Spurs can prove they belong on Sunday

Tottenham Hotspur says it’s for real.

Sunday, the most exciting team in the Premier League can prove it with an emphatic performance against Manchester United on Sunday morning (LIVE on Fox Soccer at 11 a.m. ET).

Sunday’s test is just the latest, but clearly the fiercest, in a year that has seen the club take a major leap forward. A win Sunday would leave them no worse than five points off the top. A loss could see them fall as far as sixth.

And Spurs, who have already lost five games this season, have been far better at the confines of White Hart Lane than on the road. The bottom line? If Tottenham is to make its case, the time is now.

Spurs are currently sitting fourth in the Premier League table, a remarkable spot considering the doubts about the team coming into the season. Even manager Harry Redknapp admitted that he wondered if the addition of Champions League games to what is an already packed English schedule would derail his side’s ambitions. Instead a series of smart signings and breakout play from three key men have made Tottenham a legitimate title contender.

There’s no question about Spurs’ rich history, but the club had slipped from its one-time perch as London’s “other club” thanks to the rise of Chelsea under owner Roman Abramovich. And, despite being the first English club to complete to double of winning the League and FA Cup in the same year (1961), it has been fifty long years since it won the top-flight crown.

Today, Spurs play in an old stadium in a decaying neighborhood, and the glamour that the team once held has been eaten away by the triumphs of crosstown rivals Arsenal and Chelsea.

Off the field, Spurs are currently involved in a nasty battle — a potential move to the new Olympic Stadium being built for London 2012. That would give them much greater seating capacity, but at Stratford, it would be far from their traditional support.

Yet, on the field, today’s Spurs are in the midst of a full-fledged revival. While the popular view of Tottenham is a club that flourished in the mid-90s with Paul Gascgoine, Garry Lineker, Teddy Shearingham and the arrival of German great Juergen Klinsmann, most folks would rather forget that the electrifying Klinsmann left the club because of the team’s failure to qualify for European competition. The fact is that today’s Spurs are enjoying the club’s most consistent spell in thirty years. Since 2005, Spurs have cracked the top five in all but one season.

The key to success this season was Spurs’ signing of Rafael van der Vaart, picked up from Real Madrid for just $12m in a deadline-day shocker. With van der Vaart, Tottenham has displayed the quick-passing, hell-for-leather style more often thought of as the exclusive province of Arsenal. The team’s top-scorer in the Prem this season, van der Vaart’s guile has also allowed the blossoming of two players into full fledged stars — midfielder Luka Modric and Welsh winger Gareth Bale.

Bale is of course the breakout player of the season, a man who has singlehandedly willed Spurs to wins in Europe, scoring four huge goals in the Champions League to lead the unfancied Londoners top of their group and into the Round of 16. But without van der Vaart’s linkup, and his ability to attract defenses toward him, it is debatable whether even the speedy Bale would have had as much room to roam on the left flank.

Van der Vaart is the team’s assists leader, and with him on the field, Spurs are statistically dominant in every offensive category. Moreover, the Dutchman has avoided the “brownouts” in form that plagued him in Spain, missing matches only due to injury.

Spurs also look to have class over the field this season. They are getting big contributions out of the borderline Russian striker Roman Pavyluchenko and strong support off the bench from the rangy Peter Crouch up top, covering up Jermain Defoe’s fitful nature this year.

Better yet, Spurs didn’t fall apart in back with the extended absence of key stopper Michael Dawson. Younes Kaboul and Benoit Assou-Ekotto have shown resilience and ability, and the sometimes-wild Heurelho Gomes has avoided the succession of howlers that once threatened to end his career as a ‘keeper. At home, Spurs are very tough to score against; away they tend to cough them up, which has prevented them from fully being able to exploit their talents.

Sunday, Spurs will face a Manchester United side that historically grows in strength as the season goes on, and is visibly starting to gel. Still unbeaten in league play, Sir Alex Ferguson’s team will come to London in search of a win that can serve notice of their intention to claim another title.

Wayne Rooney is starting to score again, Nani has been deadly both as a set-up man and scorer and the midfield is deep, talented, experienced, and capable of domination. Adding to the spice there’s league-leading scorer Dimitar Berbatov … Spurs fans haven’t forgotten that the Bulgarian just happened to leave their club to sign for United.

Yet, Tottenham have shown all season long that they are neither overmatched nor overawed. With a win Sunday, they can end any arguments about where they belong among the top tier of English football.

Jamie Trecker is a senior writer for FoxSoccer.com covering the UEFA Champions League and European football.