The appointment of Mauricio Pochettino as Tottenham Hotspur manager brought a sudden feeling of optimism to the club. While Tim Sherwood had stepped in and performed admirably, Pochettino’s success at Southampton convinced chairman Daniel Levy that he was the man to carry Tottenham forward. The Argentinean was set to implement a new style of play and take Spurs back into the Champions League fray.
Pochettino came in with his own unique style of play that worked so well for him during his time at Southampton. Adopting a 4-2-3-1 formation his side were experts in high and intensive pressing tactics. Dejan Lovren marshalled the defense with aplomb, while the likes of Victor Wanyama and Morgan Schneiderlin ran the midfield expertly. Jay Rodriguez and Rickie Lambert were prolific in attack and were helped enormously by captain and chief creator Adam Lallana. The soccer was fluid and effective – a delight for the neutral.
So when the Argentinean tactician made the switch for White Hart Lane, naturally expectations were high, but rather than flourish the Spurs have made a stuttering start. With many players bought in the previous summer during a spending spree, it’s becoming abundantly clear that some players are simply not good enough. Even despite the fact that the Spurs’ rivals for a top four position have all had average starts, they just don’t look capable of asserting themselves in the lucrative positions come May.
Their remains an air of negativity around the club and Levy is under fire for not keeping faith with managers and imploring Andre Villas-Boas to initiate a spending spree. All of this had led many to believe that the squad is imbalanced, namely with too many central midfielders.
One of the main problems originates from their signings made last summer. Etienne Capoue and Paulinho were added to the already long list of central midfielders. Add Ryan Mason, Nabil Bentaleb, Moussa Dembele and summer signing Benjamind Stambouli and you’ve got an overflow of men that can play in the middle of the park. The worrying thing is that none of these players have made a position their very own yet. All have proven qualities, but a lack of attacking impetus is curtailing each and every player’s impact. Villas-Boas wanted to bring in Joao Moutinho from FC Port last summer, who would have been an expensive addition. However, he probably would have cost around the same as both Capoue and Paulinho combined. In retrospect the Portuguese coach probably should have broken the bank. Playing from a deeper position, Moutinho controls the tempo of the game but is also excellent at choosing his moment to push forward and aid the attack.
The high-profile signing of Erik Lamela looks to a shrewd piece of business, with the former Roma star now beginning to prove his worth. Belgian Nacer Chadli was maligned for his previous season, but like Lamela he has had a positive influence this term. However, the issue with the attacking players is that it seems only Christian Eriksen – arguably the Spurs’ best signing in recent times – is capable of playing in a variety of attacking positions and Chadli is the only one capable of operating from the left wing.
At Chelsea, this is not a problem, due to the versatility of the attacking midfielders. The likes of Willian, Andre Schurrle, Eden Hazard, and Mohamed Salah are all comfortable playing either on the left or the right. Hazard and Willian can also fit seamlessly into the center. Unfortunately for Spurs, their players do not carry this versatility. Andros Townsend’s main weapon is cutting inside and shooting, which is unsuccessful from the left. Lennon has also been deployed out left, but failed to convince. Playing as a customary right winger after coming on as a substitute against Hull City, he played well, using his pace, trickery, and directness to create problems. Lennon may not have reached his potential, but under Villas-Boas he started to become a consistent performer, and the signing of Lamela did not help this. At the time Spurs beat Arsenal at White Hart Lane in 2013 to cement their position in the top four, Lennon was playing extremely well, as was Gareth Bale. Ever since Villas-Boas left, Lennon’s form has been on a drastic decline.
This stacking-up of positions occurs at other positions too. For example, Spurs have Younes Kaboul, Jan Vertonghen, Federico Fazio, Vlad Chiriches and Eric Dier, as true center-backs, yet apart from Vertonghen, none are consistent enough.
In short, Spurs ultimately suffer from quantity over quality. It is better to have fewer quality players than a number of decent players. Once again, making the comparison to league leaders Chelsea, John Terry and Gary Cahill have been ever-present at center-back. The likes of Branislav Ivanovic and Kurt Zouma can fill in, but Terry and Cahill are guaranteed starters for each “big game”. For Spurs, the problem is that a true consistent lineup is yet to be found, with continual rotations.
In attack there are distinct issues also. A few seasons ago, Spurs chose from Jermain Defoe, Peter Crouch, Roman Pavlyuchenko as their main strikers. While they weren’t top class strikers, they worked very hard and both Defoe and Crouch played key roles for the team. The signing of Rafael Van der Vaart in 2011 from Real Madrid saw a formation switch to a 4-4-1-1, in which Van der Vaart played in support to a single striker. At this time, Spurs choose from an arsenal containing Emmanuel Adebayor, Roberto Soldado, and Harry Kane. Adebayor always raises eyebrows. When he was on loan at Spurs, he scored 17 goals and led Spurs to fourth place. After earning a contract, the goals and performances dried up. Upon the arrival of Tim Sherwood, Adebayor began scoring again, justifying his place in the team. Now, he is yet again playing poorly. At his best, Adebayor can bully defenders, but at his worst he is lazy, slow, and fails to link up play effectively. Soldado was signed to spearhead the attack, but he has proven to not work effectively. His brilliant scoring record at Valencia coincided with him being the “main man”, captaining the side. More importantly, Valencia played a rather diagonal game during Soldado’s time, with many of his goals being superb volleyed finishes. A loss of form and confidence has seen Soldado miss easy chances and with Spurs often used to a striker who can hold up the ball, Soldado is hardly effective. Kane’s scoring record has been good this season, yet positively influenced by the Europa League. While it is impossible to deny his ability in front of goal, he would not make the starting lineup of Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United, Manchester City and Everton.
Truthfully, Spurs have gone on a negative decline from the 2010-2011 season. A high point of the Harry Redknapp era was the 1-0 victory at the San Siro against AC Milan in the Champions League Round of 16 that season. A low point was the 5-0 aggregate defeat to Real Madrid in the quarter-finals. Spurs had focused a lot on the Champions League, and paid the price for playing their best teams in Europe’s top competition. They suffered in the Premier League as a result, and have since searched for a way back into the competition. As it is, their current starting lineup seems weaker than that side. While Hugo Lloris undoubtedly is a better goalkeeper than Heurelho Gomes, other positions have been weakened. Spurs’ midfield used to contain Gareth Bale and Luka Modric. Now, the likes of Bentaleb and Mason occupy these positions. Up front, Spurs have Kane instead of Defoe. In defense, Vertonghen and Kaboul have taken over from Michael Dawson and Ledley King. Kyle Walker is better than Alan Hutton, but his injury problems have meant Dier has had to cover at right-back. While Dier’s first two games were successful, as he scored in both, he has been poor ever since. Poor positionally and showing his inexperience, he has made a number of mistakes resulting in goals. An example of this is Ayoze Perez’s goal for Newcastle right at the start of the second half, in which Dier let Perez in behind.
At this moment in time, Spurs have the opportunity to make the top four and make it back into the Champions League – their goal across the past few seasons. With limited investment in the side, spending a rather low net fund across the past few seasons, Spurs have done rather well. Yet, for their ambitions they haven’t done so well. Poor performances, including unconvincing comeback victories against Aston Villa and Hull City have inflated their league position. Poor defending, due to a lack of pace at center-back, poor positioning at full-back, combined with a decent strike force, and a lack of character in midfield affect the team. Pochettino has come in with great ideas to take the team forward. Sadly, at this moment in time, Pochettino does not have the players necessary to carry out his methods and to carry Spurs into the Champions League.
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