High five

By Henry Church Source: Global Times Published: 2020/12/17 16:28:39

Is this the season for a rare winner in Europe’s big leagues?

Tottenham Hotspur striker Harry Kane Photo: VCG

"A week," Harold Wilson said," is a long time in politics."

The former British prime ­minister was not even in power the last time that Tottenham Hotspur won the English First Division at the end of the 1960-61 season - he was still three years from the highest office.

He would be prime minister twice before Spurs would win the league again - and given that he died in 1995, the smart money is him not winning a third term in office before Spurs are crowned English champions for a third time.

That possibility, of the English Premier League trophy being draped in the blue and white of the North London club for the first time in 60 years, has grown this season.

They remained top of the table after a trip to Crystal Palace last weekend - drawing 1-1 thanks to yet another Harry Kane goal, yet again assisted by Son Heung-min - despite champions Liverpool breathing down their necks, level on points.

Jose Mourinho's Spurs side were about to find out that much like politics, a week is a long time in football. They travelled to Anfield to face Jurgen Klopp's Reds on Wednesday night and then a tough visit of Brendan Rodgers' Leicester City at the weekend.

Those games will do much to decide the extent of the club's title ­ambitions - in the eyes of their fans and the wider footballling world - but no one can deny that they are up there and in the conversation this season.

That is the same across Europe's so-called Big Five leagues - Spain, Italy, Germany and France in addition to England - where last weekend saw table toppers who have not won the title for some time.

The question on everyone's lips: Is this their year?

Spurs - English Premier League

Jose Mourinho's highflying Spurs side look reborn under the Portuguese coach who took over from Mauricio Pochettino just over a year ago. Kane and Son have become the deadliest duo in the league and all of their defensive woes have disappeared under the serial champion.

Spurs have gone close in recent years, never more so than when they challenged Leicester City into the final weeks of the 2015-16 season but like in the UEFA Champions League final against Liverpool in 2019, they fell short.

A first English Premier League title would be the first time that the club have been domestic champions since 1960-61, when the team was the first in the 20th century to win a First Division and FA Cup double. They finished eight points clear at the top of the table despite it being two points for a win back then.

Despite playing only 36 of the 42 games, striker Bobby Smith scored 28 in the league, a target that both Kane and Son could well have in their sights after their start to this season. He was ably helped by 22-goal hitman Les Allen and 15 from winger Cliff Jones. Other names from that team to go down as club legends included Scotland's Dave McKay and captain Danny Blanchflower.

Real Soceidad - Spanish La Liga

"La Real" have not been top of the La Liga table for some years, and they faced a similar challenge as Spurs did in hosting Barcelona in midweek before an away trip to Levante at the weekend then hosting title favorites Atletico Madrid on Wednesday.

If they can come out of that still around the top of the table then the fans in San Sebastien can begin to dream once more of the La Liga trophy resting in the halls of the, just as it did with back to back league titles in 1981 and 1982. The closest they have come since was in 2002-03 when they finished runners-up.

A youngish team festuting Sweden's Aleksander Isak and former Manchester United boy wonder ­Adnan Januzaj, plus big club experience from Nacho Monreal, Asier Illarramendi and David Silva.

The latter returned to Spain this summer after a glittering spell with Manchester City and it appears he has no desire to stop winning trophies.

When Real Sociedad last won the title they edged Barcelona in second and Real Madrid in third. Even if the Clasico giants are struggling this year, that will not take away the joy in the Basque country if they can be top come the end of the season.

Lille - French Ligue 1

The French side were the most recent champions among those clubs to finish last weekend at the top of their respective leagues, winning the league title in 2011, beating Marseille to the crown by eight points.

However, the seasons since 2012-13 have been dominated by Paris St-Germain - with the sole exception of a Monaco win in 2017 - and the idea of another name on the trophy had begun to feel like a thing of the past.

They were runners-up in the 2018-19 season but they finished 16 points off PSG. In fact, Lille have won Ligue 2 more than they have Ligue 1.

Coach Christophe Galtier is playing down their title chances.

"I don't think we can battle with Paris for the title," he said ahead of playing Dijon in midweek.

Whether Lille's title bid cuts the mustard will be clearer when they host Thomas Tuchel's Paris St-­Germain at Stade Pierre Mauroy at the weekend. 

Bayer Leverkusen - German Bundesliga

The Germans finished last season in fifth but look a different team since the new campaign started. Head coach Peter Bosz arrived at the BayArena in December 2018 and the team's form improved significantly.

Bayer have never shaken off their nearly men tag - earned for four second-place finishes in quick succession between 1997 and 2002 - and are still known as "Neverkusen" in some quarters.

Could this be their year, the one where they finally become champions of Germany after finishing runners-up five times? The most recent of them was in 2010-11 where they finished seven points behind champions Borussia Dortmund.  

AC Milan - Italian Serie A

The seven-time European champions and 18-time Italian champs have not been Serie A winners since 2011, when they pipped city rivals Inter to the crown. Zlatan Ibrahimovic was part of that Milan side and he is back at the San Siro this season. Anything could happen.

Posted in: SOCCER

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