EPL TALK: After struggles in recent years, Spurs primed for credible title push

Chia Han Keong
·7-min read
Gareth Bale of celebrates scoring Tottenham's second goal in their 2-1 Premier League win over Brighton.
Gareth Bale of celebrates scoring Tottenham's second goal in their 2-1 Premier League win over Brighton. (PHOTO: Charlotte Wilson/Offside/Offside via Getty Images)

SINGAPORE — How have your favourite English Premier League (EPL) teams performed over the past week? Yahoo News Singapore looks at the key talking points surrounding the league in this weekly review:

Spurs revival gaining steam under Jose Mourinho

WHAT HAPPENED: Two-and-a-half years ago, Tottenham finished third in the 2017/18 season with 77 points, two points ahead of fourth-placed Liverpool, then in their second full season under Jurgen Klopp.

It has been a rollercoaster ride for the north London club in the years since. They reached their first-ever Champions League final. They lost that final to Liverpool. They struggled so badly that manager Mauricio Pochettino was fired. They controversially hired Jose Mourinho. They finished sixth last season – a massive 40 points behind champions Liverpool.

It had seemed that whatever momentum Spurs had under Pochettino was undone during these recent years, and that their seemingly interminable wait for a first top-flight league title since 1961 would go on and on.

And yet, look at this season’s league table, and Tottenham are sitting pretty in third spot after seven matches, with a six-match unbeaten run, as well as the best goal difference among all 20 EPL teams (+9).

While they are still two points behind leaders Liverpool, it isn’t too hard to imagine an intriguing battle of wits between Klopp and Mourinho for Premier League supremacy this season. Game on.

Judging from Tottenham’s 2-1 win over Brighton on Sunday (1 November), it would seem that Mourinho has instilled a more steely resolve among his players to complement the attacking prowess of the likes of Harry Kane, Son Heung-min and Gareth Bale.

This is no simple task, given that Spurs often crumble under pressure even when they were at their peak powers under Pochettino, and the lack of trophies under the Argentinian’s reign showed up their brittleness when facing elite opposition.

And while they have had an easy schedule to start this season – the only “Big Six” club they faced so far were Manchester United, whom they memorably thrashed 6-1 – it can be said that they seemed far more capable of grinding out narrow wins than before.

Two weeks ago, they eked out a 1-0 away win at Burnley. And despite looking as if they would have to settle for a 1-1 draw with Brighton, Bale’s late winner – his first goal since returning to Spurs from Real Madrid – continued their push to the top of the table.

Can Mourinho continue to cajole his team to gritty victories? He always seems to be in his element when he manages underdogs – and few had predicted that Spurs could challenge for the EPL title this season. And while he continues to insist during media interviews that his side are “not good enough” to win the EPL, you can bet he is telling a different story to his players.

The next few league matches should show how credible their title challenge will be. After visiting struggling West Bromwich Albion on Sunday, Tottenham will face three “Big Six” clubs in succession – Manchester City (22 November), Chelsea (30 November) and arch-rivals Arsenal (6 December).

Win those three matches, and they will definitely be considered as main challengers to Liverpool. Their first clash of the season is coming up on 17 December; will the two clubs still be in the top spots then?

WHAT’S NEXT: The only major concern that Tottenham face this weekend is the short turnaround between their Europa League away clash against Bulgaria’s Ludogorets Razgrad, which is on Thursday night, and their EPL clash with West Brom, which is on Sunday afternoon.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang celebrates after scoring from the penalty spot during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Arsenal.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang celebrates after scoring from the penalty spot during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Arsenal. (PHOTO: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Arsenal end goal drought, Man U’s home woes continue

WHAT HAPPENED: It was once a clash that decided titles. But when Sunday’s high-profile clash between Manchester United and Arsenal was decided not by a moment of genius, but by a moment of stupidity, then it shows that the two English giants are still a long way from challenging for the EPL title.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s second-half penalty – conceded needlessly by Paul Pogba – settled a dreary contest in Arsenal’s favour. And while it snapped a two-match losing run in the league, the manner in which the Gunners toiled in creating clear chances meant that there is still plenty of work to be done by manager Mikel Arteta to get his misfiring forwards scoring again.

His Man United counterpart, though, is facing bigger headaches. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has overseen four winless home matches to start this season – the first time Man United have been so poor at Old Trafford since the 1972/73 season. They are now mired in 15th place in the league, and time is running out for Solskjaer to find some consistency to climb up the table.

There was some praise for the often-maligned Norwegian after two sparkling victories in the Champions League last fortnight against two of last season’s semi-finalists, Paris Saint-Germain and RB Leipzig. Yet the loss to Arsenal underlined the infuriating manner in which many of the Man United players have oscillated between brilliance and indifference throughout the season.

Perhaps it is time for Solskjaer to be ruthless and cull those United players who do not put in maximum effort in every match. He can ill-afford passengers in this team, especially after their poor start to the season. The time to defend them is over; he has to draw the line in terms of acceptable performances.

WHAT’S NEXT: It does not get easier for United, as they have an away clash with high-flying Everton. Even though the Toffees are on a two-match losing run, their early-season form will make this an extremely tricky tie for Man United. Likewise, Arsenal will also face a tricky tie against Aston Villa, who have also lost twice after winning their first four matches of the season.

Southampton midfielder James Ward-Prowse (left) scores their second goal during their 4-3 win over Aston Villa.
Southampton midfielder James Ward-Prowse (left) scores their second goal during their 4-3 win over Aston Villa. (PHOTO: Gareth Copley/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Wolves, Saints stake claims to challenge for European qualification

WHAT HAPPENED: As Everton and Aston Villa began to fade after their early bright starts to the EPL season, Southampton and Wolverhampton Wanderers are taking over as the next two challengers to the dominance of the Big Six clubs.

Wolves ran out comfortable 2-0 winners against Crystal Palace on Friday, as early goals by Rayan Ait Nouri and Daniel Podence set them en route to their third win in four league games. They are now in fifth place on 13 points, three behind leaders Liverpool.

What’s more impressive was that they seemed to have found new players who have hit the ground running and made up for the departures of stalwarts like Diogo Jota and Matt Doherty. Manager Nuno Espirito Santo has astutely decided to freshen up his squad after sticking the same cast for the past two seasons, and it has paid off handsomely.

Like Wolves, Southampton have 13 points, but are fourth thanks to a slightly better goal difference. After starting the season with two defeats, the Saints are unbeaten in five matches after a thrilling 4-3 win over Aston Villa on Saturday.

Unlike Nuno, Saints manager Ralph Hasenhuttl has stuck to mostly the same players as he had last season, and their familiarity with one another has meant a far more fluent side than before.

Whereas they relied on Danny Ings for goals last season, his teammates have eased his burden this season, with Che Adams, Jannik Vestergaard and James Ward-Prowse already contributing two goals each at this early stage of the season.

And so the key question remains: Can they keep this up? These two sides have have been bubbling with intent in recent seasons, and they looked capable to displacing at least one of the “Big Six” clubs especially in this unpredictable season.

The usual concerns of consistency and squad depth will linger until they show that they can handle the crammed schedule. Right now, the fans should be glad that their clubs are in good hands and sound leadership to be putting themselves in the top third of the league table.

WHAT’S NEXT: Wolves will face another well-run side next in Leicester City, while Southampton will host Newcastle United. After the international break, though, Wolves and Southampton will face off at Molineux in what should be a highly-entertaining tie.

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