Point/Counterpoint: Can Tottenham Hotspur be Premier League title contenders?

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Tottenham's Ben Davies, left, gestures with teammates Moussa Sissoko, right, and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg following the English Premier League soccer match between Tottenham Hotspur and Brighton & Hove Albion at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, London, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020. (Mike Hewitt/Pool via AP)

The 2020-21 Premier League season kicked off in a more unusual state than before. For instance, Everton had a little stint at the top of the table while Manchester United sat in 15th. But after their questionable season last year, Tottenham Hotspur now sits in 3rd after beating Brighton on Sunday. Because of their form so far, many have brought up one question: Can Tottenham become title contenders? This week, David Sandoval and Sebastian Garay-Ortega debate on this question. 

David Sandoval: 

Tottenham’s Matt Doherty, left, is tackled by Burnley’s Charlie Taylor during the English Premier League soccer match between Burnley and Tottenham Hotspur at Turf Moor stadium Burnley, England, Monday, Oct. 26, 2020. (Jason Cairnduff/Pool via AP)

Tottenham have been the “banter” club over the past several years, I won’t deny it. After a lack of transfers in the past, bottling their chances of winning the 2019 Champions League final and not winning any trophies since 2008, Spurs needed something to change. This turned out to be Mauricio Pochettino getting sacked and Jose Mourinho, one of the most successful managers in the sport, to take the spot. Mourinho knew exactly what he was getting himself into upon his arrival last November, and in the Winter and Summer transfer window, Mourinho brought in key players to get Spurs a trophy. Some of these players include Steven Bergwijn, Sergio Reguilon, Matt Doherty, Pierre-Emile Hojberg and the return of Gareth Bale. All of these players filled in positions the North London club have long needed. 

Since the start of the 2020-21 season, some of these players have been main starters and have proven themselves to be vital to Mourinho’s project. Hojberg has played in every Premier League game he’s been in since his transfer and has had a 90% pass accuracy as well as 96 touches per game. In the case of Reguilon, he’s only played three games, but has won 60% of his tackles and has a 79% pass accuracy so far. Not too bad for a defender who just joined a couple of months ago. Whatever new tactic Mourinho’s been instilling on his players, it’s clearly working. If the performance of not only Hojberg and Reguilon but of senior players like Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son continue to flourish, I don’t think Premier League fans should brush off Tottenham having a chance of winning the league. 

Sebastian Garay-Ortega: 

April 18 2016, Dele Alli rounds then Stoke City goalkeeper Jack Butland; all he has to do is tap it into the back of an empty net. Although the odds were on his side, he missed and missed badly, smashing the ball against the outside of the post, rolling out of play for a goal kick. This anecdote is a perfect example of what Tottenham Football Club is all about, no matter how close they get to glory, they always seem to mess it up. Ironically, 2016 was the last time Spurs had a legitimate shot at winning the English Premier League, and not only were they contenders in the first two months of the season, but throughout the entire campaign, sitting right behind leaders Leicester City until May 2, when they blew a 2-0 advantage against bitter London rivals Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, thanks to goals from center back Gary Cahill and left winger Eden Hazard, respectively.  

A “double whammy” indeed; the beautiful game has chosen to be brutal to The Lilywhites, who have not been champions of England since 1960-61. Be that as it may, Tottenham finally have a chance to begin a new era under the special one, Jose Mourinho, and end the curse that haunts fans on a daily basis. Despite the optimism I am relaying, I highly doubt Mourino’s men will be able to pull it off. The team relies heavily on striker Harry Kane and winger Heung Min-Son, and that’s an understatement; without them, they truly look like a lost squad that loses their ability to break a defensive block, or put it into the back of the net.  

In addition, some aspects of the backline still do not convince me. Particularly, center back Eric Dier seems to switch off during crucial moments of the match, or simply makes petulant mistakes that puts them in a bad position. Moreover, Mourinho does not have a reliable right back. Although Matthew Doherty and Serge Aurier are solid, they aren’t excellent fullbacks, something that is especially needed in this day and age. 

DS: 

The main reason why Tottenham managed to somehow screw up their chances had been because of a lack of depth in the squad. Because of this, players like Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son were heavily relied on in almost every game they played. Now that Spurs finally have a coach that is financially backed by chairman Daniel Levy, Harry Kane’s backup is loanee Carlos Vinicius while Son’s is Steven Bergwijn when playing as a winger, or Giovanni Lo Celso when he plays as an attacking midfielder. While both Bergwijn and Vinicius are still fairly new to the club, they’ve proven to be talented players prior to their transfers to Spurs. It’s only a matter of time that both adjust to the Premier League. This can also be said about Matt Doherty being the backup to Serge Aurier.  

Tottenham’s Harry Kane scores his team’s first goal from the penalty spot during the English Premier League soccer match between Tottenham Hotspur and Brighton & Hove Albion at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, London, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020.(Mike Hewitt/Pool via AP)

As for their center back issue, it’s the last piece of the puzzle that Jose needs to fill in after the transfer of Jan Vertongen and recent injuries with an academy-made Japhet Tanganga. Despite making a deadline day purchase of Joe Rodon from Swansea, the youngster seems to be a player to be used later on. Eric Dier was on Mourinho’s watchlist while at Manchester United, but trying to utilize him as a center back after being a defensive midfielder under Pochettino has proven to be a bit of a challenge. But come the winter transfer window, Tottenham might make another push for Milan Skriniar after not being able to secure him in the summer. This gives Dier a chance to get more time to rest and turn into the player Mourinho wanted to get when they signed him.  

SGO: 

No doubt you raise good points, especially when mentioning the recent transfer business done by Mourinho and the board. Additionally, Bergwijn has proven to have an immense impact in the attack, using his pace to get in behind and cause havoc in the final third. Equally important is right winger Gareth Bale; although his days as a starter are numbered, he can still have a massive impact off the bench, once again supporting your point as it relates to the squad’s depth.  

Tottenham’s manager Jose Mourinho gestures during the English Premier League soccer match between Tottenham Hotspur and Brighton & Hove Albion at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, London, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020. (Julian Finney/Pool via AP)

However, this season we are going to find out what the team is made of. Ultimately, if Kane and/or Son get injured, will the team fail to have the mental fortitude to push through and overcome hardship? Yes, they do have exceptional replacements and great players on the bench, but will it matter to them? Clearly, this is a football club that is toxic, as the first sight of adversity causes them to fold. Mourinho is attempting to create a different atmosphere in the dressing room, but can it really be achieved in just over a year? I highly doubt it.  

Ultimately, I hope Mourinho brings a title to one of the more historic sides in English football. However, do I believe it will happen? No. Spurs will have to show a complete change in character and mentality to prove to me they have what it takes to once again attain silverware. 

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