Match 30
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Match 32
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6:00 PM UTC
Match 31
Game Details
Saudi Arabia
2:00 PM UTC Jun 25, 2018
Match 34
Game Details
2:00 PM UTC Jun 25, 2018
Match 33
Game Details
6:00 PM UTC Jun 25, 2018
Match 35
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6:00 PM UTC Jun 25, 2018
Match 36
Game Details

This is the year in which Tottenham have finally shed their "Spursy" tag

For just a few hours last weekend, Chelsea's supporters had great cause for anxiety. Playing in the day's early fixture, their title rivals Tottenham Hotspur didn't just beat Watford: they obliterated them, narrowing the gap at the top to just four points. Chelsea's players walked out of the tunnel at Bournemouth that evening knowing that there could be no room for error but to their credit, they overcame the Cherries and restored their lead.

This weekend, they may have to go through that all over again.

Spurs are the ones who will play Bournemouth and it's the sort of fixture that used to trouble them. Eddie Howe's side are capable of fine football and unlike many other Premier League clubs of their size and stature, they will have no intention of shutting up shop. They don't do percentage-based, defensive football; they will go to White Hart Lane with the intention of winning the game. But this Spurs side is growing up. It's growing stronger. Spurs no longer seem so... Spursy.

Spursy Spurs lost games like this all the time. Spursy Spurs would crack under the pressure. But this team has grown up together and with a core of English players who have made their name at international level at the same time. And it shows. Their victory over Watford last weekend was emphatic, a brutal 4-0 beating that could easily have escalated into a seven- or eight-goal mauling. But it was the two fixtures prior to Saturday's game that really impressed.

First, Spurs went to Burnley, where the home side had won 10 games this season. They found the going hard, as most do when they face a Sean Dyche team, but they kept up the pressure and finally broke them down after the hour. They found it even harder at Swansea five days later. They went a goal down and spent most of the match trying to claw their way back to parity, but three goals in the closing stages saw off the impending calamity.

This is not how Tottenham traditionally operate. They have long been a team best surmised by Roy Keane's account of a Sir Alex Ferguson team talk.

"I thought I knew what the group might need," Keane said in 2014. "That we didn't need a big team talk. It was Tottenham at home. I thought please don't go on about Tottenham, we all know what Tottenham is about, they are nice and tidy but we'll f---ing do them. He came in and said 'Lads, it's Tottenham', and that was it. Brilliant."

But opposing managers need rather more than that these days. Spurs have only been beaten three times in this campaign and those defeats were all against fellow title contenders (at the time, anyway) Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool. They haven't been beaten at White Hart Lane all season. In short, they don't tend to make many mistakes, a trait usually associated with... erm... champions.

The very idea of Tottenham challenging for a title would have been laughable five years ago. It was surprising enough when they finished fourth for the first time in the Premier League in 2010. Until last season, you'd have had to go all the way back to 1990 to find their last top-three finish. They never appeared to have the mentality to go any higher. Until the arrival of Mauricio Pochettino.

The former Southampton coach has moved quickly, clearing the decks of players whose efforts were found wanting and replacing them either with shrewd acquisitions or promotions from the youth ranks. There are expectations at Spurs now. Every player has to work with and without the ball. There are no passengers. It's been enough to turn a hitherto frustrating, disagreeable outfit into a genuinely likeable collection of young men. And they are not out of the title race yet.

Jose Mourinho will be desperate for vengeance against Chelsea this weekend. He was humiliated at Stamford Bridge earlier this season, forced to listen as the fans who used to worship him lauded his replacement, Antonio Conte, instead. He was also infuriated by the refereeing when the two sides met in the FA Cup, with Chelsea victorious there, too. If he can wreck their title challenge at Old Trafford on Sunday, he'll consider that a very good day's work. Chelsea will not have it easy.

But even if they do slip up, and even if Spurs do beat Bournemouth, it may not be enough to deliver a long-awaited title to White Hart Lane before its demolition this summer. The gap will still be four points and Chelsea will still be a devastating counterattacking team more than capable of getting over the line.

Spurs may fall short through no fault of their own, but if they can't win the title, perhaps they can do something else. Perhaps they can prove to the world that they are no longer Spursy.

Iain Macintosh covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @IainMacintosh.


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