Are Tottenham Hotspur Too Fragile to Remain in Third Place?

I see a lot of promise in Tottenham Hotspur. I see a club inching its way to the top of the Premier League on the backs of four or five exciting young players, a club that is doing everything to prepare for the long term, short of recruiting an Abramovich-esque billionaire with a big yacht and the intestinal fortitude required for a working relationship with Daniel Levy.

I see a club that is sticking with a young, innovative manager because Harry Redknapp ran out of steam, and that is building a Modric-less team whose pacey, aggressive midfielders would probably plow right through Modric if they ever played against Real Madrid (and if Mourinho were able to pry Modric off the Real Madrid bench, which, let me tell you, when you sit in one place for a really long time, adhesion just happens). Tottenham is racing toward next season’s Champions League without bothering to look over its shoulder.

Even Emmanuel Adebayor looks happy – at least, by the low standards Adebayor set during his time at Manchester City, much of which he spent either sulking or trying to force a transfer. A new 56,000-capacity Tottenham Hotspur stadium is planned. According to people involved in the project, the new stadium will provide a “catalyst for the long-term physical regeneration of Tottenham.” I have my doubts, but new stadiums are always a lot of fun. Andre Villas-Boas has stopped squatting on the sidelines, and his annoyingly boisterous goal celebrations look positively restrained next to Steffen Freund’s ridiculous antics.

Tottenham has squad depth in virtually every area. Lewis Holtby, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Aaron Lennon, Clint Dempsey, and, of course, Gareth Bale can play in a variety of attacking positions. In defense, Jan Vertonghen, Michael Dawson, Kyle Walker, Benoit Assou Ekotto, Kyle Naughton and Steven Caulker have rotated in and out of the starting XI without a hitch. Villas-Boas is expected to sign a striker this summer (Negredo? Damiao?), but Tottenham – despite Defoe’s injuries and Adebayor’s dips in form (relatively mild symptoms of his all-encompassing meta-sulk) – is already scoring plenty of goals, thanks mostly to Bale and Dempsey.

But I can’t shake the feeling that Spurs’ place in the top four (this season and in seasons to come) isn’t nearly as secure as most pundits would have you believe. The team’s central midfield is cohesive and efficient, but in an almost delicate way. Remove one important cog, you fear, and the whole unit collapses. Villas-Boas responded to Sandro’s long-term injury by partnering Moussa Dembele and Scott Parker. That’s the sort of flexible maneuver that AVB probably wouldn’t have attempted 18 months ago. (At Chelsea, Villas Boas played 4-3-3 — there was no room for compromise.) But now that Dembele and Parker have spent so many productive minutes in each other’s company, it’s hard to imagine any other combination working. Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore are overrated puff passers at best, serious liabilities at worst.

There’s an even better reason to doubt Spurs’ progress, however. The Premier League is in flux. It’s still unclear whether Arsenal and Chelsea will qualify for the 2013-14 Champions League. Last weekend, Liverpool beat Tottenham 3-2. Everton’s in the mix – or maybe not. Where Spurs will fall when the dust clears and Whichever Manchester Team Got Lucky wins next year’s Premier League title is anyone’s guess. Right now, everything is kind of confusing. All I see at the top of the league table is a lot of gray.

Read more by David Yaffe-Bellany at In For The Hat Trick and follow him on Twitter @INFTH.

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