Tottenham: A Steady But Unspectacular Start to the Season…
It’s been a steady but unspectacular start to Tottenham’s season which was summed up perfectly in a 24hr period at the beginning of the week.
A frustrating 1-0 defeat to Manchester United on the Sunday afternoon that highlighted the impotency going forward that has quelled any pre-season dreams of repeating a proper title challenge. It was followed up on Monday by the Champions League 2nd round draw where there was no ball in the hat for Tottenham Hotspur, that ball was spared for the Europa league draw that followed shortly after and that moment is a fair representation of where Tottenham are after 4 months – not quite there.
The toughness to beat, in the league at least, has been there to see again, and under normal circumstances if the only two defeats of a season so far were at Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge you’d probably accept that, but it’s the manner of those defeats are what should cause the most concern.
Plenty of ball, but a constant struggle to carve out clear cut opportunities. In the current situation a defeat to Manchester United has to go down as a disappointment, and when the best and maybe only chance of the day for all of the possession falls to Victor Wanyama the issues Tottenham have are clear. In the Chelsea game for the first 45 minutes it was more than possession, it was a complete dominance of a half of a football match against the league leaders on their own patch and still not once did a forward player find himself bearing down on the Chelsea goalkeeper.
The goal came from long range and the rest was probing and poking with style and no substance before Chelsea turned up and highlighted the difference. The same lack of creativity has been evident throughout most of the season and has been more costly in contributing to some of the draws earlier in the season. The 2points dropped in games soon add up and render unbeaten runs irrelevant when it comes to a league table. 5th place is a fair position so far for the season for Tottenham but there are still positives to build on if Pochettino can work out the balance between defence and attack for the second half of the season. It was there last year. Some evidence of those changes coming into play already have been apparent in the last fortnight too.
Harry Kane being back from injury is a huge boost for Tottenham and the goals return has gone up markedly since his return. 17 in 8 all competitions since his return from injury versus 4 from 7 whilst he was sidelined. Harry Kane is the obvious focal point and needs to be marked properly and that means a little more freedom for everyone else. Plus the obvious advantage of when he does get a chance it’s more likely to end in the net bustling. Ironically the only two league defeats have come since Kane’s return, but there have been no draws since the Arsenal game either, and again, it’s the totals of the 2 points dropped that are doing the damage.
The biggest problems for Spurs have come with the 3 behind the striker. Struggling to create clear cut chances as has been mentioned, but not contributing to attacks by running in behind which has been a lot more disappointing. Alli has had a quiet season compared to last season which doesn’t really need to be overreacted to and Eriksen has been ordinary at best. I’m not sure the team can accommodate both players and still expect them to play at their best levels, Alli needs to be central, that’s the only place he can go to affect a game positively. His impeccably timed late runs into the box can’t really be initiated from wide positions.
Eriksen has the type of attributes that make him the natural selection for one of the wider berths, but when the benchmark for doing this successfully is Hazard, Silva and Cazorla you can see the difference in quality to do it at title challenging level. Eriksen is not as good as those players, and more tellingly doesn’t have that same acceleration required to shift either inwards or around the outside to create danger. Hence the sideways pass. Eriksen dropping deeper to dictate games from the ‘pirlo’ position is something that may accommodate both, that’s how he lined up against Hull, but there’s still a long way to go in terms of quality to justify replacing Dembele or Wanyama in a bigger game.
Both though have struggled in the attacking roles and a factor has been a lack of space to operate, with Janssen dropping deep in Kane’s absence and the likes of son playing further infield and bringing defenders with him, there has been few gaps for Alli to make his runs into or Eriksen to thread a pass.
It’s been encouraging to see that situation gradually changing over the last fortnight despite the Old Trafford Set back.
Alli was superb against Swansea and a shame his performance was overshadowed by a dive. Then against CSKA Moscow at Wembley he had a hatful of chances created by darting into the box, missing plenty, but scoring one and a half goals in the process.
Eriksen has started to contribute too, 5 goals in 3 games when he hadn’t scored before that all season. The most encouraging thing for me is that 3 of those have come from within the 6 yard box – highlighting at last a desire to get forward and run in behind.
My worry with Tottenham this season has been that changing an attacking mentality takes a lot longer than changing a defensive one, you can organise bad defenders to improve short-term but to alter attacking mentalities is a difficult kettle of fish.
The signs of last few games, albeit against weak opposition, seems to demonstrate that Pochettino is making the changes on the training ground to improve the fortunes.
Such is the state of English football right now that the scramble instantly begins to qualify for the tournament you’ve just been knocked out of. Whether we like it or not that’s how it is, and Spurs are behind in the chase.
A performing number 10 is key to that challenge, and with two starting to show form coming into a tempting Xmas fixture list there’s still plenty of hope for positive season starting with a 4th consecutive home win today against Burnley.
Dan De Luca