Tottenahm’s Richarlison
- Tottenham comeback showcased invaluable intangible Ange has cultivated
- Tottenham player ratings in 2-1 comeback win over Sheffield United
- Tottenham projected starting 11 for Sheffield United
- Tottenham’s Richarlison says he’s going to seek psychological help
Part of the problem came with injuries. First went Érik Lamela, then Kane and finally Alderweireld. All three were players who Pochettino leaned on heavily last season, and without them in the starting XI Spurs appeared to struggle.
Lamela remains out, but at the start of December Spurs’ stars began to re-align. Kane and Alderweireld were healthy and, what’s more, Pochettino finally found a proper shape after months of tinkering.
The 3-4-2-1 wasn’t revolutionary — such formations had been in vogue in Italy for some time, and Chelsea under Antonio Conte discovered its value in the Premier League by late fall — but it seemed to work particularly well for Tottenham.
It put Tottenham’s greatest assets high up the pitch in the most dangerous areas, while also maintaining a defensive solidity. Kane, Alderweireld, Dele and Danny Rose all appeared to thrive in the new system.
Yet more injuries threatened to cripple Tottenham’s progress. First Jan Vertonghen then Rose succumbed to leg injuries. With both players filling rather unique roles in the 3-4-2-1 — Rose at wing-back and Vertonghen in a wide centre-back role — Pochettino no longer felt it possible to field the formation.
A (mercifully brief) dip in form was the direct result. Beginning in late January with a rickety performance against Manchester City in a 2-2 draw, continuing on in a draw and a narrow win against relegation-favored Sunderland and Middlesbrough, respectively, then culminating in a woeful 2-0 loss to Liverpool, the Tottenham of December appeared to have evaporated.