West Brom-Tottenham Hotspur Preview
Leicester City might hold all the cards for the Premier League title, but Tottenham Hotspur are making it more difficult every week to call the Foxes or anyone else England's most dominant side.
That'll need to maintain that form at White Hart Lane on Monday against sliding West Bromwich Albion to enter May as serious title contenders, but a Champions League spot is at least in their imminent control.
Given the look of the table, it's to the point in the season where Tottenham (19-11-4) can't realistically drop points and consider themselves a part of the race for their first top-flight title since 1961. They enter the 35th round five points back of the Foxes, and Spurs results lately show they know full well the magnitude of the task at hand. Leicester haven't dropped five points in a four-match span since the calendar flipped to 2016, so even a perfect 12-point finish for Spurs could fall short.
Though the gap was eight as recently as last Monday. Leicester let two points slip with Sunday's 2-2 home draw with West Ham United, and Tottenham made certain to pounce with Monday's 4-0 win at Stoke City. Harry Kane scored in the ninth minute and Dele Alli added to the lead in the 67th before both completed braces in the same order in the 71st and 82nd.
For Alli, who was playing his first game since turning 20, it was his first multigoal effort since a hat trick with League One's MK Dons on Sept. 20, 2014. For Spurs, it was the first step of an at minimum three-week process toward gaining the necessary ground.
"It's nice to get two points back on Leicester and it's also important for us to keep the other rival teams away and stay in that top three - that's a big goal for us," ever-present centre back Toby Alderweireld told the club's official website.
"This is a very difficult place to come and I think we showed a lot of quality and character. The spirit was unbelievable and that takes us places. Of course you feel the pressure - Leicester dropped some points, (Manchester) City won at the weekend - so, yes, it's a very important win and a great feeling."
While gaining any further ground depends entirely on the Foxes dropping points, the north London club's fixtures are at least cooperating. After hosting the Baggies, Tottenham visit a Chelsea side with nothing to play for, host Southampton and end the season at relegation-threatened Newcastle United. The Saints are still in contention for Europe, but Spurs don't play anyone higher than eighth entering the weekend while Leicester have next week's trip to Old Trafford looming.
It seems unlikely Mauricio Pochettino makes any changes for this match given Spurs' current run of form. The win over Stoke followed a 3-0 home victory over Manchester United, and Tottenham have dropped just seven points in their last 13 matches with a 30-8 scoring advantage since losing to Leicester on Jan. 13.
With a nine-point lead over fifth-place Manchester United, the present run has Tottenham in position to clinch their first top-four finish since 2011-12, though that actually landed them in the Europa League. They last qualified for the continent's top competition with a fourth-place finish in 2009-10.
A return seems inevitable, especially given their home form. Spurs haven't lost at the Lane since the 1-0 final against the Foxes, winning six of seven matches since while outscoring their opponents 15-4. Should both teams win out and Spurs miss out by five points, that six-point January swing may be the match the clubs look back at. But that's far from Kane's mind.
"We're not going anywhere - we are on their tails," said Kane, whose league-best 24 goals are one less than Aston Villa.
The accolades are already rolling in for Kane and others with the announcement of the PFA Premier League Team of the Year including four Tottenham players for the first time since its inception in 1974 - Kane, Alli, Alderweireld and left back Danny Rose.
Kane, who leads Leicester's Jamie Vardy and Manchester City's Sergio Aguero by two, seems locked in a two-man race with Aguero for the Golden Boot considering Vardy's ban. Eight of those goals have come in his last six matches, while Alli has three in his last two games.
The attacking midfielder also scored in the reverse fixture - a 1-1 draw on Dec. 5 with the then-teenager scoring in the 15th minute and James McClean equalising in the 39th. The clubs have split points over the last five matches with a win each and three draws. The Baggies also have a win and two draws to show for their visits to White Hart Lane over the past three seasons.
West Brom (10-10-14) can assure themselves safety, but it'll take a win and some help at the bottom. That seems unlikely given the Baggies have one point and one goal to show for their last five matches.
They're headed right back to north London after Thursday's 2-0 loss to Arsenal, having been held goalless for 264 minutes since Stephane Sessegnon's sixth-minute goal in a 2-1 loss at Man City on April 9.
As for the midweek loss, the Baggies aren't claiming they deserved better after putting one shot on target. They have seven in the last five matches. Spurs have averaged 7.5 in their last six.
"We can't complain about the result," Jonas Olsson told the club's official website. "Sometimes you have to accept that you are playing against a better team."
His post-match comments could be quite similar Monday.