There is no doubt that Tottenham Hotspur have enjoyed another excellent season.
Friday’s 1-0 defeat by West Ham United may have put paid to their chances of winning the Premier League title – Chelsea now require only two victories from their final four matches to secure the prize – but a second-place finish is virtually guaranteed. Indeed, just a single point from the last nine available would almost certainly be enough to wrap up runners-up spot for Spurs, who are looking to end the campaign in the top two for the first time since 1963.
There is no silverware on offer for such an achievement, but it is an impressive one nonetheless. Tottenham spend substantially less on transfers and salaries than the rest of the top six, yet it is they who have put the most pressure on champions-elect Chelsea.
Mauricio Pochettino has overseen a dramatic improvement since he first arrived at White Hart Lane in May 2014, while simultaneously lowering Tottenham’s average age and wage bill. At the same time, though, there is a nagging suspicion that this could be as good as it gets for the north London outfit – at least for the time being.
Much the same was said last term, of course, as Spurs emerged as Leicester City’s closest challengers before falling away and finishing third. Many understandably opined that Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool would all be substantially stronger in their first full seasons under new management, and Tottenham’s position in the top four was thought to be under severe threat as a result.
Instead, Spurs’ stability and continuity has turned out to be a major positive in 2016/17, when Pochettino’s charges have proven themselves to be far more than a flash in the pan. It is, however, highly likely that United and City will each pose a greater threat next season, while Liverpool and Arsenal will also hope to challenge for top spot after failing to do so this campaign.
There is also the Wembley factor to take into account. Tottenham have been utterly dominant at White Hart Lane this year, winning 20, drawing two and losing zero of their 22 matches at their own ground across three domestic competitions. It has been a different story at the national stadium, though: Spurs’ four European fixtures at the home of English football brought just a single victory, while they were also defeated 4-2 by Chelsea in last month’s FA Cup semi-final at Wembley. The fact that Tottenham will be playing away from White Hart Lane for the entirety of next term is cause for concern.
Off the pitch, this summer could be a difficult one for the north London outfit. Right-back Kyle Walker looks set to depart, with Manchester City among the sides sniffing around the England international, but Tottenham will probably succeed in keeping the rest of their squad intact; the challenge for Pochettino and the club’s hierarchy, however, is finding a way to significantly improve the group of players at the Argentinian’s disposal without breaking the notoriously strict wage structure put in place by chairman Daniel Levy. Victor Wanyama aside, Spurs’ recruitment last summer was not particularly good – Vincent Janssen, Moussa Sissoko and Georges-Kevin Nkoudou have all contributed very little – which is particularly problematic for a club who do not have money to burn.
Tottenham have progressed magnificently under Pochettino and this season’s probable second-place finish is another clear sign of progress. Spurs are undeniably moving in the right direction and deserve great credit for punching above their weight in the last couple of years, but taking the decisive next step in 2017/18 will be far from straightforward.