By Karl Matchett.
Leicester City's victory over Manchester City last week seemed to finally convince Premier League watchers that the Foxes were the real deal, this season at least, and could go on to actually win the title-but there are still one or two more challengers to keep at bay.
One of those is Tottenham Hotspur, who themselves have the chance to not just further dent Manuel Pellegrini's team's hopes of reclaiming the league title, but also cast themselves into the same light as Leicester. Spurs visit the Etihad Stadium over the weekend as the first part of a week which could propel them from being top-four probables to being a team capable of winning major honours this season.
Considering Spurs' league finishes over the last few seasons, even fourth place would be a reasonable and laudable step forward, but given the way the Premier League has panned out, they must now be thinking of going even further. Second in the table, on a six-game win streak and with FA Cup and Europa League games coming in February, Spurs will head into the game against City with enormous confidence. Hand the Citizens a second successive defeat against a title rival and not only will they improve their own self-belief, they'll also wreck the Manchester side's, potentially nine points off top spot with 12 games to play.
A straight fight for the league title between Tottenham and Leicester might be the stuff Gary Lineker's dreams are made of, but the rest of the football-watching world would be left stunned-though also intrigued.
The Foxes have a set XI, with little rotation-but also nothing else of note to play for. It'll be the title or nothing. Spurs have a deeper squad but need to beat City to stay in that title fight for now, and immediately afterward they face Fiorentina in the Europa League. It's a tough double-header, with the Italian side third in Serie A and with the fourth-best defence in the league, but the strength of the Europa League is such that the trophy-and ensuing Champions League place-can only be won by beating one or two heavyweights along the way.
If Tottenham's aim is to be considered one of those, La Viola must be vanquished over the two games, as well as Manchester City.
Manager Mauricio Pochettino has been linked this week with a move to Manchester United in summer, while the likes of Harry Kane, Dele Alli and others from the playing staff will continually be rumoured to be interesting other big sides around England and Europe over the next few months.
The best way to stave off those potential departures, of course, is Champions League football and titles.
At this stage it's almost unthinkable that Tottenham won't finish in the top four; with seven points and three positions the buffer between themselves and fifth, Spurs are on the up and looking consistent. Eric Dier, Mousa Dembele and one or two other key starters have been resilient to clocking up minutes as well as having an impact on the pitch, both important factors to consider in the run-in, while Kane's goalscoring woes of earlier on in the season are a thing of the past.
Everything is set for a major challenge on at least one front, if not more, and the only questions remaining are whether Spurs are genuinely good enough to go on and show their current level of consistency over the next three months, and whether the squad has the mental resilience and fortitude to stay the course.
Less than a month from now, in just seven games, the north London derby will take place with Spurs hosting Arsenal; at that point much will be clear about Pochettino's side and their capacity to lift any titles at all. But to even be in the running at that time, this coming week is crucial for them. Take victories against City and Fiorentina and there will be limitless belief in the squad that this is their season-not to mention the buffers provided against a slip-up or two in future games. The most unpredictable Premier League season in an age is fast coming to its key period and Spurs are in place to prove they can lead the way to the endÂ…or else fall short and have to make do with an incremental improvement and the inevitable disappointment which some fans will feel with it.