Tottenham, who finished fourth last season, faces a fierce battle for that ever-valuable top four spot in the Premier League. In fact, despite improving both the squad and overall gameplay, the competition around them is more challenging.
Manchester City and Liverpool are fairly safe bets for two of those spots. Despite Liverpool’s somewhat disappointing start to the season, Jurgen Klopp has perhaps too deep of a side, as does Manchester City. Therefore, Spurs battle it out with fellow London rivals Chelsea and Arsenal for those remaining Champions League spots.
Tottenham now have a full preseason under Antonio Conte. Undeniably, the squad is sharper on the pitch and possesses a better cohesion within.
Star forwards Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min lead the line for the eighth-consecutive season. Plus, January signing Dejan Kulusevski made a strong start in England upon his arrival. Consequently, Tottenham has a shout for best front three in the Premier League.
However, those London neighbors are not going to simply sit back. With three games played now for those rival teams, there are strong candidates to give Tottenham a run for top four.
Tottenham’s top four bid in the Premier League
In Spurs’ opening game against Southampton, the Saints took an early lead courtesy of James Ward-Prowse. However, Tottenham bounced back to a comfortable, even dominant, defeat of Southampton, 4-1.
Throughout the fixture, Conte’s side looked organized while always possessing a threat up top. Surprisingly, neither Kane nor Son scored, making the win that much more promising. Goals came from different areas of the pitch instead of relying solely on the two talisman up top.
Most recently in matchday three, Spurs played out another win at home, this time dispatching Wolves. However, this win looked vastly different than the opening day triumph. In what was an even game throughout, a lone Harry Kane goal in the second half saw Spurs across the line. The second-half savior for Tottenham came after Spurs fans booed their squad off the field at halftime.
Wolves frustrated the hosts. Had it not been for Harry Kane, this game, as well as matchday two against Chelsea, provided a different outlook in this infantile season.
Frustration against Chelsea and Wolves
Spurs put together a dismal performance against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on matchday two. In the end, fortunate breaks and a heroic Harry Kane salvaged a 2-2 draw. The second iteration of the ‘Battle of the Bridge’ yielded a number of favorable calls for Tottenham. Moreover, Spurs capitalized on both of those missed fouls to grab its two goals.
Putting aside the controversy, the level of performance from Tottenham failed to be near the expectation of a side looking to challenge for top four, let alone a potential EPL title. If Chelsea managed to put away some of its chances, the game had potential to reach 4-2 or 5-2 in favor of the hosts.
Spurs faced a reality check, but left the game relatively unscathed. The following game against Wolves, Spurs relied on Kane yet again. It is a contrast from the hopes sold against Southampton early on, when the team looked to provide the difference, not just one or two players.
One positive over the last two games, despite the clear desires left available, is the debut of a number of new signings. Richarlison, Yves Bissouma and Ivan Perisic all made their Tottenham debuts in the second half at Stamford Bridge. Each looked to provide an impetus in the game, and that carried over into the Wolves game.
Perisic played excellent against Wolverhampton Wanderers, picking up the assist on Kane’s goal. The fact remains, however, that Spurs need more than just Kane scoring goals to achieve their lofty goals for this campaign.
Key rivals for Tottenham’s top four bids
Just looking at Arsenal and Chelsea, that is an area where a case can be made that the two London rivals thrive. In this young season, Arsenal is the only team on nine points from nine games. Chelsea, which likely deserved three points against Tottenham, floundered at Leeds, throwing a wrench in what was a decent, but far from perfect, start to its campaign.
Here is a brief outlook to the start to those two teams’ campaigns, and how it stacks up against Spurs.
Arsenal’s resurgence under Arteta
As stated, Arsenal is humming. Three wins from three games, two of which came on the road, is a perfect start. To be fair, Arsenal’s start to the season did not present overly challenging propositions. Crystal Palace, Leicester City and Bournemouth precede Fulham, Aston Villa and Manchester United. In all honesty, Mikel Arteta likely expects six wins from six games.
The scintillating form presents a strong case for Champions League qualification. Mikel Arteta now exhibits his vision for what Arsenal is capable of. With three complete seasons under his belt, new arrivals William Saliba and Gabriel Jesus fit in seamlessly. Saliba grabbed a stunner against Bournemouth, and Jesus already has two goals, both coming against Leicester.
Spurs narrowly beat Arsenal to the top four last season, and the Gunners have revenge on their mind. Should both teams continue their starts to the season, that October 1 North London Derby may have a special level of intrigue.
Chelsea showed their true potential against Spurs
If the Spurs game is any indication, Chelsea got its bearings together. Of course, those bearings unraveled against a determined Leeds side that outclassed the Blues.
Chelsea’s opening win against Everton was nothing more than three points. Yes, Chelsea outplayed Everton, but that is to be expected. Ironically, the draw against Spurs is by far Chelsea’s most impressive performance this season. The disappointing result should not take away from the fact that Chelsea should have grabbed more than the two goals it scored.
However, did Chelsea show its true colors against Leeds? Raheem Sterling gets into the right spots, but shows signs of what happened during his time at Manchester City by not being clinical enough. Kalidou Koulibaly, a stalwart in that game against Spurs, conceded a pair of yellow cards to be sent off after Chelsea already trailed 3-0 against Leeds.
It could be growing pains as the unit gels together. That was the case against Spurs in matchday two. Thomas Tuchel’s side looked secure. Reece James and Ruben Loftus-Cheek put out dazzling displays in that game, as did Marc Cucurella, who hit the ground running.
Chelsea’s next game is now against Leicester City. Arsenal already proved itself against the Foxes, the Blues must do the same to keep up with its pair of London rivals.
Tottenham provided a great bit of optimism to finish in the top four or better in that first game against Southampton. Spurs had a top-level manager that coached players of his choosing. In fact, anticipation swirled that the Italian could lead another Premier League team to the title, as he did with Chelsea in 2017. That could be a premature reaction to the season, but Spurs will not care.
Fact remains, Daniel Levy’s Tottenham must find the energy that existed in matchday one, and somehow hold on to it for an extended period of time. Arsenal looks untouchable given its first three games, and Chelsea provided Tottenham with all that it can handle and then some. It makes the fight for top four more interesting. Plus, Liverpool could be slipping into that conversation if it cannot find its footing.
Spurs’ next three games should yield somewhere between seven to nine points. Nottingham Forest, West Ham and Fulham are the opponents. After that, Spurs faces major battles against Manchester City, a disappointing Leicester and that all-important showdown with Arsenal early on.
PHOTO: Tottenham Hotspur FC/Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images
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