This is a surprising time at Tottenham Hotspur. Now at the stage of the season when the remaining games are counted down, they are just one stride away from the lead in the Premier League. Their form, which has been exceptional since August, can no longer be marked off as a spurt or a run but rather the genuine level of a team good enough to win the title.
Behind Manchester United on goal difference, behind Manchester City by three points: Spurs have nearly caught up the two Manchester clubs despite losing badly to each of them back in August. Even more impressively, they have left their London rivals Chelsea and Arsenal eight and nine points behind them respectively.
Often January and February just see a sad drift towards what Arsenal fans call "St Totteringham's Day": the point, usually in March or April, at which it is mathematically impossible for Spurs to finish as the top north London side. Not this year, though, as Tottenham bound forward, and Arsenal struggle to keep up.
For Tottenham, a title challenge takes some adjusting to. For Rafael van der Vaart, formerly of Ajax and Real Madrid, it does not. "Now everybody knows we have a great team and if we can keep playing like this we will be one of the favourites," he said after Wednesday's 2-0 win over Everton. "But we are now so far in front we have to look up the table not down!"
Van der Vaart's confidence is spreading to a squad less familiar with competing at the top. "Everybody believes we can win the League, absolutely" he said. "We know we are good."
Spurs' position is particularly impressive given their start to the season. The poker game with Chelsea over the future of Luka Modric was eventually won by chairman Daniel Levy, but in August Modric's future was still in play, while Scott Parker and Emmanuel Adebayor did not arrive until the final days of the month. The results were a 3-0 loss away at United before a 5-1 defeat to City at White Hart Lane .
Van der Vaart, like manager Harry Redknapp, believes those August arrivals have made the necessary difference. "I knew we had a great squad when I arrived but there were maybe a few parts missing," he said. "Now we have another fantastic striker and signing Scott Parker was really important for us. I think they were the two missing links."
Those two additions, along with goalkeeper Brad Friedel, have certainly been crucial, both ensuring one quality player where last season Spurs rotated between lesser options. Parker has provided the reliable excellence expected of a reigning Footballer of the Year. Just as Adebayor is the settled, physical partner for Van der Vaart, Parker is the settled, muscular partner for Modric: the necessary platform for the Croat's subtlety and imagination.
But the real test for Spurs will be their remaining away games: they still have to go to City, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea. Whether they can perform on those stages will be one of the defining questions of the title race. So the game at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday week will be crucial. East Manchester was the site of the making and the unmaking of Spurs' last two seasons. In May 2010 Peter Crouch's late header there launched Spurs into the Champions League, at City's expense. One year later, in the same fixture, an own goal from the same player sent City into the Champions League instead. This year victory there could push Tottenham towards a different level of achievement entirely.Reuse content