Lost amidst all the excitement about Leicester City winning their first top flight title in their 132 year history was the fact that their closest challengers could have won their first top flight title in 55 years.
Tottenham have had a great season, a young team that is expertly coached and in a prime London location. They will have the Premier League’s new TV deal and the prospect of Champions League soccer to recruit new players as well next season.
However, this season they will end up finishing around 10 points behind the champions, which is a significant gap to make up. Eighty five to 90 points is what you traditionally need to win the league these years (Leicester could finish with 83), so what do they need to do to make up the gap, or even just consolidate and solidify their top-four standings?
Keep hold of seven players
It’s hardly rocket science, but the core strength of Tottenham and why they are a safe bet to shake up the established Premier League order is the fact that their best players are all young for their positions, and still to enter their primes.
The more that the core group (listed above) plays together (and the older ones, in Alderweireld and Lloris play positions that have more longevity in central defender and goalkeeper), the more they will have a chance to gain success.
Not only will they keep playing with each other, but they all have at least two seasons of full experience in the English game. This helps with the style of soccer and refereeing, getting used to how certain teams will play, and getting used to the different scheduling (three tournaments minimum and no winter break).
What will help Tottenham is that there are no natural suitors for a lot of these players. Spanish sides are all relatively stocked with talent or facing transfer bans, and Bayern Munich, Juventus, and PSG also only require minor tweaks. Chelsea and Manchester United would be able to offer more money in the short-term, but look unlikely to have top level European soccer. Weighted against that are Tottenham’s new stadium plans and London revenue stream meaning that they can still pay extremely well.
Handle hard-pressing teams better
Two of Tottenham’s most disappointing results this season would have been against Liverpool, which saw four points dropped. Especially disappointing would have been the draw in Jürgen Klopp’s first match in charge of Liverpool when he wouldn’t have had a lot of time to work with the players.
Generally those two matches saw the teams cancel each other out, with Tottenham at times being unable to deal with a side that basically imitated their style. A worthwhile offensive strategy against teams that press high is to bypass the initial press with quick passing from the back, resisting the urge to punt long, and then opening up space due to a high line.
In both games, and the Europa League tie against Borussia Dortmund (although Tottenham were not playing with a first choice XI), they seemed unable to do this.
Additionally, away against West Ham, where they lost 1-0 but should have conceded more (to be fair, they were 4-1 winners at home), Tottenham were also done in by a team that prioritized quick passing and hard pressing.
Leicester’s triumph in the league and the huge influx of cash will mean that the default setting for teams without star power and crisp technique will not just be to sit and hope. They will look to counter swiftly and actively seek to press in certain areas of the pitch. If Tottenham cannot cope, they will not progress.
Find a second striker
This is something most teams are looking for, someone to reduce the pressure on their main goal scorer. But that does not mean the role is any less important.
Harry Kane went almost 800 minutes without scoring when this league campaign started, and by the time he found the net against Manchester City, Spurs were only achieving 1.7 points per game. The fact that since he’s scored 25 and Tottenham’s points per game have jumped to 2.27 underlines his importance to the team.
If there was another reliable goal scorer at the start of the season, it could have all been different. It does sound quibbling, but considering the huge mental pressure that has been on Tottenham to be always chasing, rather than setting the pace, it does seem that more points early in the season could have been crucial.
Tottenham have so far preferred to partner Kane with hybrid players, rather than pay for another proper striker. Both Clinton N’jie and Son Heung-min are combination players, who have the ability to score goals but are also happiest operating just behind a traditional forward and exploiting gaps created by his movement. While Kane would undoubtedly stay as the number one striker, and a back-up forward would have to accept his chances would be limited, a shrewd purchase of somebody like Graziano Pelle would help round out the squad.
Tottenham cannot take what happened this season for granted. They have been given a huge opportunity to get back into the Champions League in a season when Manchester United and Chelsea have both struggled. With the impending arrival of Pep Guardiola and Klopp having a full summer and preseason, there will be at least seven contenders for four slots next season, not to mention the improvements other sides will make as everyone realizes the importance of TV money.
It is very possible that Tottenham could have a better season in terms of performance but finish poorer in terms of points simply because of the higher level of competition. Equally likely, however, is that Spurs can use this springboard to consolidate a top-four position and prove themselves as a side that is capable of challenging for the title consistently.
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