When Tottenham exposed Liverpool's frailties with an impressive 2-1 victory on the opening day of the league, it underlined the depth and quality of their squad. But the bigger question it raised was whether it showed that the club could finally challenge the Premier League's top four. Pre-season expectation, fuelled by big-money signings, is a given at White Hart Lane. It has often disappeared, though, at this stage of the season. After consecutive fifth-placed finishes in 2006 and 2007, Spurs have epitomised false hope. An 11th-place finish in 2007/08 was followed last campaign by the club's worst start to a season in which they took just two points from eight games before eventually finishing in eighth place.
It is testimony, therefore, to Harry Redknapp's team that, a third of the way into the season, they are fourth, in a Champions League spot and eight points from top. Today, Spurs travel to Aston Villa, three points and a place behind the London team in the table, but, with Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United all looking strong, it is Liverpool, who have been earmarked as the team most likely to lose their usual top-four spot.
"You look at the way the Premier League is panning out I think there's possibly one position going spare in that top four," Redknapp said. "Manchester United and Chelsea are not going to be shifted from there, certainly not in the short-term. You've got to fancy Arsenal a bit as they've turned a few heads, are playing well and looking good, but I really don't think we're far away from those clubs. Behind them you've Liverpool and a group of three or four others, and we're right at the head of it. We'll be there pushing all the way."
Tottenham's credentials were displayed in Sunday's memorable 9-1 win over Wigan, but it is results against rivals like Villa as well as the big four, that really count. Despite the Liverpool success, Spurs have been beaten by all the sides currently above them. In fact, in the past five seasons, Spurs have taken just 25 points from a possible 120 against Chelsea, Arsenal, United and Liverpool. But Redknapp thinks individual errors, rather than a difference in class, were to blame for this season's losses.
"Manchester United played out of their skin [in a 3-1 victory at White Hart Lane]. That was the best they've performed all season," he told Tottenham's official magazine. "We got off to a great start, but they came back strongly and, to their credit, did well. In the other games I really felt we were in it for long spells. At Chelsea [a 3-0 defeat] we could have been in front and maybe should have been, given that we missed a couple of really good chances.
"And at Arsenal [another 3-0 loss] there was nothing in it until we switched off and gifted them two goals which changed the entire game. The home crowd went from moaning and groaning at their side within three minutes of half-time to giving the players a standing ovation as they walked down the tunnel - crazy. And without making excuses we had no [Aaron] Lennon, no [Luka] Modric, no [Jermain] Defoe. You're talking about three top, top players, and you can't be without them.
"The real thing is that we must believe we're good enough, because trust me, we are." @Email:email@example.com Aston Villa v Tottenham, KO 9.30pm, Showsports 1 & 2