SPURS face their toughest test yet when they play Chelsea at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in a London derby this weekend.
It is a fixture that can go some way to laying bare just how far Nuno Espirito Santo’s side still has to go before they entertain realistic aspirations of challenging the Big Four — Manchester City, Liverpool, tomorrow’s visitors and Manchester United.
Tottenham got off to their best start yet in the Premier League when chalking up three wins on the trot, including the narrow victory over champions City, who appeared wobbly in their opener.
But then they came down to earth with a heavy thud last weekend when Crystal Palace registered their first triumph of the new campaign.
And against a Chelsea side that is brimming with confidence and spearheaded by the free-scoring Romelu Lukaku, Spurs could find themselves with even greater pain to deal with.
Chelsea are locked in a four-way tie at the top of the Premiership after four matches and are second only by virtue of goal difference.
They have conceded just once — in the draw with Liverpool — and in the other three games have scored two or more. And therein lies Chelsea’s fortitude.
They have a solid rearguard in place, built around goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, and defenders César Azpilicueta, Andreas Christensen and Antonio Rüdiger, with support down the flanks from Reece James and Marcos Alonso.
To spice things up or add a different thrust, German manager Thomas Tuchel turns to Thiago Silva and Benjamin Chilwell.
But perhaps more importantly, they now also boast a renewed source for goals in Lukaku.
The big Belgian centre-forward has established himself as a top class striker in Europe, having illuminated the Serie A last season and carried that prolific form from Inter Milan to Stamford Bridge. For good measure, he has four goals from four starts for the Blues so far in his second coming at Chelsea.
In his first stint as a Chelsea player between 2011 and 2014, during which time he was also loaned out to West Bromwich Albion and Everton, Lukaku only made 10 appearances and without a goal to show for it.
He has returned as a genuine threat to all whom they play, and how Man United must be licking their lips.
Lukaku joined the Red Devils in 2017 before leaving in 2019 after 66 matches and 28 goals — making nowhere near the sort of impact that was expected after he arrived for an initial £75mil and another £15mil in add-ons.
Tottenham will not worry too much about all his history as they fix their attention on trying to thwart his advances on their goal. Given Lukaku’s exploits thus far, Spurs’ best efforts look like they will not be able to keep him out.
But the home side have a classy striker of their own, who could well make his presence felt. England captain Harry Kane has the pedigree to unsettle Chelsea and with a bit of good fortune, turn the tables on the more fancied side.
Last weekend, Spurs’ talisman was starved of the good service needed upfront to get among the goals against Palace.
Earlier this week Tottenham were reportedly considering the inclusion of Argentinians Giovani Lo Celso and Cristian Romero, and Columbia’s Davinson Sanchez in the squad to face Chelsea.
The trio is only expected to arrive in London today after spending time in Croatia, training on their own. They travelled to their countries during the international break “without the permission” of their club, and to avoid self-isolation on their return to England, they remained in Croatia since.
But with Eric Dier a doubt after an injury at Palace and Japhet Tanganga suspended because of his red card in that game, Nuno will be left with few options.
Spurs also have injury concerns over South Korean Heung-min Son and Dutchman Steven Bergwijn.
Tottenham will no doubt be keen to give a good account of themselves against one of the contenders of the league title.
Failure to do so will not only have Nuno and Co. lose face in a big London derby, but they will also concede more ground in their efforts to mix things with big boys and fight for silverware.