Liverpool will give Tottenham their first real test of the Premier League season
Four games. Four wins. The perfect start. But Sunday's match against Liverpool at White Hart Lane will offer the first proper test of this season's Spurs side.
Are they merely flat-track bullies who can swat aside inferior opposition? Or are they the real deal with the physical and mental strength to prevail against top-class sides? The evidence so far points to the latter, but no one will be taking anything for granted. A win, even a scrappy win, and fans and pundits alike might just start taking Spurs' Champions League ambitions seriously.
Twice the past season Tottenham didn't just come off second best to Liverpool; they were totally outplayed and humiliated. Sunday's game should be a much more even contest.
Liverpool are not the team they were this past season. They have lost their talisman Luis Suarez, Steven Gerrard has lost some of his edge in midfield and the defence looks vulnerable. Spurs, meanwhile, have improved a great deal -- in movement, energy, tactical awareness and self-belief. The gap between the two teams is now paper thin.
Liverpool, though, still possess a considerable threat. Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling are two of the quickest and most dangerous attackers in the Premier League. The Spurs back four haven't had to cope with anyone of their quality so far this season and will have to be at the top of their game to keep them in check.
Then there's Liverpool's new striker, Mario Balotelli: The great footballing conundrum. He's not a player any fan would be particularly enthusiastic to see arriving at their own club because of his personality and reputation. But he's also not a footballer you want playing against you because he is all but unstoppable on his good days.
On his debut for his new club, Balotelli is likely to be on his best behaviour and eager to make a good first impression. The key for Tottenham will be to allow him few opportunities on the ball in the first half. When he gets frustrated, he has a tendency to lose his temper or drift out of the game. Either would suit Spurs.
There should be no hangover for the North London side from their midweek Europa League qualifier against Limassol. Of the 11 who started that game, only Hugo Lloris and Younes Kaboul are likely to start against Liverpool. It could even just be Lloris if Mauricio Pochettino decides to give new signing Federico Fazio his debut. If Fazio does play, it would be a baptism of fire: The former Sevilla defender is noted for his physicality and tactical nous but not his pace -- Sturridge and Sterling would be more than a handful for him.
Expect, though, for Pochettino to play the same staring XI that comfortably overwhelmed Queens Park Rangers. Eyes might be raised that Nabil Bentaleb and Etienne Capoue will get the nod in the centre of midfield, but neither have put a foot wrong so far and have looked far sharper and more creative than either Paulinho or Mousa Dembele.
For Erik Lamela, it's another chance for him to show he is the real McCoy. Liverpool will have noted how he drifts around the field -- at times against QPR it was impossible to say what position he was actually playing -- and won't give him the same freedom and respect.
The centre-backs will surely be under instructions to land a few heavy tackles in early on to discourage them. Lamela must take the hits and come back at them even stronger. Once a couple of defenders are on yellow cards, he might just find he has a little more freedom; it's up to Lamela to not let himself be contained. If he can impose himself, then the chances for him and others will open up.
The only niggling worry for Spurs is their strikers. Roberto Soldado is injured and Harry Kane still looks far too raw. Against Limassol on Thursday, he had seven or eight clear chances and only converted one -- those misses would have been costly against a better team.
Should Emmanuel Adebayor get injured or lose form, Spurs have little to fall back on. A win on Sunday and a new striker on the last day of the transfer window on Monday would have the fans purring.
John Crace is a columnist and feature writer for The Guardian. He is also a THFC season-ticket holder. Follow him on Twitter @JohnJCrace.