Challengers or pretenders? Tottenham season could swing in the next four games

Tottenham are already in for plenty of stick after recent results, but the tide over their title challenge could swing in the next four games.

Ange Postecoglou has showcased he is not ready to divulge his possession-based style and principles on the pitch. That factor was evident in the last two games against Chelsea and Wolves but did not work for Tottenham.

Spurs dominated possession against Wolves but failed to create any meaningful chances and missed James Maddison. The attacking midfielder will miss games until the new year, which asks questions about Postegoclou and how he will look to replace him in the team.

Maddison has been a top performer for Spurs since moving from Leicester City during the summer. They do not have a like-for-like replacement in their squad, although the likes of Giovani Lo Celso and Bryan Gil could probably do half a job.

Against Wolves, they also missed their influential defensive pairing of Cristian Romero and Micky van de Ven. The latter suffered a hamstring injury that will keep him out of action for about two months, while the former remains suspended for another two games.

Wolves may have left it late in that game before the international break, but they created clear-cut chances throughout. Aston Villa boss Unai Emery would have already formulated a plan to exploit Spurs at the weekend and take another three points at their expense.

The Chelsea game was a real disaster call for Tottenham, as Postegcoglou would have felt frustrated at the number of problems that mounted in one encounter. The first effect of that London derby was evident against Wolves, where the manager fielded a changed back four with only Pedro Porro retaining his place.

Even in midfield, Postecoglou tweaked the system and added more security with Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, although it did not work as Wolves were constantly able to open up Tottenham. Now, the big question is whether they can find a way to operate differently, especially with the quality of fixtures coming up.

There are considerable doubts over their defence and whether the likes of Eric Dier and Ben Davies can help sustain their pressure at the top. Hence, the following four games may make or break Tottenham’s season when they face Aston Villa, Manchester City, West Ham United and Newcastle United.

Let us look at how things could transpire on the white side of North London and what it means to perform at the highest levels in those next four fixtures. Wins would elevate the mood, while defeats would end their hopes of mounting a title challenge.

Big tests await Big Ange

Until the Chelsea clash, Tottenham had performed exceedingly well, especially against significant opposition. Home wins over Manchester United and Liverpool elevated the mood within the fanbase while getting a point at the Emirates against bitter rivals Arsenal put them in the top bracket.

Mikel Arteta insisted he saw Tottenham as title challengers, but the last two defeats have threatened to unravel that dream. Beyond those three positive results, Spurs have managed to get past smaller sides and have faced each of the five bottom-placed teams, barring Everton, who have come into that spot following their points deduction.

Did many envisage their loss to Wolves? Not really, but they did lose, and now the pressure is truly on Postecoglou to make amends. The Australian would have liked less considerable opponents in these next few games, but Postecoglou now faces extensive tests in what’s described as a season-defining period for Spurs.

At the weekend, Emery’s high-flying Aston Villa visit North London, and they are pumping with confidence as the Spaniard targets a top-four challenge. The Villa boss will have smelled blood following Spurs’ defeat at Wolves and look to take full advantage.

Then there is the stern test away to champions Manchester City, with Pep Guardiola needing a significant result after some recent disappointing displays. If Tottenham can come away with positive results in these two games, then Postecoglou can come with full confidence in taking something off West Ham United and then Newcastle United.

However, with his current squad, there needs to be more balance between the level of players available and Postecoglou’s ambitions. The Australian and his charges have managed to get on top against the odds this season. But the upcoming four games are a real test for him and his team, as results in those clashes could define them as either challengers or pretenders.

The tough challenge of climbing back

The Premier League is a tough competition and sometimes cruel to teams. Whether it is a title challenge or a relegation battle, each point is as valuable as it gets. Arsenal saw last season how the dynamics of a title race have changed, and they had to accept their fate after leading the charts for more than 240 days.

Spurs are in the infancy of a title challenge and have already suffered a massive setback in hopes of achieving something beautiful. A championship race demands consistency, and only Manchester City have managed that over the last half a decade or so.

Arsenal are getting there with a stubborn approach, while Liverpool are again looking like the real deal. Spurs might have led the charts for large parts this season, but it took only a short time for them to drop down to fourth after two bad results.

Again, placing the emphasis on the following four fixtures, Postecoglou must find a way to get something from those. Dreaming 12 points from those is unrealistic, but at least 6-8 are realistic. The idea for Tottenham is to be within range of their rivals at the top.

Tottenham are two points adrift of Manchester City at the top and one point behind Liverpool and Arsenal. If Spurs remain close to those three after the next four games, we can consider them within the bracket of challengers.

They could even lose all four of those clashes or drop massive points. If that happens and the gap increases with those three teams, climbing back up will carry an enormous difficulty. Arsenal learned their lesson from last season and will remain tight until January, while Liverpool will be among the top teams.

Sticking around near the top until January is critical for Spurs

Much of the focus will be on Tottenham’s January business after Wolves and Chelsea exposed their depth problems. Spurs need better backup centre-backs and may encounter problems with their midfield with the AFCON coming along.

Then there is the problem with the AFC Cup, which will see them lose talisman Son Heung-min briefly. Hojbjerg could also depart after dropping down in the pecking order. For Postecoglou, improving the defensive depth should be the priority in January, and until then, Spurs must hang around near the top part of the table.

There are questions about whether they have the necessary funds to make big signings in January. We have already suggested what they should do in January, which involved bringing in a top-draw centre-back and midfielder.

Teams around them do not have requirements in large numbers, which will put more pressure on Postecoglou to find the right solutions. Arsenal and Liverpool, for instance, need only a player or so to strengthen their cause, while Manchester City realistically need none at this moment.

Those three teams are realistically considered title challengers, and Spurs are seen as pretenders. Postecoglou can change that with the right tweaks to his system and by churning out results in big games.

Should they fall out of the title race, Tottenham should focus on returning to Europe, preferably the Champions League. Irrespective of fighting to challenge for the title or a top-four place, Spurs should stick around the top at least until January, when they will have the window to find solutions for their deficiencies.

For now, Spurs are leaning close towards being challengers for the Premier League title, but their next four games could put them in the pretenders bracket. Hence, Postecoglou must find the right solutions for his team ahead of those fixtures, especially at the weekend against Aston Villa and steer Tottenham in the right direction.

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