Tot­ten­ham mean busi­ness

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPORTS -

IT’S WIDE open. Seven games in and just two points sep­a­rate the top four in the Pre­mier League ti­tle race. And you wouldn’t to­tally rule out sixth and sev­enth ei­ther.

At least that’s some­thing to cheer us as we brace for yet another un­nec­es­sary, te­dious and mo­men­tum-bust­ing in­ter­na­tional break.

In six short weeks, we’ve al­ready gone from think­ing it’s a three-horse race to two to an ab­so­lute dod­dle for Pep Guardi­ola’s Manch­ester City.

But first Celtic (in the Cham­pi­ons League) and then Spurs have shown their weak­nesses, while Manch­ester United do not con­vince, Liver­pool are still dodgy at the back, Chelsea need a ma­jor re­fit and Ar­se­nal are just Ar­se­nal.

The least ex­pected of the con­tenders are Spurs who beat City at their own high-press­ing game on Sun­day.

When­ever we talk about Spurs ‘mean­ing busi­ness’ it usu­ally refers to chair­man Daniel Levy con­duct­ing an auc­tion for one of his play­ers – and then de­mand­ing the buy­ing club pays for his flight tick­ets, drinks and granny’s fu­neral.

On the field, though, it has been any­thing but hard ball: all too of­ten the Li­ly­whites have been lily-liv­ered – cav­ing in just when it mat­ters.

Mauri­cio Po­chet­tino (car­i­ca­ture) was hired to change that and, dur­ing last sea­son’s very unSpurs-like run for the ti­tle, it looked as if he’d suc­ceeded – un­til a very Spurs­like col­lapse at the death al­lowed Ar­se­nal to pip them for sec­ond place.

Fears that the hun­gry, young English core of play­ers was over-rated mounted in the sum­mer when five of them formed the back­bone of Eng­land’s dire ef­fort in the Eu­ros. Back­bone? If only.

When that was fol­lowed by a Wen­geresque re­luc­tance to spend in the win­dow, it looked sus­pi­ciously like Spurs were ‘do­ing an Ar­se­nal’ off the field at least – be­ing thrifty whilst build­ing their new sta­dium took pri­or­ity. But we had un­der­es­ti­mated Po­chet­tino.

The English core was not that bad – they sim­ply caught the con­ta­gious dis­ease that turns the Three Lions into mangy pussy-cats dur­ing tour­na­ments – and the pre­vi­ous view that Tot­ten­ham would grow as a team does not look un­founded.

Even with­out tal­is­man Harry Kane, they ripped into City and gave Pep – and the rest of the divi­sion - a lot to think about.

They ex­posed City’s creak­ing back line that even John Stones could not cover and Pep can ex­pect more teams to come at them like this.

The most im­pres­sive thing about City was the way Pep took the loss – dig­ni­fied, toys still in the pram, and more or less say­ing we had been ex­pect­ing too much.

“[Los­ing] It is part of the game, part of our job,” he said. “I never thought that we would not lose a game, you can’t imag­ine that.

“It is nor­mal to the process, some­times it hap­pens and it can help us im­prove. I am not here for the talk around me, I am here to do my job. It is Oc­to­ber, you can­not imag­ine my team is al­ready done. I am new here.”

In­deed, it would be lu­di­crous to sug­gest he’s been sussed and City’s sea­son is about to come off the rails – as it did last year un­der Manuel Pel­le­grini. This is a stronger, more mo­ti­vated side and Pep is not a stop-gap top­ping up his pen­sion. He will sort it.

Nor will he have been to­tally shocked to lose to Po­chet­tino – even at Barcelona, with his great­est side in 2009, he was held to a 0-0 draw by the Ar­gen­tine’s Es­panyol. Like Spurs, Es­panyol pressed and pressed.

So are Spurs the real deal? Well, they spent rel­a­tively lit­tle in the sum­mer with Vin­cent Janssen and Vic­tor Wanyama the only ma­jor ad­di­tions. But it was the one who nearly got away who has made the dif­fer­ence.

Son He­ung-min has stepped into the breach left by Kane’s in­jury – and been a rev­e­la­tion. It’s not that Kane won’t get his place back but Spurs will be dif­fi­cult to de­fend against with Kane back and Son in such un­stop­pable form.

With a grow­ing so­lid­ity in de­fence, ma­raud­ing full­backs, Dele Alli, Chris­tian Erik­sen and Eric Lamela adding goals and creativ­ity in mid­field, they could be a force to be reck­oned with.

The main worry is their lack of depth which could be ex­posed if they reach the busi­ness end in Europe.

In­deed, as last year when Leicester were al­lowed to sneak through and win the ti­tle, none of the big boys look like the fin­ished ar­ti­cle.

Liver­pool were look­ing good but their nar­row squeak at Swansea re­vealed fa­mil­iar flaws at the back.

The cen­tre­back pair­ing needs more of an un­der­stand­ing while the ar­rival of Loris Kar­ius has been a con­fi­dence booster only for Si­mon Mig­no­let – sug­gest­ing that the Bel­gian could be back in the side sooner than ex­pected. As for United, dis­ap­point­ment in not beat­ing Stoke and slip­ping fur­ther away from the top four was un­der­stand­able but rather than panic they should put it down to one of those days – when an un­known keeper plays out of his skin to thwart them.

Yes, they should have put away sev­eral other chances, but you feel they will be there or there­abouts.

As for Spurs, we now know why Po­chet­tino was head­hunted first by Southamp­ton and then by Spurs, and why Fergie, no less, rated him the best man­ager in the Pre­mier League last sea­son.

Re­gard­less of Levy, if the Ar­gen­tine can en­gen­der this kind of com­mit­ment, Spurs will mean busi­ness.

– AFPPIX

Manch­ester City man­ager Pep Guardi­ola (left) walks off de­jected with de­fender Gael Clichy after their 2-0 de­feat to Tot­ten­ham Hot­spurs in English Pre­mier League match at White Hart Lane in Lon­don on Sun­day.

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