Five reasons why apparently unstoppable Tottenham won’t win the Premier League

Dave Tickner
Tottenham star Kulusevski
Dejan Kulusevki celebrates scoring for Tottenham.

A few weeks ago, we did a bit of whimsy giving all the reasons why Spurs could win the league.

We did it before the Liverpool game, because we thought they would lose the Liverpool game and the chance to pretend they might win the league would be gone. But they didn’t lose the Liverpool game, did they? They won it, deservedly and without a hint of controversy.

Then they thrashed powerhouses Luton 1-0 and now they’ve also beaten Fulham. They’re two points clear at the top, and could be five points clear by Friday night if we’re not careful.

How the turntables have… turned. With a Tottenham title win now seemingly inevitable and their season possessed with the momentum of a runaway train we must now instead find five reasons why they won’t win the league. Which is much harder, because win it they surely will.

 

1) Squad depth
This is the one, really. You don’t actually need four more. Will Ford noted it in these very pages on Monday night.

Look at Spurs’ first XI. It’s mighty fine, isn’t it? Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United have all brought in new No. 1s this season, but none so far look anywhere near as good as Guglielmo Vicario. Micky van de Ven has slotted in beautifully alongside a re-energised and refocused Cristian Romero, Pedro Porro has surprised us all, Destiny Udogie is great. Pape Sarr is stupidly promising, Yves Bissouma is back in Brighton mode, James Maddison is the best player in the league at the moment, Son Heung-min has rediscovered himself, Dejan Kulusevski is tireless and relentless and Richarlison… well, we love Richarlison.

Now to take a long sip of coffee and look at the bench options. Splurt. There are almost no bench options. Emerson Royal is an adequate alternative for Porro. Brennan Johnson can surely replace Richarlison wide on the left without much problem. And when Rodrigo Bentancur returns from injury – which should be soon – they will have three very good options for the two central midfield positions.

But that’s it. Those are the only players currently outside the first-choice starting XI who can slot into it without either (or both) an enormous drop in quality or necessitating a fundamental alteration in what Angeball is and can be. They cannot play a high line without Van de Ven’s recovery pace, they cannot be so sure in defence without Romero’s general chaotic brilliance, they cannot surge through the midfield without Bissouma, they cannot create without Maddison and they cannot score without Son.

They are out of Europe and the Carabao, which is both blessing and curse. They are clearly more likely to be able to get away with relying on a core of 14 or 15 players through to January, but it also means that when the second-stringers are called upon, they are not only palpably inferior but also rusty as all hell.

Spurs finished the Fulham game without any of Bissouma, Sarr, Udogie, Maddison or Son on the pitch and it really showed. Few teams have a second XI as strong as their first, but there aren’t many where the drop-off is so significant so quickly.

 

2) Their Rivals
It feels trite to just say ‘Manchester City exist’ but at the same time…Manchester City exist. They are the most dominant club side in English football history, chasing an unprecedented fourth straight title and a sixth in the last seven years. Spurs aren’t going to beat them over 38 games, just as Arsenal couldn’t last year and nor could a genuinely brilliant Liverpool side in all but one astonishing season.

Unlikely title tilts will, inevitably and forever, be compared to Leicester in 2016. But Leicester’s genius wasn’t just in having a ludicrous outlier of a season of their own, but in doing it in a year when absolutely everyone else – City included – was a bit shit. They won the title by 10 points with a total of 81. It’s an entirely different world now. That total would only have got Leicester in the top two once in the seven seasons since and only once – in a year City won it with 86 – even into anything like an actual title race.

This Spurs team could absolutely, with a following wind, get 80-odd points. They could absolutely win the 2015/16 Premier League. They almost certainly won’t get the 90-plus it needs to win one now.

 

3) Results in context
It is overplayed but also undeniably true that Spurs have beaten mainly teams they probably ought to beat, and have on occasion made quite hard work of doing that. They’ve played all three historically bad promoted sides and a desperately struggling Bournemouth, were outplayed for 45 minutes by Manchester United (before, admittedly impressively, dispatching them second half) and the absurdity of the Liverpool game barely needs restating.

Spurs were good value for their point at the Emirates in their most difficult test of the season thus far but it’s also a game they could very easily have lost.

A much tougher set of fixtures awaits in the coming weeks, and it’s one that will likely expose all Spurs’ obvious and known weaknesses and reveal them for what they surely are: a very good side, a very fun side, a much better side than last year, but one whose ambitions are top four or five rather than top one or two.

 

4) The Run-in
One of the things we’ve most enjoyed about Spurs’ start is that while obviously absolutely nobody genuinely expects them to win the league or even to particularly challenge for it, there is now the need to at least acknowledge the theoretical possibility. Twitter or whatever it’s called now is positively awash with Arsenal fans especially but also City and Liverpool ones making a point of telling you how they’re not worried about Spurs. Of course, the best way to let people know you’re worried about something is to, without prompt, tell them just how much you are not worried about it.

And it’s even better if the way you are showing you are not worried about Spurs is to look up what their fixtures are in six months’ time. Those are without doubt the actions of someone who is not worried about Spurs. It’s just normal to scour the fixture list months in advance for teams you’re not worried about, isn’t it?

That said, Spurs’ run-in is hilarious. In the wildly unlikely event they are somehow still meaningfully engaged in what might be termed a title challenge by mid-April, the rest of the league can at least take comfort in the buffer provided by a run of games against Newcastle, City, Arsenal and Liverpool that will surely bring matters back under control and stop the world spinning off its axis.

 

5) Lads, it’s Tottenham
And let us never ever forget that this is still Spurs we’re talking about. In its own way, surely there is nothing Spursier than emerging from that run of games top of the league only to blow it in the last two games of the season against Burnley and Sheffield United.