After two consecutive defeats in the Premier League, Tottenham Hotspur came under scrutiny on BT Sport with Martin Keown claiming “Spurs have gone stale”. Was this criticism fair? and if so…How do Spurs get back to their fresh best?
Tottenham have been somewhat of a feel good story within the top six in the last few seasons, sealing three consecutive top three finishes as well as going toe-to-toe with Europe’s elite whilst on a significantly smaller budget than the rest of the top six.
However, the feel good factor amongst the Spurs fan base has dampened somewhat after off-the-field variables such as inflated season ticket prices, stadium delays and alleged broken promises on a transfer front.
Silence is golden? or is the silence deafening?
The Spurs fan base has been somewhat divided; Did Spurs need more? or is their squad good enough already to compete? These takes are subjective, and in my opinion this is not a matter of answering yes or no to either question.
Tottenham have not lost a single key player this summer from the senior team, so history would suggest that if this squad is the exact same as last term they should be in for another solid season within the top four, and with the likes of Lucas Moura now buying into Mauricio Pochettino’s tactical philosophy after six months of adaptation, as well as young players maturing after another year, you could suggest that Spurs are arguably in a better position?
However, if you look at the other side of the coin whilst Tottenham have been impressive in the last few years you can’t look past the fact that when it mattered most last season, they fell short. In the Champions League against Juventus and in the FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United, they were missing a bit of guile and a bit of dynamism that could have turned the game on its head. It felt like a watershed moment. Some players within the Tottenham squad have been taken as far as they can go in my opinion, some are declining and some need some healthy competition.
Mousa Dembele has been a mainstay in the evolution of Pochettino’s Tottenham, possessing the physicality of a brute and the footwork and intricacy of a ballerina. However, the Belgian has had increased injury problems in the last 18 months, and at age 31 the Spurs man will eventually need to be shifted out of the team, and with just 10 months left on his Spurs contract, history would suggest that the Belgian will leave North London sooner rather than later.
If you look beyond Dembele, Spurs’ midfield options are very thin and could become a huge problem in the future.
Harry Winks demonstrated all the qualities last season that he could become a key component in the heart of Tottenham’s midfield, with excellent performances against Europe’s elite at the ripe age of 22, it seemed Spurs’ academy graduate had the world at his feet. However, after suffering a recurring ankle injury towards the tail end of 2017, consistent minutes and fitness has been hard to come by for the Hemel-Hempstead born midfielder.
Eric Dier has played here, there and everywhere for Tottenham since his arrival from Sporting Lisbon back in 2014, whether it be a debut season at centre-half, a makeshift spell at right back or a season in the heart of Tottenham’s midfield, Dier has been somewhat of a victim of his own versatility and has failed to hold down a consistent position in Pochettino’s side. Dier has become inferior to fellow defensive midfielder Victor Wanyama, and has fell down the pecking order at centre-half behind Alderweireld, Vertonghen and Sanchez.
Much like Harry Winks, Victor Wanyama has had numerous injury problems in the last 12 months. The Kenyan was incredible in his debut season at Tottenham, scoring five goals from defensive midfield as well as putting up ridiculous defensive numbers. But injury problems have halted Wanyama’s Spurs career in the past season, with the former Southampton man struggling to maintain full match fitness and consistent minutes on the pitch.
Below these four in the midfield food chain is Moussa Sissoko, a player that has flattered to deceive on N17 ever since his £30 million move from Newcastle United back on deadline day in 2016. Sissoko’s confidence has been shot to bits at Spurs, and has yet to demonstrate anything worthwhile to suggest that his £30 million price tag was anything less than a panic buy. However, the Frenchman seems to be utilised a lot by Mauricio Pochettino. If you look at the bigger picture at Spurs, Sissoko represents the change in authority at the club during Pochettino’s tenure, the 29 year old is happy to play anywhere for Spurs (albeit very badly) and will do so in any position that his manager tells him to, meaning there is no player hierarchy over the manager, however he is simply not good enough for the level that Spurs are at currently, and the level they aspire to be at in the near future.
Spurs have been blessed with the brilliance of Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli in attacking midfield for just over three seasons now, and have reaped the rewards of the individual excellence of the pair on many occasions. However, such is the lack of squad depth in midfield for Tottenham, Eriksen and Alli have become too comfortable with starting positions on occasions, and in spite of all their brilliance, tend to have dry patches of form that could last 5-8 games per season.
In my opinion this is not the fault of either, it’s a result of a lack of healthy and realistic competition. These players can go on these bad patches of form knowing that their place in the side is still safe. Alli and Eriksen are key players for Spurs and as a result will probably take part in around 40-50 games per season year upon year, to ask that much of players for that long is simply unrealistic and unfair.
So have Spurs gone backwards?
In spite of the lack of transfers, Tottenham have not gone backwards. They have maintained, and can count continuity as one of their strengths.
But, after three brilliant years and with a new stadium on the cards Spurs look like a team building towards their future. Despite the financial constraints that will come with the new stadium, Tottenham needed to add to their squad to progress. Whilst everybody around them has strengthened the Lilywhites have stood still. The squad in which Mauricio Pochettino has at his disposal is capable of reaching the same targets as last season.
This summer was a chance for Spurs to capitalise, a squad that is still fairly young and is approaching their peak years whilst the likes of Arsenal and Chelsea were set for transitional summers, and Manchester United looked fairly vulnerable. One or two key signings could have been the catalyst to kick on and win a trophy, or become serious contenders to Manchester City in the Premier League. Ultimately, the fact that Mauricio Pochettino hasn’t won a trophy at Spurs does not change the fact that the Argentine has done an excellent job. But, it certainly is becoming an unwanted burden on the Argentine’s back by media narratives and outsiders looking in on the club.
The idea of not signing anyone and believing we can reach the same heights as Manchester City, is somewhat naive and a tad arrogant, especially for a side that has failed to reach an FA Cup final in over 27 years and a side yet lift any silverware in over a decade.
Backing from the board:
At the end of last season, Mauricio Pochettino claimed that it was time Spurs reached a new level by being brave and bold in the right areas. It doesn’t take a genius to read in between the lines and see that Pochettino was looking to be backed in the transfer market. Advances from Chelsea and Real Madrid weren’t enough to prize away Spurs’ most valuable managerial asset for years, so when the club allegedly failed to grant him his wishes and struggled to sign Championship talent Jack Grealish over a few million pounds, you could imagine his frustrations. This is the best manager Tottenham have had in the Premier League era, so to not support him and break alleged promises made to him seems very very dangerous.
On Saturday, Liverpool rocked up to Wembley and swept aside Tottenham with ease. Last October, Liverpool were outside of the top four after suffering a comprehensive 4-1 defeat to Spurs. Since then, the club have sold Coutinho and reinvested every single penny into the squad, spending big on the likes of Allison, Fabinho, Naby Keita and Virgil Van Dijk.
Whilst the circumstances are different as Liverpool are not building a brand new 63,000 stadium, it is clear that on the pitch matters come first and the manager is fully backed.
Liverpool have now surpassed Spurs, and are genuine contenders both domestically and on a European front.
Whilst inevitably people will say “Who could Spurs have got that would’ve improved their team and not cost £60-70 million?” I say here are a few examples:
Jean-Michel Seri – £25 million: A hard working, dynamic and creative midfielder capable of driving through the centre of the pitch as well as end product, solving Tottenham’s gaping hole in central midfield.
James Maddison – £20 million: A dynamic, creative, versatile attacking midfielder with genuine ability and guile still just 21 years old and available at a price of just £20 million, addressing the lack of depth at attacking midfield beyond Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli.
So to answer Martin Keown’s question, yes Spurs have gone stale, ever so slightly. The club is still in a good place and is capable of securing Champions League football like it has done in the last few years, but the club have missed out on a big chance to capitalise, not that this will be the only chance.
Onwards and upwards
Come on You Spurs!
featured image credit evening standard