Tottenham Hotspur have had a mixed season so far. Clearly not firing on all cylinders, they have been suffering with alarming inconsistency in their results. And once again at a rival ground they were found wanting as Manchester City were comfortable winners by four goals to one. A score line that even the most ardent Spurs fan would say was flattering.
There are a number of factors affecting both the team and Pochettino at the moment that is making this a challenging time despite some impressive performances in the Champions League; where they have excelled and now have to play Juventus in the last 16.
Home From Home
Moving away from White Hart Lane could not have come at a worse time for a club that had been in the ascendency for two consecutive seasons and had turned their home stadium into a fortress. The early games at their temporary home at Wembley should not have impacted on their play as much as it did but perhaps they whole psyche of playing in relatively unfamiliar surroundings had an impact on the players. Early season momentum which is so crucial for a sustained challenge at the top of the Premier League, was lost as points were dropped against Chelsea, Burnley and Swansea in quick succession and more recently against WBA.
Aside from this, building a new stadium brings its own challenges for the Chairman Daniel Levy in balancing finances still further.
Pochettino’s preferred playing style, Much like Guardiola’s at Manchester City, relies heavily on the speed and defensive capabilities of the full backs or wing backs. Having turned both Kyle Walker and Danny Rose into the best pairing in England he had to contend with Walker demanding to move in the summer from as far back as last April. And he had to witness Danny Rose give untimely interviews and make ill thought comments to both BBC 5 Live in the off season and The Sun newspaper as the season started. (It’s no surpise that both players are good friends and share the same agent). Rose himself is only just coming back from injury and whilst he has reiterated his commitment to the team until the end of the season it is clear he isn’t planning for anything beyond that for the time being.
Rose’s comments belie an underlying issue at Tottenham. It is widely regarded that Spurs players are not paid as well as at other clubs. Daniel Levy has secured most of his stars on longer term and heavily incentive laden contracts at the club. Whilst team unity is harmonious and the club are driving in the same direction then this may not be an immediate concern. However it is natural that at the first sign of difficulty, the players will become targets and headlines of “wanting away” will resurface. With a transfer window upcoming, news hungry journalists will want to keep this topic on the agenda. Pochettino himself having to admit that money may be an incentive for some players in his pre match press conference before yesterday’s game.
Last summer saw Spurs bring in five new players. Davinson Sanchez, Serge Aurier, Juan Foyth, Fernando Llorente and Paolo Gazzaniga. Of these only one has been a regular starter (Sanchez) and whilst Aurier may yet be, it is clear that the others were bought as squad additions in a back up role. Spurs may have missed an opportunity to bolster their squad with players that can offer genuine competition for their regular starters and by that token forfeited the opportunity to refresh and rejuvenate the squad. It will be interesting to see what happens in the January window, although this window offers very little genuine opportunity for meaningful signings and most clubs are aware of this.
Injuries and Form
Spurs coped admirably with absentees last season, however not so much this season. Toby Alderweireld may be out until February (he was similarly missing for a prolonged period last season due to injury); Victor Wanyama has played once this season; and Moussa Dembele, Danny Rose and Erik Lamela are only just returning from injuries. Two of them from prolonged absences.
Couple this with an evident lack of form in key players such as Dele Alli, Eric Dier and Christian Eriksen (the latter since the World Cup qualifiers in which he almost single handedly carried Denmark to the finals) and you can see how Spurs erratic form can be affected. The club have had to rely on Harry Kane and Heung Min Son to deliver but Tottenham’s success over the last two seasons has depended on everyone functioning at 100% capacity.
With this being a World Cup year it could yet be that some minds are focused on the summer and staying fit for that. Everything comes into play and perhaps it is fair to questions the mind set of some players this season (and not just at Tottenham) as the season progresses.
Having been the bridesmaid in the league for two years running it may be that motivating players for a third tilt during a time of change (Wembley) has proven more difficult than at first imagined. This is a massive test for Pochettino. Watching Manchester City with their financial resources blaze a trail in the Premier League must also work its way into the minds of the players. But they have to be professional and set this aside. Perhaps there is a lack of on field leadership but players need to stand up and take responsibility.
So far this season Spurs have visited Old Trafford, The Emirates and The Etihad stadiums and failed to turn up. They have not competed and whilst there is justification to question Pochettino’s tactics or his team’s preparation for the games, it cannot be easy for him to watch talented players give away goals like Manchester City’s first yesterday, or indeed the winning goal for Manchester United at Old Trafford. Players are playing fearful and unsure in these matches and the minimum requirement is for them to be ready to compete and concentrate for the entirety of the game.
Yesterday’s defeat at Manchester City highlighted flaws that may have been there all along this season. Somehow though Spurs are still not out of the race for the top four; are doing well in the Champions League and still have the FA Cup to fight for (which Pochettino should not underestimate). The Christmas period offers an opportunity for the club to refocus and get back on track. Pochettino has garnered sufficient goodwill to suggest that he has it in him to do this. But the players must tune in again quickly. Sub par performances and mental distractions will mean that they will otherwise be found out very quickly.
Next weeks game at Burnley has suddenly taken on very significant meaning. And they will have a whole week to let the defeat to City fester in their minds in the meantime.
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