Tottenham face Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool in the season’s remaining weeks, and could therefore play a major role in where the Premier League trophy ends up.

When the 2023-24 Premier League fixture list came out last summer, anyone looking at Tottenham’s schedule would have noticed their gaze being immediately drawn toward the run-in. Spurs were to play Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool in successive games in late April and early May.

It hasn’t quite worked out that they are playing those matches consecutively due to a couple of games being rearranged, but that takes nothing away from how difficult a time Spurs now face.

Nobody could have predicted quite how much would be riding on Spurs’ remaining fixtures, though. Not only will the success of their season be decided to a degree by the best three teams in the country, but the fate of the Premier League trophy rests, at least in part, in Spurs’ hands.

No other team faces more than one of the Premier League’s current top three. Tottenham play all of them.

Spurs, currently fifth in the table, are a very good side. They’ve had a first season under Ange Postecoglou that has surpassed all expectations after they finished eighth last term, sold the greatest player in the club’s modern history in the summer, and then this season changed from a reactive style of play in a 3-4-3 to a possession-based 4-2-3-1 with a whole host of new, young and inexperienced players.

But they will go into each game against one of the title rivals as big underdogs. While they probably would have been happy with fifth at the beginning of the season, the fast start they made under their new manager – Spurs won eight and drew two of their first 10 games of 2023-24, topping the table in November – changed expectations. Their recent stuttering form has taken some of the shine off the campaign.

Spurs go into their final six games of the season off the back of a desperately disappointing 4-0 defeat at Newcastle United, a result that left their top-four hopes hanging by a thread following other slip-ups against Wolves, Fulham and West Ham. Even with their two games in hand, their tricky fixture list gives them a mountain to climb if they are to catch Aston Villa – six points ahead and with a superior goal difference – in fourth.

Tottenham’s problem is they have dropped too many points to sides they would have been expected to beat. But against the bigger teams, their results have actually been pretty impressive. There may even be good reason not to write Spurs’ season off entirely just yet.

None of the current top six have particularly convinced in all of their games this season against other top-six sides. Even Arsenal – surely this season’s standout performers – have lost both home and away to Aston Villa and were probably the happier of the teams to come away with a point in September’s north London derby at the Emirates.

Spurs can head into their run-in taking real heart from their record against the best teams in the league. With three wins, three draws and a sole loss – an arguably undeserved 2-1 defeat to Villa at the height of their mid-season injury crisis – they have the best points-per-game rate (1.71) in games involving the current top six.

The Liverpool win – when the visitors were reduced to nine men and had a goal incorrectly disallowed – was a bit of a freak, but otherwise, Postecoglou’s Spurs have acquitted themselves well when facing tough opposition.

They have played the fewest of these games, so there is plenty of opportunity for that to change in the coming weeks. But there is also reason to view their performances and results in previous games against the best sides as a huge positive heading into Sunday’s north London derby.

For many of the home fans at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, Sunday’s game will be as much about denting Arsenal’s title hopes as it will be about raising the possibility of their own return to the Champions League. Nerves and tensions will undoubtedly be high, simply because Arsenal have been so frighteningly good of late. But their recent defeats to Villa and Bayern Munich could give Spurs some hope.

Arsenal are likely to assert themselves on the game, and that may actually suit Tottenham. Despite having plenty of players who are comfortable on the ball and Postecoglou instructing his team to build out from the back and keep possession for long periods, Spurs have produced many of their best results when they’ve had less of the ball.

Of the five Premier League games in which Spurs have had their highest possession share (each time over 70%) under Postecoglou, they have lost three – at home to West Ham and Wolves, and the recent thumping at Newcastle.

Meanwhile, of the 11 games in which they have had the lowest possession share (each time under 57%), Spurs have won seven, drawn two and lost two, and one of those defeats came when down to nine men against Chelsea in November. Their positive results include away draws against Arsenal and Manchester City, and home wins over Manchester United and Newcastle.

There are likely a few reasons for this. Firstly, Spurs possess pace in abundance, and an opponent who dominates possession will leave more space for Tottenham to break into. The likes of Son Heung-min, Timo Werner and Brennan Johnson are lightning quick and suited to games when Spurs can play a little more counter-attacking football.

As well as this kind of game suiting Son, he is also very much a big-game player. This season, he has a quite exceptional record of five goals and three assists in six Premier League games against other members of the current top six, having scored against each of them bar United. He has four goals in three games against Arsenal, City and Liverpool. With him in tow, a result is always possible.

Son Heung-min goal involvements vs the top six

Defensively, Spurs will once again have to ride their luck a little if they are to get a result. In general, they have been too open too often this season, with eight teams faring better than them for expected goals against in open play. Spurs have allowed their opponents 35.4 xG – something they are going to have to improve on next season if they are to challenge at the top of the table.

They have had to rely on the brilliance of Guglielmo Vicario in goal – particularly in the biggest games. According to Opta’s expected goals on target model, only Aston Villa’s Emiliano Martínez (8.2) and Wolves’ José Sá (6.1) have prevented more goals with their saves this season than Vicario (5.3).

guglielmo vicario xgot tottenham premier league 2023-24

But as has been the case throughout Tottenham’s first season under Postecoglou, if they are to get a result on Sunday, or against Liverpool and City in the coming weeks, it will be their attack that does it for them. They have only failed to score in two games all season.

There’s never a good time to face the best teams and play the hardest games, and Spurs won’t be pleased about the challenge they face in the coming weeks.

There’s no doubt, though, that the fixture list has made things interesting. If there is one team that is capable of disrupting the title race, it might just be Tottenham.

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