Jose Mourinho won’t admit it publicly but Tottenham Hotspur have put themselves in the Premier League title race.
A new mentality means they have become harder to beat and their structured style of play will ensure they are competitive every week. Up front, the Harry Kane—Son Heung-min combination has become one of the most feared attacking combinations in Europe. And in reserve they still have Gareth Bale waiting to make his mark.
The signs are good as they sit on top of the table but how do they ensure this form continues? The January transfer window is around the corner and Spurs are contemplating a variety of big business decisions.
Sources around the club are indicating that the ambition of Daniel Levy will ensure Mourinho does have the chance to make additions to his squad, but the club must also balance the books. Their last financial results showed a loss of £63.9 million and the fact they have only recently moved into a giant state-of-the-art stadium means they have felt the absence of fans as hard as anyone.
Still, this strange old season has brought a sporting opportunity that few predicted and Spurs are plotting the next phase of their challenge.
There are discussions to be had around the futures of Harry Winks, Dele Alli, Davinson Sanchez, Gedson Fernandes and Danny Rose and once it becomes clear how many of those are leaving, and how much the wage bill opens up, the club will be able to define their January plans more clearly.
Mourinho would ideally like to bring in two new players, sources say, to add fresh competitiveness to the squad and ensure they are suitably prepared for injuries and suspensions, as well as any fixture pile-up.
Top priority: A new defender
Milan Skriniar of FC Internazionale looks on during the Serie A match between US Sassuolo and FC Internazionale
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The priority will be a central defender and there are various options being explored. One of those is Inter Milan’s Milan Skriniar, who is available but would not come cheap. Spurs sources are indicating that, currently, he seems out of reach at £50million - unless Inter are willing to consider an initial loan. Another more realistic target could be Sassuolo defender Gian Marco Ferrari, who is a reliable left-footer and has shown he is comfortable at the centre of a back three or the left side of a central two.
Failure to strengthen at the back is possible but would not be considered a disaster. Joe Rodon has made his first-team bow after joining in October while Japhet Tanganga is returning from injury and can be used there in an emergency. Talks with Sanchez will also be key to how Spurs view the situation. He has not figured since Tottenham's collapse against West Ham in October, and most telling about his status was the fact he was overlooked for the last game against Chelsea.
He had not expected to become an outsider this season and will consider his options if discussions over his situation do not convince him there is room to turn things around.
Left-back Rose is available, and very likely to move, but he won't bring in much cash as his contract expires at the end of the season anyway. Gedson is a forgotten man too, his loan move from Benfica ready for termination at any moment.
Winks and Dele out, a new midfielder in?
Harry Winks of Tottenham Hotspur during the UEFA Europa League Group J stage match between Tottenham Hotspur and PFC Ludogorets Razgrad
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The Dele situation is intriguing though, and it is clear he is also not in Mourinho's masterplan right now. The player feels a move will benefit him but Levy has long considered him as one of the club's most valuable assets. Ideally he would prefer Mourinho to eventually integrate him again - but that seems some way from happening. He could leave on loan.
Interesting, too, is the difficulty facing midfielder Winks. He fancies a move abroad if he is not part of the vision. It is understood that Winks will be told he can find a new club, and that will suit the player as he should be in the England squad for Euro 2020 and will put his place at risk if he is not playing. Spurs have a clear preferred midfield trio of Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Tanguy Ndombele and Moussa Sissoko right now.
The Winks and Alli uncertainty could lead to Tottenham signing a new midfielder, and it is believed Mourinho is prepared to call on his extensive contacts to help bring in a figure who has experience in winning trophies and competing for titles.
That, of course, has to be Mourinho's main objective right now. Spurs have not won silverware since the League Cup in 2008 and he wants to put that right.
New contracts for star attackers
Heung-Min Son and Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur talk to the media
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That ambition can become possible if his two main men, Kane and Son, are fit and firing. Both players are a big part of the club’s long-term plan.
Son is set to sign a new, improved contract in the coming weeks. And there are even whispers that Kane will get a new one in the summer too, even though he signed a six-year deal in 2018.
This weekend it is the North London derby and Spurs have another opportunity to lay down a marker to show their early season form is no fluke.
Mourinho will continue to play down their title credentials, but behind the scenes there is a realisation that an unbelievable opportunity sits in front of them.