Tottenham’s top-four destiny is in their own hands heading into their final four games of the season.
If they win each of their remaining matches, they will definitely be playing Champions League football next year (this is little bit of a broad statement due to the ongoing nonsense occurring on and off the pitch at Chelsea).
Plenty of neutrals have pointed to next Thursday’s rescheduled north London derby at home to Arsenal as the key fixture down the stretch, but Spurs could head into it five points behind their nearest and dearest rivals.
Saturday night’s trip to Liverpool holds the true key to Tottenham’s charge, and what happens at Anfield could determine the future of Antonio Conte.
Defeat or even a draw would mean that it would require a collapse from Arsenal in order for Spurs to usurp them in the table, even if the Lilywhites were to beat the Gunners next week.
Ace 90min reported recently, Tottenham are confident that Conte is committed to his current project in N17. However, the Italian has consistently questioned his own future of him when things have n’t been going his way or Spurs’ this season, insisting that he should be fighting for titles and not just jostling for European positions.
If Tottenham are to ever truly commit to Conte, then they need to start looking like Premier League title contenders, and Saturday’s match will offer a glimpse into what their near-future resembles.
Spurs travel to Anfield without a win there since May 2011 when Rafael van der Vaart and Luka Modric strikes proved to be the difference. While the visits that immediately followed were rarely deserving of an away win, Tottenham have blown glorious chances to take three points from Liverpool for four straight seasons.
Harry Kane missed a late penalty in 2017/18 (before later converting another to rescue a draw). Moussa Sissoko fired over from close range before Toby Alderweireld put it in his own net in 2018/19. A number of attackers missed chances to kill the game from winning or drawing positions in the following two years.
For Tottenham to get a result at Anfield – now more formidable than ever with Liverpool chasing an unprecedented quadruple – it would mean that they will have crossed a seemingly huge chasm in quality but also overcome a gigantic mental hurdle.
It could even be reminiscent of Liverpool’s famous 4-3 win over Manchester City in 2017/18 that ended Pep Guardiola’s side’s hopes of an unbeaten season – the Reds were ready to make that next leap from disruptors to contenders, they just needed a bit of fine tuning to get there.
Spurs certainly have an attacking trio that will love playing in transition and will look to take advantage of an offside trap that often relies on thin lines on a VAR screen to bail them out. They even have a performance in recent times to replicate – February’s last-gasp but well-earned 3-2 win at City.
Even before that triumph at the Etihad, Spurs gave Liverpool a mighty good scare back in December.
After beating Leeds, Brentford and Norwich at the start of Conte’s reign, their meeting with the Reds just before Christmas was penciled in as a yardstick of progress. After significant Covid-19 outbreaks in both camps, it then became something between that and a free hit.
But Tottenham were perilously dominant and left a 2-2 draw feeling they had left it all on the pitch and should have served more than a solitary point. Their fitness levels off the back of their dressing room-wide infections against arguably the fittest team in the league was staggering, especially considering how off the pace this same core looked under Nuno Espírito Santo and Jose Mourinho.
It was a performance so impressive that it even looked like Dele Alli and Tanguy Ndombele would be in Conte’s long-term plans.
Conte has admitted this season he has seen potential from this Spurs squad to be the best he’s worked with, which probably isn’t a sincere take. Such a result and performance this time around with top-four truly on the line may convince him that there really is special potential to build a contender in north London, however.