The importance of Tottenham Hotspur finishing in the top four can not be overstated. Everything else is in place – the training facilities, the stadium, the manager.
The missing piece of the jigsaw is Champions League football. The question is – can they deliver it?
Fall and rise
Despite a promising start to the campaign – nine points from the opening three games and sitting top of the league - Spurs’ performances and results under Nuno Espirito Santo declined significantly.
Following an abject display in their 3-0 home defeat to Manchester United, the team had fallen to 9th with 15 points from 10 games.
With the inevitable departure of Nuno and subsequent appointment of Antonio Conte, Spurs looked reinvigorated.
In his first nine league games in charge, Spurs gained 21 points, with 6 wins and 3 draws. Despite losing their last two games, they have still averaged 1.91 points per game since Conte’s arrival.
From a statistical point of view, the form suggest they are ahead of their top four rivals.
However, there is a long way to go and, after back-to-back defeats, Spurs will be acutely aware how quickly things can change.
A significant factor in Spurs’ quest for Champions League football will be the availability of key players.
The January departures of Bryan Gil, Dele Alli, Tanguy Ndombele and Giovanni Lo Celso, albeit surplus to requirements, has left Conte with even fewer options at his disposal, particularly in the attacking areas.
The arrivals of Rodrigo Bentancur and Dejan Kulusevski will undoubtedly help, but it is unknown how much time they will need to settle in to the faster-paced and more physical environment of the Premier League.
Due to postponements, Spurs currently have three games in hand on West Ham, two games on Manchester United and one each on Arsenal and Wolves – games that will need to be fitted in to an already tight schedule.
The smaller squad, coupled with a congested fixture list, increases the risk of injury and fatigue.
Arguably the biggest threat would be the loss of Harry Kane, considering his injury history and lack of adequate cover.
After an indifferent start to the season by his own high standards, Kane’s recent performances and goalscoring record – 7 goals in his last 10 appearances – suggest he is getting back to his best form and will be pivotal to Spurs’ top four hopes.
Spurs have a history of near misses in both league and cup competitions.
“It’s the history of Tottenham” he said, adding that Spurs “always miss something at the end”.
It was a cruel assessment but one that is painfully accurate.
Spurs seem to lack the innate ability that some of the teams around them have – particularly the likes of Manchester United and Arsenal – in getting themselves over the line when it matters.
Having said that, Spurs perhaps have the edge over their rivals with Conte - a world class manager who has a track record of transforming clubs.
He famously took over Chelsea, who finished 10th in the previous campaign, winning the Premier League in his first season.
He had similar impacts at Juventus and Inter Milan, two clubs that finished 7th and 4th before his arrival, leading them to title wins in his first and second season respectively.
The Spurs players have also recently suggested that Conte is starting to change the culture at the club. Kane saying that “he has really changed the mindset of a lot of players in the team” and Son praising him for “giving us so much positive vibes and energy and a winning mentality.”
Whether it’s enough to ensure a coveted top four place will remain to be seen. Despite the two recent setbacks there is enough evidence that, if they can show consistency and keep key players fit, Conte can lead Spurs back to the Champions League.