Just a couple of weeks ago, the title race was dead and buried. Arsenal lost form, Man City were and still are faltering while Chelsea were running away with it. Now the Christmas Break is over, the title has been opened by two teams; Liverpool and Tottenham.
Tottenham’s victory over Chelsea last night was one of the surprises of the season. The Lilywhite’s form is exceptional, but the manner in which they dominated and controlled Chelsea was exemplary. Antonio Conte was tactically outdone by counterpart Mauricio Pochettino. Now, Chelsea sit just five points clear at the top despite coming off the back of 13 consecutive league wins.
Being five points clear is usually a comfortable safety net, but even the most minor of blips in form will see that gap bridged. Both Liverpool and Spurs are pestering. Man City, Man Utd and Arsenal are teetering around similar positions but the teams from Anfield and White Hart Lane look most ready for a title race. Both have now registered wins over Chelsea this term.
You might look at Liverpool’s draw against Sunderland and think, ‘No, that’s not title winning form’. If you then considered that Liverpool have the most points against the top six this season, you might have a rethink. Their ability to turn up the heat against those surrounding them make them significant contenders.
Sadio Mane’s absence will be greeted by the return of Philippe Coutinho who, in his absence, Liverpool have coped without. The only qualm is their defence which is, to put it kindly, fragile. Yet you needn’t look further than 2012-13 to understand that outscoring your opposition can put you in a title race.
Tottenham have gone about their business quietly. After an exceptional Christmas, they sit third in the table. Having come so close last season, they have the players who know what it means to be involved in a title race. They may well have lost out to eventual champions Leicester City, but there is a burning desire in that squad that hasn’t been replicated by many other teams in the Premier League.
Speculation is what makes football great. Chelsea are still the best in the Premier League this season. If they come out champions, they and Conte certainly deserve it if not for revolutionising a new Premier League way of playing.
But football is an odd game played mostly on confidence and momentum and their third defeat is what will be their first proper test. If they fail to pick themselves up, both Liverpool and Tottenham could be waiting in the wings. This title race just got a little bit exciting.