Ask the Opposition

Ask the Opposition 10 – Spurs

From under the exhilaration of Leicester City’s unlikely title challenge, Tottenham Hotspur have somehow crept into second position, pipping Manchester City and North London rivals Arsenal in the process. It shouldn’t be a surprise really. Unlike other title challengers, Tottenham have been remarkably consistent all season, playing with great intensity and a set style of play.

Mauricio Pochettino’s men bounced back from that disheartening defeat to Leicester last month with six wins in all competitions. However, Tottenham know that Sunday’s game at The Etihad will be the truest test of their title credentials.

Ahead of the title clash, we spoke to WhoScored journalist and all round top guy Ben McAleer to find out more about this Tottenham side.

First off, what have you made of Tottenham’s season? Can you win the league?

It’s gone better than expected, that’s for sure. With the level of investment made by the traditional top-4 challengers, it felt as though Tottenham were keeping things ticking over until the stadium was finished. However, the players have bought into Mauricio Pochettino’s philosophy and with the disruptive influences moved on to pastures new, every player is pulling in the right direction and it shows on the pitch. As such, top-4 is now considered a minimum expectation in what has been a superb campaign so far under Pochettino. As for the title? Never say never, but it’s important to remain grounded, which the players and staff appear to be doing. Personally, I don’t think it will happen – even if this season is Spurs’ best chance to secure first – but the fact that supporters would be disappointed if the club don’t lift the title in May shows how far the Spurs have come in the short time Pochettino’s been at the club.

You spanked us the last time we met and our big game record under Pellegrini this season has been atrocious. Do you fancy your chances?

City won’t make it easy, that’s for sure. Spurs, though, have been afforded a rare week off playing to fully prepare for this game and given City’s current injury woes, a win is certainly doable. However, that all depends on how Kevin Wimmer can adjust to the threat of Sergio Aguero. The young Austrian has impressed in Jan Vertonghen’s absence, but then a lacklustre Norwich and a defensive Watford were hardly baptisms of fire for the centre-back. Sunday is the real test for him to truly determine how sufficient a stand-in he is for Spurs. If Wimmer and the rest of the Spurs defence can keep Aguero at bay, then they should be aiming for all three points.

Spurs felt like a stagnating side before Mauricio Pochettino arrived. Talk to me about the fine work he’s done.

As mentioned, the players have bought into his high-pressing philosophy extremely quickly, which was vital for Spurs. Handed a five-year deal when he first arrived suggested Daniel Levy was willing to be patient with Pochettino and it’s paying off. The players are fitter, hungrier and hassling the opposition off the park each and every week, while the youthfulness of the side is perfectly suited to a manager who prefers to mould players in his image. He isn’t one to rustle any feathers or go on record for a good headline, either, which is ideal. Spurs are quietly going about their business, allowing Leicester, Arsenal and City to shoulder the pressure as the business end of the season nears.

He’s vastly improved a defence that has gone from leaking goals like a sieve to one of the tightest in Europe, allowed Eric Dier and Dele Alli to thrive but perhaps most importantly, he’s brought out the best in Moussa Dembele. The Belgian is the fulcrum of the team, which is a feat in itself given he seemed to have dropped way down the pecking order at White Hart Lane last season, with injuries taking their toll. If Dembele plays well, Spurs play well and his re-emergence as a key player is one of Pochettino’s greatest achievements in his short spell in charge.

One City player you’d take at Tottenham?

There’s only one option, surely? Martin Demichelis. This Spurs side isn’t Spursy enough for my liking! But seriously, Sergio Aguero. Granted, David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne would walk into Spurs’ starting XI, but the club is in desperate need of another striker, that goes without saying. Aguero’s high-intensity play in the final third would suit Pochettino’s gameplan to a tee, he’d offer an alternative to Harry Kane up front and the pair’s obvious quality means they would surely strike up an immediate understanding, forging – arguably – the Premier League’s best strike force. Of course, Pochettino’s a huge fan of a 4-2-3-1, so Aguero would be backup to begin with.

Prediction for the game?

That depends on Silva’s fitness. If he’s unavailable, 2-1 to Spurs. If he’s passed fit – 2-2.

Thanks for coming on, Ben.

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