Mauricio Pochettino urged caution post-match, but even he couldn’t deny or hide his optimism over his team’s chances this season. Following Tottenham’s 6-2 win at Everton, the North London side have 14 wins from 18 games, 42 points which make their best start to a Premier League season, and while the six-point gap between them and top spot remains unchanged, it’s also enough for title talk to start making the rounds.
‘I still believe Liverpool and Manchester City are the real favourites to win the Premier League,’ said Pochettino. ‘We are there but so are Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United. I think there is still a long way for me to say we are real contenders.’ Pochettino may be right to dub Liverpool and City as the real favourites (he is), but pointing Arsenal, Chelsea and United being there with his side looks little more than a show of modesty; Spurs are five points clear of the two London sides, above them not just on the table but on how they do what they do on the pitch as well, while United look way far behind.
The progression of the Lilywhites under Pochettino is undeniable; since the Argentine joined, they’ve finished above Chelsea, Arsenal, and both Manchester sides twice, while they’ve never finished below Liverpool. But even in those seasons, even in those times when development is undeniable, Spurs have never started this well. In the past four seasons under Pochettino, Spurs have never gotten to 18 league games with more than one streak of at least three successive wins, this season they’ve done it three times. Pochettino himself pointed out that for Spurs to be seen as contenders, they have to be consistent, and that’s what they look to have finally found. This season, Spurs have won games in which they looked very much below their usual standard, some hard-fought, unconvincing 1-0 victories when all looked far from well, coming up with late goals to salvage wins, those are traits they haven’t usually been known for.
And it’s telling as well. In Pochettino’s previous four campaigns, Spurs have never had more than 38 points at this stage, and – bar the 2015/16 season when they were six points from the leaders, as they are now – the gap between them and top spot has been 15, 11 and 20 points respectively. Even when they had long unbeaten runs, they weren’t quite up to it. That has also been as a result of Spurs drawing games in previous seasons, stalemates in the first half of the campaign had always meant that, their second-half burst of form is only a way of playing catch-up.
This season looks very different; Spurs haven’t drawn any game so far (even if they’d be happy if those four defeats became four stalemates) and, aside from the mishap at Watford in August, their defeats this season have been very much understandable (to Liverpool, Man City and Arsenal). Gone look to be the days of huffing and puffing yet ending up with just a point against lesser opponents, the days of a banal draw to continue a smokescreen of an unbeaten look to be in the past.
Spurs probably won’t win the title this season, it’s more plausible they fall further behind than keep up, which would be another stick for cynics to use and beat the club and manager, the talk of ‘yeah but how many trophies, though’, and ‘away wins trophy, lol’ will linger in the most narrow-minded ways possible. But this is another sign of progress being made at Tottenham another form of evidence as to why Real Madrid and Manchester United want the manager; even in the midst of the drawbacks – the stadium still not complete, no new signings in the summer, a World Cup hangover and an absence of players through injury – Spurs haven’t just soldiered on, they are thriving.
Liverpool and City will quite rightly dominate the title talk, both apparently going full-throttle in their super-fast Ferraris, but behind them are Spurs, that innocuous-looking mini-van that has more to it than everyone expects it to.