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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 18 January 2019

Tottenham's ability to succeed despite setbacks makes them a handful for Premier League rivals

Spurs are second in the English top flight even though they have faced a myriad of challenges - on and off the pitch

There is buzz about the Tottenham Hotspur side at the moment, and they are now second in the Premier League table. Eddie Keogh / Reuters
There is buzz about the Tottenham Hotspur side at the moment, and they are now second in the Premier League table. Eddie Keogh / Reuters

In this, the season where Tottenham Hotspur kept missing their deadlines, they are in danger of getting ahead of themselves. They can be forgiven for enjoying the irony of that.

Yes, the same Spurs who do not have a stadium of their own they can yet play in, the Spurs who let August's transfer deadline pass with no new signing, the Spurs so frail at the start of their Uefa Champions League campaign that the deadline for making it through to the last 16 seemed to have passed with just one point from three games, could be joint top of the Premier League on the first day of 2019.

The leapfrogging of Manchester City in the domestic table that moved them up in second place in England on Wednesday was perhaps an unexpected elevation, but Spurs have been thundering into compelling form for the best part of two months. After 11 goals within three days, their arrival in the English title race is no longer being made on tip-toes.

Victory on Saturday against Wolverhampton Wanderers at Wembley - the loaned home they had expected to have vacated by now if work on the new White Hart Lane arena had been completed on time - could propel Tottenham to within three points of Premier League leaders Liverpool. The latter kick off later in the day at home to Arsenal.

Tottenham supporters will watch that with a peculiar mix of emotions. It is a rare moment indeed they feel a strong urge to back their north London rivals.

Spurs also play earlier in the new year than Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool, so there is a scenario where they could move level with wins in what look a kinder pair of contests in the next five days: it is Wolves and then Cardiff away for Spurs. After hosting Arsenal, Liverpool must go to wounded champions City.

“People are talking about us,” Spurs striker Son Heung-min acknowledged of the very real presence of Tottenham in the title race, “but there is a long way to go and we have to keep our focus.”

For Son, the very sharp focus is a personal triumph. The South Korean striker scored twice in Wednesday’s 5-0 win against Bournemouth, to follow his double in the 6-2 victory at Everton the previous Sunday.

Perhaps no individual has felt deadline pressure more intensively over the past few months. Not only did he have a World Cup to preoccupy him in June, but he was also the star of South Korea’s Asian Games success in September.

An extra-time win in the final against Japan carried an extra benefit for his professional career because it exempted him from national service, an long-term obligation that would have shaped his future contractual possibilities with Spurs.

He has another looming deadline, too: Next month’s Asian Cup in the UAE.

Tottenham have negotiated with the Korean Football Federation that Son can remain with them until his country's final group stage match, against China. It means the striker can take his brilliant run of form - he has seven goals from his last six league starts - into the Wolves and Cardiff games and the match against Manchester United on January 13.

Tottenham Hotspur's Son Heung-min is expected to play in the Asian Cup, but not at the beginning of the competition. Tim Ireland / AP Photo
Tottenham Hotspur's Son Heung-min is expected to play in the Asian Cup, but not at the beginning of the competition. Tim Ireland / AP Photo

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By this time Spurs may also have explored what the winter transfer window might yield, although manager Mauricio Pochettino will not be cavalier about altering the blossoming ecology of his current squad.

Spurs’s complete lack of activity in the summer window, which they surveyed with limitations on their budget partly caused by the investment in a new stadium, was certainly unusual for an elite club. Yet to watch this Tottenham is to appreciate the benefits of nurturing a group of players over time, encouraging them to develop without the interruptions the arrival of new players from elsewhere can bring about.

They know one another's routines as second-nature. Confidence is high.

The progress to the knockout stages of the Champions League, delivered via a victory over Inter Milan and a creditable draw in Barcelona has been part of a run of 13 games in which Spurs have lost just once and won every other game apart from the 1-1 at Camp Nou.

That spells out a very relevant challenge indeed to the Premier League’s leaders and to the title-holders.

Updated: December 27, 2018 04:15 PM

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