””

Heart Of Football

Spurs mark new EPL epoch against Red Devils

Well into April now, and most people are asking whether Leicester City can complete the most thrilling turnaround from bottom place a year ago to winning England's top league for the first time - ever.

Or might Tottenham Hotspur yet chase them down and win their first title in 55 years.

The Foxes or the Fighting Cocks?

Today's games, and every game until this is done, will be gripping stuff.

Leicester's wily old Italian boss Claudio Ranieri, doesn't want to answer whether his side can keep front-running or get to the winning post. He does, however, entertain thoughts that should they win at Sunderland at lunchtime today, Leicester will be within touching distance of qualifying for the Champions League.

Ranieri counts no chickens. He knows that Sunderland are fighting for their Premier League lives, so he expects a "battle" at the Stadium of Light.


Tottenham Hotspur's Harry Kane is turning into a fine striker under the tutelage of his manager Maurico Pochettino, whose own stock has been rising steadily. PHOTO: REUTERS

Indeed, Leicester have not won at Sunderland since 1995, though they have pleasant memories of the last trip. It finished goalless and that, in the penultimate game of last season, secured survival for the Foxes in the EPL.

The turnaround owes everything to Leicester's remarkable spirit, but in good measure reflects the failure of the top dogs - the two Manchesters, Arsenal, and Chelsea to allow it to happen.

The "Cruyff" turn with his back to goal and the shot past Germany's renowned 'keeper Manuel Neuer last month, followed by another wonderful goal at Anfield last week, are answering a lot of critics who thought "Harry Kane doesn't have a trick".

In this wonderfully unpredictable season, I do not rule out Arsenal. But you know by now how the Gunners fared at West Ham, and that of course will affect the top four places.

So, massively, will the later game between Spurs and Manchester United this evening in London, after midnight in Singapore.

Maybe that's too late into the night for you, but it is going to be compelling viewing in many parts of the world.

The league positions alone make it a crucial match.

United desperately need to win - not simply to remain undefeated - to stay in contention for a Champions League place which will impact mightily on the club's ability to attract big players for next season.

Spurs must win - and not simply go undefeated - to sustain their title chance.

History may not count for much, but United have not lost in 14 league visits to White Hart Lane, stretching back to 2001.

"This would be a good time to change the history," responds Mauricio Pochettino, the Tottenham coach who has embraced Spurs' culture with quiet but convincing thoroughness over the past two seasons.

In some quarters, it comes down tonight to Harry Kane versus Anthony Martial. Kane, at 22 still growing into the mantle of Spurs' best striker in decades, is now scoring goals of a calibre that most of us didn't know he was capable of.

Yes, for two seasons now, Harry has been the main man in terms of compelling goals in the EPL. Forty-six goals in 66 starts is an impressive number, but it is his growth from a hard-running poacher to a striker of breathtaking goals that has astonished many.

The "Cruyff" turn with his back to goal and the shot past Germany's renowned 'keeper Manuel Neuer last month, followed by another wonderful goal at Anfield last week, are answering a lot of critics who thought "Harry Kane doesn't have a trick".

He's all perseverance, they thought.

Well, he has that, but he is a Spur, and he quite clearly works hard on proving people wrong.

Kane cannot answer, today at any rate, the debate about whether he or Wayne Rooney should lead England's attack at the Euro 2016 tournament.

But while Rooney has been injured, there has been a turn for the better. Louis van Gaal turned to youth, the cornerstone of his finest achievements with Ajax and with Barcelona.

Old Louis simmers at suggestions that Jose Mourinho is on a promise to take his job next season. Rumours circulate, as well, that Mou is wanted (again) by Real Madrid.

What then happens to the young players who have turned United around in recent weeks? Jesse Lingard (23 and not considered a youngster), Anthony Martial (20), and the 18-year-olds Marcus Rashford and Timothy Fosu-Mensah have been a breath of fresh air for United.

Their performances have visibly changed van Gaal from looking like a startled, cornered old man to someone actually smiling again as he looks his detractors in the eyes.

If I were managing at Old Trafford, I would be in a quandary right now. If the club are thinking of a managerial change, they had better get on with it because City with Pep Guardiola and Chelsea with Antonio Conte have made their appointments, and are negotiating for players the new managers want for next season.

If it is Mou, the speculation goes, then he wants Kane at United next season.

Those who know Kane say he is settled where he is, happy with a team who are built to his strengths, and very, very happy with Pochettino as coach.

There comes another sting. The gossip is that Mourinho for Old Trafford is a red herring, and that Poch is really the coach that United fancy.

He should be. His record with Espanyol, Southampton and now Tottenham is of a relatively young coach who gets the best out of everyone around him.

Tottenham's chairman, Daniel Levy, held talks with the Argentinian last week, and laid on the table a handsome new contract and a promise to sign players that Spurs will need in the Champions League.

"Tottenham today is a very good place," said Pochettino on Friday. "We have great facilities, our supporters are fantastic. Why would the players find another place? They feel at home here."

Just the players? "You start to build emotional relationships," Pochettino answered. "The money is not important. The emotional link you create with people here is.

"But there is a difference between when you are a player and a manager. When you are a player, you sign for four years and if you want to be there, you're staying. If you are a manager and you get sacked, you always depend on the president."

The title, you imagine, would keep him at Tottenham.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 10, 2016, with the headline 'Spurs mark new EPL epoch against Red Devils'. Print Edition | Subscribe