Tottenham have grown used to being involved in the Champions League, but qualification for next season’s competition is beginning to look like an unlikely prospect.
Spurs have finished in the top four of the Premier League in each of the last four seasons. That run is under threat of coming to an end, with the team currently ten points behind third placed Leicester and Chelsea in fourth, who both have 23 points after eleven games.
Tottenham are eleventh on 13 points. Such has been the mediocrity of most of the clubs in the Premier League this season that Mauricio Pochettino’s side could quickly climb the table if they can regain some form – Arsenal in fifth are only four points ahead – but catching Chelsea and Leicester could be difficult.
Here’s our breakdown of the factors in play as Spurs attempt to qualify for the Champions League for a fifth successive season.
Liverpool and Manchester City are on another level in terms of consistency to any other club in the Premier League. They will occupy the top two spots in the Premier League again.
Leicester look to have all the ingredients needed to qualify for the Champions League for the first time since they won the Premier League in 2015-16. In Brendan Rodgers they have a very good manager and have rebuilt the title winning side with some very astute moves in the transfer market.
Of the title winning team, only Kasper Schmeichel and Jamie Vardy remain as regulars. In three years they have completely overhauled their squad and are arguably stronger now than they were in 2016. Aside from Liverpool they have the best full-back pairing in the Premier League, the midfield has good strength in depth and Vardy remains evergreen, even though he will turn 33 in January.
Their 2-0 win at Crystal Palace looked ominous and bought painful reminders of how Leicester ground out results in 2015-16, to pip Tottenham to the title. Leicester have been defeated by Manchester United and Liverpool this season, but they are consistently beating the teams that they are expected to.
So too are Chelsea. Frank Lampard has done a great job since taking over at Stamford Bridge. With the club currently banned from making transfers, he has put his trust in Chelsea’s youngsters and created an exciting, attacking team.
That said, it is Chelsea that look like the most catchable of the teams in the top four. They have conceded 17 goals this season and with only five clubs having let in more, their level of consistency does not seem sustainable.
This is borne out by Chelsea’s record against other top English clubs this season. They have had a pretty easy set of fixtures so far, but when they have stepped up in class they’ve struggled. Manchester United beat them on the first day of the season and then again in the EFL Cup. Liverpool defeated them in the European Super Cup and in the Premier League. Leicester took a point from Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
Pochettino and his out of form team
So if we can agree that Chelsea are catchable, it’s just a question of who can muster the consistency to do so.
Neither Arsenal or Manchester United look likely to have a chance unless they change manager. That’s good news, but the problem is that the same could be said of Spurs.
Tottenham are without a win in four Premier League games (D2 L2) and the performances have been very worrying. Brighton ripped the team apart and then Spurs barely managed to scrape a draw at home against rock bottom Watford. Even in the last two away games in which they came close to drawing with Liverpool and almost beat Everton, the results were flattering when compared to the performances.
Tottenham have not won a Premier League match away from home since beating Fulham in January (P12 W9 D3). Against Everton they were flat and listless, a far cry from the energetic teams that we saw under Pochettino in his first few seasons.
There have been slow starts before under Pochettino, but this feels like something else. The manager is not helping himself with some of the bizarre selection decisions he has been making of late.
Serge Aurier and Danny Rose were up for sale over the summer, but have been first choice selections this season, despite constantly making errors that lead to goals. Aurier getting the nod at right-back is particularly puzzling, given that Kyle Walker-Peters started the season reasonably well before picking up an injury and Juan Foyth has been playing in the position for Argentina.
Another player that seems to be frozen out is Eric Dier, which is strange at a time when the team is leaking goals and could badly do with some steel in midfield. Christian Eriksen is persevered with at a time when he is likely to walk away from the club next summer, while the impressive new signing Tanguy NDombele is in and out of the team.
What is Daniel Levy thinking?
Pochettino has a strong relationship with Levy and plenty of credit after the miracles he has performed at the club.
Yet we know that Levy can be ruthless. With the new stadium now in place, the club is meant to be moving forwards, not back. If Pochettino cannot turn things around, Levy will have a decision to make.
Does he put his faith in Pochettino, accept a season without Champions League qualification and allow the manager to rebuild the team over the next two transfer windows? Or does he sack the best manager he has ever appointed?
The bookmakers do not expect Pochettino to leave the club any time soon. They rate Ralph Hasenhuttl, Marco Silva, Unai Emery, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Manuel Pellegrini as all being more likely to leave their jobs before Pochettino.
Jose Mourinho is the favourite to become the new Tottenham manager if Pochettino goes. Rodgers and the former Juventus manager Max Allegri are also contenders.
Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea and Leicester (in that order) are the favourites to finish in the top four. Arsenal are fifth favourites, with Spurs sixth at a price of 11/4 to finish in the top four.