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Tottenham hitting form at the right time in race for top four

In the space of 11 days, Tottenham have picked up two home wins against top-four rivals Arsenal and Manchester United and a point away at Liverpool. This has propelled them right back into the race for the Champions League places, and even given them designs of outpacing the others and becoming the “best of the rest” behind runaway leaders Manchester City.

It could have been very different had the linesman not given a late penalty against Liverpool and Harry Kane kept his nerve to score it, or had Alexandre Lacazette nailed either of his late chances in the north London Derby. However, it wouldn’t have changed one thing about all three of thhose games: Tottenham’s superiority.

They weren’t just better, they controlled huge swathes of each match. The second half against Liverpool was largely one-way traffic as their opponents appeared to tire, while United were second best from the first minute onwards. Arsenal managed to match their rivals to some degree during the first half, but created no chances of note before being swept aside in a blistering opening section of the second period.

In particular, those two Wembley matches can be classed as two of the better Tottenham performances all season. In each they outshot their opponents by a ratio of around three to one - which matched their season-long rates at Wembley against all competition - and in doing so they vanquished the memory of rather tame defeats in the return fixtures. The feat in limiting Arsenal to zero shots inside the box until injury time cannot be understated.

Since losing to Arsenal in late November, Tottenham’s record in all competitions is extremely solid. A 4-1 schooling by Manchester City and a slightly unfortunate 2-1 defeat at Leicester are the only black marks on a 12-6-2 record and they are unbeaten since before Christmas, and in nine Premier League games. This improvement in form as the season progresses is reminiscent of previous campaigns. Pochettino has been at the club long enough to understand how best to get his team to peak through the season, and a recurrent feature of his tenure is poorer autumn form giving way to strong results over Christmas and beyond.

In 2016/17, after a mid-February defeat by Liverpool, Spurs proceeded to win 12 of their last 13 league games. Their form in 2015/16 wasn’t quite as stellar but was still strong; Tottenham were the one team to emerge from the pack to follow Leicester’s lead, until results and performances dropped off after the title slipped away.

There are further reasons to see their current form as a portent for a successful future. Right now the entire first-team squad is fit, which is an incredibly rare occurrence. Pochettino has also reaped the benefit of a patient attitude to injuries. He has shown that he is content to take time to bring long-term injury absentees back into the fray, bedding them in with shorter substitute appearances or covering in FA Cup games.

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The return of Toby Alderweireld from injury means there are four genuine options at centre-back. The four full-backs are genuinely rotatable with very little drop-off in quality, and in central midfield Mousa Dembele appears to have found a new lease of life - his partnership with the reliable Eric Dier has meant that Victor Wanyama has been able to be eased back after his long absence.

Another long-term absentee Erik Lamela has been fizzing around the pitch in recent cameos, and his availability alongside the as-yet-unseen Lucas Moura means Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen and Heung-min Son are unlikely to be replaced by Moussa Sissoko as a late option in the near future. There is plenty of depth as the season starts to boil up.

The frequent accusation levelled at Pochettino is that he hasn’t won any trophies, and he continues to show polite disinterest towards domestic cup competitions. With this year’s Premier League already heading to Manchester City and the Champions League an extremely high mountain to scale, it doesn’t look like that’s going to change in the near future, barring an FA Cup run. However, that misses the point of Tottenham’s progress. Under stable ownership and with a long-term manager who appears committed to the project - not to mention one of the world’s premier strikers on the books - Tottenham are already punching above their weight.

Their revenues continue to be dwarfed by those attainable by the league’s larger clubs, and becoming a regular entrant to the Champions League was always intended to be the outcome of a stadium move rather than a precursor. That Tottenham face only two games in which they will not be heavy favourites among their last 11 league games - a trip to Chelsea and a visit to Wembley for Manchester City - gives them a huge platform to once again land in the top four.

Tottenham’s constrictive, controlling and energetic style meant that they were able to come out ahead after a tough run of fixtures. Now they just have to consolidate.

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