Time for Tottenham to back up their title talk against United

THERE are few incentives for anyone to be overtly ambitious these days. Since lofty dreams are often viewed as fantasy and deluded over-reaching, you are only setting yourself up for a fall.

In the Premier League, when the whole world is watching, it is arguably better to aim low and overshoot your goal than reach for the skies and fall short. It is the safer option, but caution hardly gets the pulse racing.

And so it has been heartening to hear Tottenham talking up their title chances in recent weeks, with the likes of Luka Modric, Gareth Bale and Michael Dawson all backing their manager’s claim that there are five teams in the race, and that Spurs have a chance, no matter how slim.

Harry Redknapp rated the Lilywhites’ chances at 33-1 at the end of the year, but the odds have probably lengthened since then.

Last week, Manchester United were the only team out of the top five to win, with Spurs and Chelsea losing at Everton and Wolves respectively, and Manchester City holding Arsenal to a draw at the Emirates.

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Question marks remain over United’s credentials, and whether they merit their place at the top of the table. Critics maintain that the leaders are yet to put in a good performance this season, and are only top by default due to their rivals’ inconsistency.

That may be true, but the fact remains: United travel to Tottenham two points clear, and with at least one game in hand on everyone below, including Spurs, who lie eight points behind with a worse goal difference.

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With just under half of the season remaining, that gap is by no means insurmountable, and the Lilywhites cannot be written off yet – they are still ahead of Chelsea, for one thing, and Redknapp maintains that the Blues are very much in the race.

However, a home defeat by Sir Alex Ferguson’s side on Sunday would surely leave Spurs with too much to do, barring a complete disintegration by United.

That seems unlikely, since they are unbeaten in the league all season and have a history of coming on strongly in the second half of the campaign.

It is now or never for Tottenham, and even a draw would be a missed opportunity to cut the pacesetters’ lead.

Few in north London would bemoan a stalemate, but this is the title we’re talking about – champions do not draw these games.

Having stated time and again that they are scared of no-one, that they can beat the best and that there is no reason why they cannot win the title, it is time for Spurs’ manager and players to put their money where their mouths are, and finally beat United.

The competition needs that as much as Tottenham do. As Sebastien Bassong says, everyone will be cheering for Spurs on Sunday.

This is the time for the Lilywhites to back up their words with actions, adding weight to their brave beliefs by beating the team they have failed to vanquish for almost a decade.

Tottenham have not beaten United since May 2001, when the Reds had already won the title, and the Lilywhites have lost 18 of 23 meetings since.

And yet there is good news: Only two of Spurs’ eight meetings with United under Redknapp have been at home.

The first was a goalless draw, and the second time Spurs were ahead but lost 3-1.

They have come a long way since that day, 16 months ago. Gareth Bale wasn’t even on the bench, and Rafael van der Vaart was at Real Madrid.

Since then, Spurs have consistently beaten the top sides – as Redknapp says, they have not had a better chance of beating United for many years.

Let us hope that they do, for everyone’s sake. Otherwise any further Tottenham title talk will look rather, well, deluded.

Prediction: Spurs 2 Man United 1

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