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Spurs emerge from shadows as realistic title contender

11 February 2016, 20:47

Manchester — Amid the buzz about surprise leader Leicester and the stuttering challenges of Arsenal and Manchester City, another title contender in the English Premier League has been working pretty much in the shadows.

Not anymore.

For the first time in a generation, Tottenham is a real factor in the title race, and is showing the kind of form that could see the club rid itself of the underachiever tag that has followed it around for years.

The team from north London has climbed into second place, ahead of neighbor Arsenal on goal difference, and five points behind Leicester, with 13 matches left. Not since 1985 have Spurs been this high in the standings this late in the season, as they look to capture a first league title since 1961.

This weekend could be pivotal, with the top four facing off. Leicester is away to Arsenal, and Spurs are at fourth-place City.

City has won the last five home meetings with Tottenham, racking up 10 goals in the past two fixtures. There's a feeling it could be different this time.

Repeating the effect he had on Southampton in 2013 and '14, Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino has pulled together a young, energetic, and extremely fit team whose work rate and pressing game is flustering opponents.

"They are like animals," Watford manager Quique Sanchez Flores said of Tottenham after losing at White Hart Lane 1-0 last weekend.

There are positives all over the field for Pochettino. His defense has conceded fewer goals than any other team this season; Eric Dier has been converted from a defender into a powerful holding midfielder; previously inconsistent attacking midfielders Erik Lamela, Christian Eriksen, and Mousa Dembele are delivering consistently effective performances; Dele Alli, in the No. 10 role, is arguably the hottest young prospect in English soccer; and striker Harry Kane is the third best scorer in the league.

Also read: Tottenham goes 2nd in Premier League by beating Watford 1-0

With just three losses, Tottenham could have too much energy for an aging, injury-hit City side that was blown away last weekend by Leicester — another team filled with hard-running players. City lost to Spurs 4-1 at White Hart Lane in September.

A problem for Spurs could be fixture congestion, with the team set to resume its Europa League campaign next week — over two legs against Fiorentina in the last 32 — and was also still in the FA Cup. Progress deep in those competitions, and Pochettino's players could be burnt out before the end of the season.

Leicester, meanwhile, just has the Premier League to focus on.

Here are some other things to note this weekend:

MAN CITY'S INJURIES: City's star-studded midfield is beset with injuries at just the wrong time.

Star playmaker David Silva hurt his ankle against Leicester and joins an injury list that already includes attacking midfielders Kevin De Bruyne, Jesus Navas, and Samir Nasri.

Silva has had ongoing problems with his ankle, which must be a worry for City given the congested fixture schedule that includes a League Cup final against Liverpool and the Champion League last 16.

PRESSURE ON LEICESTER: Now the world has finally recognized Leicester as a legitimate title contender, the team has to deal with the pressure of expectation.

Star striker Jamie Vardy doesn't see it as a problem.

"We're just enjoying the ride," Vardy said. "If you start thinking about it too much it's going to affect you, it's as simple as that. We'll just continue to do exactly the same thing we've done all season."

One of the few things Leicester would change was its result against Arsenal in its first meeting this season. Arsenal won 5-2 at King Power Stadium, one of just two defeats for Leicester in this campaign.

VILLA REVIVAL: Aston Villa is aiming to cause a surprise at the other end of the standings, too.

Just a month ago, it was widely regarded that Villa was doomed as the team sat in last place with eight points from 20 games. But it has lost just one of its last five matches and has closed to within eight points of safety.

Next up is a home match against Liverpool, which could give a start to Daniel Sturridge as the striker bids to revive his injury-hit career again.

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- AP


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