LONDON (Reuters) - Tottenham Hotspur have improved on last season's Premier League title push but the searing pace being set at the top by Chelsea means defeat in Wednesday's home clash with their London rivals could consign them to also-rans with half the season remaining.
Mauricio Pochettino's side bagged a fourth consecutive victory on Sunday, launching the New Year with a 4-1 victory at Watford with Harry Kane and Dele Alli scoring two apiece.
It left Tottenham on 39 points from 19 games with 37 goals scored and 14 conceded and only two defeats, none at home.
At the same stage last season, when a first title since 1961 looked a possibility until they faltered in the face of a relentless Leicester City side, they had 35 points from 19 games with 33 goals scored and 15 conceded.
Yet, whereas a year ago Tottenham were right in the thick of the title race, they find themselves in fourth place, 10 points behind Chelsea who on Wednesday could set a new record of 14 consecutive Premier League victories in the same season.
Arsenal are one point better off while second-placed Liverpool have four more points than Pochettino's outfit.
Kane, who took his tally to 59 goals in 100 Premier League games with his brace at Watford, Alli and influential left back Danny Rose were all withdrawn before the end at Vicarage Road as eyes turned to the visit of Chelsea to White Hart Lane.
"Chelsea are in an unbelievable situation," said Pochettino, whose side's title hopes were extinguished in May when Chelsea recovered from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 in a stormy encounter at Stamford Bridge.
"It's going to be tough for both teams but we play at White Hart Lane and need to be aggressive. We will be very confident and will try to show we are better then them."
After successive 4-1 wins on the road, Kane said Tottenham could not be in a better mood ahead of the Chelsea game.
"We're excited, it's a massive game," Kane, who has returned to his best form after a slow start to the season, told Tottenham's website. "It will be a great atmosphere.
"We have to be focussed and make sure we put in a good performance. We have reached halfway and are in good shape."
Tottenham lost 2-1 at Chelsea in November, having led until just before halftime and Kane said that performance will give them the confidence that they can halt Chelsea's surge.
"We know we can beat them," he said.
Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Mitch Phillips