Are Spurs the Premier League team to beat?

Harry Redknapp's stylish and settled side have a chance to deliver a first title in 51 years. Jack Pitt-Brooke looks at their chances and discovers success on the road will be crucial

This is a surprsing 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 new year, though, as Tottenham continue to 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. "I think now everybody knows Tottenham have a great team and if we can keep playing like this we will be one of the favourites to win the title," he said after Wednesday night's comfortable 2-0 win over Everton. "But we are now getting so far in front we have to look up the table and not down!"

Van der Vaart's confidence is spreading to a squad, William Gallas aside, less familiar than him with competing at the top. "Everybody in the dressing room believes we can win the League, absolutely," he said. "We know we are good."

Spurs' position is particularly impressive given their traumatic 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 .

"Apart from the first two games, we have played well," Van der Vaart recalled. "At that moment Manchester City were too good." Spurs' transformation since those two defeats has been remarkable: they have won 14 of their 18 League games since and drawn three.

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 maybe they were the two missing links. Now you can see we are a fantastic team. Everybody can score, everybody can play. It's a nice mix."

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. Adebayor has made the role up front his own, providing a more effective focal point than Peter Crouch, Jermain Defoe or Roman Pavlyuchenko did last season. He has nine League goals so far, and looks as interested as he has done at any time since he was at Arsenal.

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. No more changing between Tom Huddlestone, Jermaine Jenas and Wilson Palacios: Parker is the keystone of the side, as well as the necessary platform for the subtlety and imagination of Modric.

The result is an exceptionally well-balanced and coherent team. While the two Manchester clubs have very well-stocked squads, Tottenham have a rather traditional first XI. There are good players on the fringes: Steven Pienaar, Defoe and Niko Kranjcar all struggle for games, but they are not part of any real rotation policy. That might leave the club more vulnerable to injuries than others, though. A bad injury to Adebayor, Modric or Gareth Bale would diminish the side.

That said, Tottenham were the only top-six side to go unbeaten through the Christmas and new year football programme, and they did so without the injured winger Aaron Lennon. Whether with an extra midfielder in Sandro, or an extra forward in Defoe, they had the flexibility and the options to cope. Their 2-0 win at Norwich, with Bale at inside-left, and three central midfielders, was one of their performances of the season.

The real test will be their remaining away games. Spurs' home form looks assured: since losing to City they have won eight at home and drawn only to Chelsea. "Nobody likes to come to White Hart Lane to play us because at home we are unbelievable," Van der Vaart said. Manchester United, on 3 March, remain the only side left to come to White Hart Lane who might disrupt their supremacy.

It is on the road where Spurs will win or lose the title. They still have to go to City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Everton and Chelsea. Assessing their chances is difficult: their only trip to a top-six team so far this year was the defeat at Old Trafford in August. This team, with Adebayor and Parker, has yet to travel to their main rivals. 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. "After next weekend against Man City we will know where we stand," Van der Vaart said.

City have lost three of their four games in 2012 so far. Redknapp said after Wednesday's win that the pressure was now on Roberto Mancini's side, and Van der Vaart reckons they can be ambushed next weekend: "City have many good players, but we are more like a team I think. So it's going to be an interesting game. They are not so consistent any more. They have lost a few games recently and maybe that's a little bit in their heads so we can take advantage."

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, though, victory there could push Tottenham towards a different level of achievement entirely.

Hot Spurs: How Tottenham compare

Tottenham in the Premier League after 20 games

Season/Position/Points

2011-12 3rd/45

2010-11 4th/36

2009-10 4th/37

2008-09 18th/20

2007-08 12th/24

2006-07 7th/31

2005-06 4th/37

2004-05 8th/29

2003-04 16th/21

2002-03 8th/32

2001-02 7th/28

2000-01 11th/26

1999-00 6th/34

Premier League winners after 20 games

Season/Team/Position

2010-11 Man Utd/1st, 44 pts

2009-10 Chelsea/1st, 45 pts

2008-09 Man Utd/2nd, 44 pts

2007-08 Man Utd/2nd, 45 pts

2006-07 Man Utd/1st, 50 pts

2005-06 Chelsea/1st, 55 pts

2004-05 Chelsea/1st, 49 pts

2003-04 Arsenal/2nd, 46 pts

2002-03 Man Utd/3rd, 35 pts

2001-02 Arsenal/1st, 39 pts

2000-01 Man Utd/1st, 46 pts

1999-00 Man Utd/2nd, 44 pts

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Sport
Malky Mackay salutes the Cardiff fans after the 3-1 defeat at Liverpool on Sunday
footballFormer Cardiff boss accused of sending homophobic, racist and messages
Sport
Rodgers showered praise on Balotelli last week, which led to speculation he could sign the AC Milan front man
transfers
Life and Style
life – it's not, says Rachel McKinnon
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
News
Lizards, such as Iguanas (pictured), have a unique pattern of tissue growth
science
Arts and Entertainment
Arctic Monkeys headline this year's Reading and Leeds festivals, but there's a whole host of other bands to check out too
music(who aren't Arctic Monkeys)
Extras
indybest
News
Anna Nicole Smith died of an accidental overdose in 2007
people
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tvReview: Bread-making skills of the Bake Off hopefuls put to the test
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home