If there is one criticism of the English Premier League, it is that financial inequality between clubs has restricted the title race to just a select few of the elite. Traditionally the ‘Big Four’ of Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool have dominated the competition, however with the emergence of Manchester City in 2011/2012 many now see the EPL as a ‘five horse race.
Regardless, the slow and painful decline of Liverpool has brought into question whether the dominant forces of English football are as invincible as they once seemed. With this campaign marking 13 seasons since their last League title and having only won a single trophy since 2006, ‘The Reds’ are no longer a member of European football’s upper echelon. Pundits could be forgiven for simply identifying Manchester City as the rightful successor to a long era of Merseyside dominance, but the truth is that the English Premier League now possesses not just four title contenders, but five.
Tottenham may not have the pedigree or the silverware of Anfield, but in 2012/2013, White Hart Lane has firmly asserted its intention to play a major part in the changing landscape of British football. Not since the 2008/2009 season has Liverpool finished above Tottenham on the Premier League table with the London club boasting a head-to-head record of a similar note over that period [6 wins, 2 losses, 1 draw].
Being superior to a team we’re openly declaring to be on the periphery of significance isn’t in itself sufficient to become a contender. What is more important, is that Tottenham have held their own against premium opponents and expect nothing less than a result even when playing the League’s best.
Fortunate to steal a point from Manchester United in a 1-1 draw at White Hart Lane overnight, Tottenham’s Andre Villas-Boas didn’t just praise his side’s effort, he instead elected to claim Spurs ‘deserved to win’. Known for his eccentricities, the Portuguese manager has a legitimate belief that his current side has the potential and culture to succeed on both domestic and continental stages.
Tottenham’s offensive capabilities against the stronger teams in the League has never been doubted with their prowess on the counter-attack the primary reason for both high-scoring matches and sometimes dismal inconsistency. Mustering 25 shots compared to United’s mere 5, the Villas-Boas era hasn’t compromised this aggressive strategy, however the bolstered defensive integrity and installation of a creative confidence in midfield has ensured Tottenham are now capable of breaking down defences, not just exploiting over-zealous wing backs.
Most impressively, Spurs have been able to improve markedly in this area without compromising the progress made under Harry Redknapp. The distribution of assists within the Tottenham squad under Villas-Boas is a testament to this. Whilst under Redknapp, players in the four most advanced positions of his 4-4-1-1 [wingers, attacking-midfielder and striker] accounted for 25 of the 33 Premier League assists in 2010/2011, just 19 of the already 32 assists this campaign have come from players in those same formerly over-relied upon, counter-attacking inclined positions.
Maintaining their impeccable reputation on the road, an improved scoring efficiency in the 2nd half of matches shows further development in this area. A willingness to exploit the conditioning vulnerabilities of lesser sides with midfield supremacy as opposed to persisting with the hopeful nature of counter-attacking highlights nothing but progression since last season.
The long-tem commitment of Gareth Bale to this promising project is but one sign of the confidence held by players and supporters alike in this new and improved footballing strategy.
‘The club is progressing and I want to be a part of that’, Bale commented upon the signing of a 4-year, £75,000 per week deal in July 2012.
If early signs are anything to go by, the Welshman’s observation appears to be progressing quicker than even he may have expected. Tottenham currently sit 4th in the Premier League, well within the Champions League qualification contention they’re striving to consistently attain. With an incredibly favorable run of fixtures leading up to a London derby with Arsenal in early March, this young, optimistic and rapidly developing outfit doesn’t appear to be relinquishing their pressure on the title contenders anytime soon.
Between 1997 and 2011, a member of the traditional ‘Big Four’ occupied the top two spots in the league every single season in a competition-draining stranglehold worthy of La Liga and the world of Men’s Tennis. Despite many believing Manchester City’s 2012 title is the equivalent of adding just one more guest to a still exclusive party, don’t be surprised if Tottenham barge the doors down in the near future, inspiring other clubs lacking financial supremacy to follow suit.