The hunt for a top-four finish has been one of the highlights of recent Premier League campaigns as the infamous big four cartel has been irrevocably broken up. This season, the race has broadened and both third and fourth look to be open to as many as four legitimate contenders. Tottenham have been in the top four since mid-November and, despite a slip up at Stoke, still look to be a strong contender for next seasons Champions League.
Arsenal’s form has been comparable with Spurs; a terrible start followed by a consistent recovery. Liverpool have managed to stay in touch, but are troubled by a lack of goals. Chelsea too have been drawn into this battle as a result of inconsistent forwards and consistently poor defenders.
It was Arsenal and Man City last season, Spurs and Arsenal the year before and Chelsea, Spurs, Arsenal and Liverpool are all in the mix this term. In the previous two seasons, the top three have pulled away, finishing eight and nine points clear of fourth place. The season before, third placed Chelsea were twenty points clear of fifth place Everton. Racking up points is vital to finishing in the top places. A handful of dropped points can prove costly at the end of the season. This is particularly true this season.
The top five clubs currently have an average of 31 points after fifteen games and it’s three points more than at the same time last season and two more than the season before. The top teams are winning more games and dropping fewer points. Winning the winnable games will be vital. Spurs failed to make it back to the Champions League last season because of the points they dropped against bottom half sides. They picked up seven points against the top four sides and only six against the relegated Blackpool, West Ham and Birmingham.
Harry Redknapp’s side failed to beat the bad sides because they simply didn’t convert goal scoring chances. The lack of a reliable goal scorer was fundamental; without a reliable source of goals, the margins for error are so slim. They never won by more than two goals and while they picked up a large number of points from losing positions, they continually dropped points which counted at the end of the season.
This season, Spurs have obviously been in far better goal scoring touch. 30 goals from just 14 games has them on track to score more than eighty by the end of the season. Conversely, Liverpool have only 18 after a game more. Spurs have dropped only four points against teams lower than them in the table.
Arsenal and Chelsea too are scoring large numbers of goals but have dropped plenty of points against the lower ranked teams with both the London giants dropping 10 points against teams below them. As a result, Spurs are two points clear of North London rivals Arsenal and one behind Chelsea, albeit, with two games in hand, while Liverpool are languishing five points behind.
With two thirds of the season still to be played, Spurs look to be favourites. While Chelsea have briefly reclaimed third place, Tottenham have demonstrated quality in both attack and defence. They have also shown the vital consistency. They beat Liverpool and Arsenal in the same way they beat Bolton and Aston Villa. Even when 2-0 down at Stoke, they showed character to turn things around and should probably have won the match.
If they can keep the core of their squad fit; Parker, Modric, Bale, King and Adebayor, they should be able to return to Europe’s top table. With the midweek exit from Europe, they are focused on the Premier League and playing with confidence. As always, Spurs will be aiming high but they have the quality to beat Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool to third place.