Hang on to your hats sports fans, for I am about to unleash an Opinion of devastating insight and boldness. Tremble as I inform you that the team who finished fourth last season – then went on to significantly upgrade their personnel in goals, defence, midfield and the dugout – are pretty good this year too.
Take a moment to process that bombshell.
It shouldn’t be so difficult to throw lusty praise at André Villas-Boas’ smoothly evolving Spurs sensation, but there’s something about this season that’s making even bigger fools than usual of those who try to make concrete observations on the Premier League’s turbulent undulations.
Already this term, the football writing hive-mind has lauded West Brom’s exemplary and completely sustainable assault on the Champions League positions, while writing off Reading as woefully unprepared for the rigours of performing under the microscope of Jamie Redknapp’s scintillating analysis. We’ve hailed Newcastle for maintaining the blueprint that brought them to the brink of the elite, lambasted them as relegation-certainties, then installed them as favourites for a European spot, depending on the fluctuating levels of healthy Frenchmen the changing-room.
We even decided for a hot minute that Aston Villa had clicked into place and were the dynamic face of England’s young future, before 15 unanswered goals over the Christmas period altered that narrative as quickly as a sub-editor trying to make entertaining copy out of the first draft of Michael Owen’s memoirs.
But even with those cautionary tales from the recent past lurking over my shoulder – whispering snidely about how convinced I was that Stewart Downing would spend the rest of his Liverpool career on the bench, plotting his inevitable transfer to the Queens Park Rangers 2004 Appreciation Society – I should be filled with unqualified optimism for Tottenham’s immediate future, right? Spurs have settled into a formation that takes full advantage of their range of technically able, dynamic central midfielders and blink-and-you’ll-miss-‘em speedy wingers – becoming the type of team that inspires Villas-Boas to craft a fawning 50-slide PowerPoint lecture. They’re as direct as a Jeremy Paxman question, yet as fluid as a Cabinet Minister’s response.
It’s been two months since they last lost a Premier League match. Gareth Bale has kicked up yet another gear in his apparently ceiling-less career progression, already having scored more goals this season that last in just over half as many games. Even Aaron Lennon has been moulded into a consistently useful, tactically vital part of the Tottenham machine, rather than his previous incarnation as Theo Walcott without the searing football nous.
So what could go wrong? The squad’s depth at striker is an ongoing concern, after some classic Daniel Levy prolonging-the-magic transfer negotiation left Leandro Damião cooling his heels in Porto Alegre and idly leafing through a Rough Guide to the Russian Premier League at the end of the winter transfer window. In the short term, Spurs fans will be hoping that Jermaine Defoe’s latest ankle knock is the sort of injury that is cleared up rapidly by watching an England friendly on TV; and in the long term that the engaged-and-eager-to-prove-himself Emmanuel Adebayor comes back from South Africa, rather than the taking-a-nap-under-my-nice-fat-contract version.
Either way, any injuries to these two not exactly famously robust players will make it difficult to maintain a cutting edge for Spurs. There is some hope that Clint Dempsey can settle into regular goal-scoring form sooner rather than later, as his past performances as the main point of attack for Fulham and USMNT (as the acronym-hungry Americans call their national team) suggest that he could provide at least a glimmer of depth in that department. Nonetheless, there will be a strong desire to see Defoe spend his weekdays swaddled in cotton wool inside a safety-deposit box guarded by the finest dual-discipline ninja/physiotherapists in the land.
Moreover, Tottenham’s league run-in contains some difficult fixtures, including an early-March double-header with everyone’s favourite schizophrenic oddballs Arsenal and Liverpool, followed by a three game stand in April against the blue tide of Everton, Chelsea and Manchester City. If just three of those five teams play to their full potential, rather than rolling around in an erratic frenzy as they each have to greater or lesser extents this season, Spurs could find themselves locked out of the top four place that they took such care to cement.
Hopefully, these worst case scenarios are just a case of me covering my back so that any vague prediction about Spurs’ potential success doesn’t add to the litany of witless things I have typed and am yet to type in this space. Villas-Boas’ team are arguably the only member of the current top seven sides to combine a clear, well-executed vision with the sheer quality of player required to command one of the Champions League slots this season. All I’m saying is, let’s not be too surprised if the squad decides to defect en masse to a London and District Croquet league and leave their European place to a resurgent, Gary Caldwell inspired Wigan. It’s just been that type of season.
Nicol Hay watches a lot of sport and then writes about it. It's a compulsion, and he needs help desperately. His blogging can be found here, and you can follow him on Twitter here.