Thursday 29 September 2016

Comment: Tottenham may be more worthy champions than Leicester

Published 02/04/2016 | 20:19

It was the great Brian Clough who suggested that no team wins the English league title by a fluke - but that might well be the scenario we are faced with in this unfathomable Premier League season.

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If you strip back the romance and the fantasy of Leicester City’s march towards title glory, you could argue that the team that deserves to be champions more than any other come the final day of the campaign on May 15th is, in fact, Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham Hotspur.

On a night when Spurs produced another inventive, gritty and ultimately unsuccessful display as they collected a point in a 1-1 draw against Liverpool at Anfield, this was a night when the Leicester title dream could have taken a decisive twist.

Now, if Claudio Ranieri’s men beat Southampton at their King Power Stadium on Sunday, they will be a massive seven points clear of their nearest rival at the top of the Premier League. With only six games left to play - or seven in the case of their distant rivals Arsenal - that would effectively be game over.

The plaudits that would flow in Leicester’s direction would all be merited after their enchanting efforts over the last nine months, but fortune has been flowing in their direction from start to finish in a title race that has been notable for the calamities endured by the rabble behind them.

Leicester have been hugely fortunate to keep their three shining stars Riyad Mahrez, Jamie Vardy and N’Golo Kante fit for most of this season and that is before we start to assess the opposition they have overcome to get to this point.

Chelsea’s desperation to strike the self-destruct button, Manchester City’s inability to maximise their potential, Arsenal’s enduring mental fragility and Manchester United’s misery under Louis van Gaal adds up to a collection of storylines that set up the Leicester charge.

It was left to Tottenham to bring some order to the madness at the top of the Premier League, but time appears to have run out for a team and a manager whose own fairytale season has been ignored amid the Leicester miracle.

Pochettino’s success in revolutionizing the traditionally flaky Tottenham mentality was evident last season and has been backed up by their most concerted title push since the 1980s.

Injuries to key defenders have failed to knock them off course, with their effervescence as an attacking force ensuring they have been a joy to watch amid a season of mediocrity in the Premier League.

As Tottenham pushed for a late winner at Anfield, they may have suspected their title charge was ticking away with each passing second and yet if they are to finish behind the eventual champions next month, their progress should not be overlooked.

While Ranieri has been fortunate to inherit a set of players that have churned out wins for him this season, Pochettino has succeeded in building a team at Tottenham team fit for the Champions League, the competition they will deservedly compete in next season.

Pochettino has moulded Harry Kane into the Premier League's most consistent striker over the last two seasons, with his brilliant goal in the draw at Anfield further cementing his claims to be PFA Player of the Year for this season.

Even though Dele Alli did not have his best game against Liverpool, he is the outstanding young talent in the English game right now, with the fluidity offered by Christian Eriksen in midfield fused with a rock solid defence helping to change Tottenham’s image over the last couple of years.

This is a fine Spurs side and they are likely to make better progress in next season's Champions League that champions-elect Leicester.

Their hopes for a bright future were hard to contemplate as they left Anfield with their heads bowed after surrendering two points that offers Leicester a chance to open up an impregnable gap at the top of the table if they beat Southampton on Sunday.

Yet while this is almost certain to be a one-season wonder for Leicester, there is every reason to believe that the Pochettino inspired Spurs will be back in the title race once again a year from now.

Tottenham's time should come, even if it is not to be this season.

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