August 6, 2016

Benchmarking

I’m not very good at predictions. I lucked out with one about Harry Kane, but last year I said that Nabil Bentaleb would be our main man and that Mousa Dembele should be sold to Sunderland (or the highest bidder). Essentially: I know nothing.

But what I am good at, even if I say so myself, is summing up a moment; of assessing a ‘state’, of distilling my thoughts, and of encapsulating a point in time.

And so I am writing this with exactly that in mind. This is not a set of predictions for me to come back and gloat over, or — more likely, if my record tells me anything — to never mention again. This is an assessment of where we are right now. Because I think a benchmark at the start of the season is useful in order to fairly judge our achievements (or lack of) at the end.

Last season we over-achieved compared to what was expected at the start of the year, and anyone who says otherwise had unrealistic expectations. But, of course, expectations shift as seasons progress, and that’s fine. Once we got into the title race (it still feels strange to be writing that), and got into a position where we looked on course to finish above Arsenal, a large proportion of fans expected that. Rightly, because we’d become that good. But when benchmarked against pre-season expectations, we had little right to make those assumptions, regardless of the mid-season shift. Periods of bad form are just as normal as periods of good form.

So where are we? We’re good. We’re really good! We’re an excellent team now, and there’s no reason to think that we won’t be better in the coming season, having added Victor Wanyama and Vincent Janssen to the squad, and having a bunch of youngsters that have grown and developed along the way.

But here’s the rub. Most of the top half of the Premier League under-performed last time out. New managers, new players, millions spent — surely they’ll deliver, or some of them at least. Manchester United should be good, though there’s something that makes me doubt them; Jose Mourino lost his swagger at Chelsea, became desperate and made mistakes. Liverpool will take another stride under Jurgen Klopp, but their squad still has weaknesses. I can’t help but feel that Manchester City and Chelsea will be back to their old selves, given the riches and talent available to them. I like Antonio Conte, and Pep Guardiola is supernatural. It feels unfair to leave out Leicester City, but I just don’t think they’ll be anything like last season’s Leicester City. And Arsenal? So much depends on their transfer window activity.

But we’re established. It wasn’t just Dele Alli, Eric Dier and Kevin Wimmer having their break-out Premier League seasons last year; you could argue that Mousa Dembele and Erik Lamela did too. Josh Onomah and Harry Winks have now had a full year of training with the first team.  Cameron Carter-Vickers, Marcus Edwards and Kyle Walker-Peters are poised and just about ready to break through. Another year older, another year more experienced, another year more accustomed to Mauricio Pochettino’s style.

A case for any position from 3rd to 6th can be made, and the justifications can all be made to seem plausible. Anything above or below those positions would be a surprise, but then achieving 3rd last season was a surprise too — we were ahead of the programme. Ultimately what I am saying is that I will not be calling for Pochettino’s head should we finish 6th, and nor will I be getting over-excited if we finish 3rd again.

Fans expect year-on-year improvement, but with the money sloshing around, plus the number of under-achievers last year, that may not be viable. In a way, we’ll need to benchmark our achievements against ourselves, rather than against others. And, indeed, one of my two main hopes for the season is that performances don’t regress from last season (the other being that we do not embarrass ourselves in the Champions League…). It sounds as though I’m making excuses for us: I’m not. Well, maybe a little. We’re as good as or better than most of the top 6, despite having a far lower wage bill, but many of those teams have scores to settle, and will be extra-motivated to settle them. We will be in fierce competition for the top four, whilst trying to compete in the Champions League for the first time in five years — it will be tougher, and we will need to be patient.

We need to show that last season was not a freak, and that we are as good as we were for much of the campaign. With a little individual and team progression we can finish in the top four again. And there are progressions to be made in other areas too: particularly with our youngsters.

We have, arguably, our best ever crop of youngsters coming through. Josh Onomah and Harry Winks are now seen as established squad members, but we have barely seen the tip of the iceberg where those two are concerned. Carter-Vickers, Walker-Peters and Edwards will push for minutes (and, judging on pre-season, so might Shayon Harrison, Will Miller, Luke Amos and Anton Walkes!). Not only is the team moving in the right direction, the squad is too. We have an excellent starting XI, have improved our back-ups, and now have genuinely viable youngsters amongst them. With another month of potential transfer activity, and Pochettino hinting at more signings, this situation should only get better.

Being under the radar and having the pressure off us a little can only be helpful; not only is it the way that I prefer us to operate, but I think Pochettino enjoys it too. The only times he seemed flustered last season were when the pressure was on. With expectation levels low, we can go about our business in a workmanlike fashion, until it becomes impossible to ignore us.

It’s far easier to enjoy a football season without the added pressure, and I think that’s one of the things that made last season so great. We weren’t in the title race until late on, and so there was no need to feel anxious or stressed — instead, we were able to enjoy each match for what it was, with some wonderful football to watch along the way.

So, without further caveats, here are my predictions/benchmarks to look back on in May — leave yours in the comments!

Premier League: 4th
Champions League: Progression from the group stage as runners-up, but eliminated in the first knock-out stage.
FA Cup: Quarter-finals
League Cup: Winners
Player of the Year: Toby Alderweireld (with a 15-goal and 15-assist Erik Lamela a close second)
Young Player of the Year: Dele Alli (I can’t believe he’s this good at 20)

COYS!

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  • Hmk says:

    I wish Toby 15G15A

  • Peter Bramley says:

    And forget not that a certain Moussa Dembele played his best ever for Spurs last season and when didn’t play didn’t we all notice.
    COYS

  • Flynny says:

    Completely agree about managing expectations, we have s great team, Young hungry and only goner improve over the years to come . So that said

    Prem – 5th
    CL – QF
    Fa cup- 5th round
    League cup – semis
    POY Erik Lamela
    YPOY Dier

  • Paul King says:

    Premier League: 5th
    Champions League: Progression from the group stage as runners-up, but eliminated in the first knock-out stage.
    FA Cup: Semi Final
    League Cup: Quarter Final (weakened team played throughout, a la Arsenal of recent years).
    Player of the Year: Eric Dier
    Young Player of the Year: Dele Alli

  • Ross Wagstaff says:

    Prem – 4th
    Champs L – 2nd knockout
    FA Cup – Winner
    League Cup – QF
    POY – Lamela
    YPOY – Alli

  • James Barker says:

    Great article! And I completely agree that we need to not over expect. We over achieved last year and it is a long term plan. There are teams that. Should finish much higher as they have so much more money. We just need to be proud of our manager and what he is doing in building our club.

    COYS!

  • Spurdy says:

    So refreshing to read a positive Spurs blog for a change! 🙂 Some Spurs supporters will never be happy! I can’t wait for the first game!

  • tony mccall says:

    tony mccall says

    prem 1st
    c.L.qf
    fa cup winner
    L.cup semi final
    poy-Lamela
    ypoy-alli

  • Scorchio says:

    Good analysis as always Windy.
    Yes, it will be a very different season this time, no doubt. It might be upsetting to see Spurs lag behind the big spending lot, but it is nonetheless pretty likely. My main hope is to see our youngsters doing well and excite the fans with great football. Get into a cup final too.

  • Cheshuntboy says:

    I never miss a chance to micturate on anyone’s fireworks, so here goes – Great youngsters? We won the FA Youth Cup in 1970 and 1974, and got relegated in 1976! In 1993 Venables said we had the best young players in the PL (Barmby, Campbell, Walker, Anderton etc) and how great were the 90s? Hardly any of the posters are expecting us to WIN anything, despite all the pre-season optimism, and last season wasn’t over-achievement; it was a missed opportunity which we blew while Leicester grabbed the glory.

  • Spurzinho says:

    Still feel we’re way short in the wide areas. Chadli, Son, Njie don’t fill me with confidence. Yes Erikesen & Lamela will be first choice but I just don’t trust the first lot to make enough of an impact when they inevitably have to fill in. The lad from Marseille looks decent but not more than that. We could do with spending a fair bit of money on someone who can push Lamela & Eriksen.

  • topdiv says:

    Judging by some of the posts here,it would seem lots of people are falling into the trap of believing new ‘big name’ managers can walk into a club and Hey Presto,that club is playing exactly as the new manager wishes. Didn’t we all see how hard it was for our players to get to grips with the ‘Poch press’ in his first season ? Why do so many pundits think that Man City,Utd and Chelsea will all be ‘back to their best’ next season and we will fall behind them again ? With the Euros (and then enforced late holidays) having taken up most of pre season,i can’t see how these teams are going to be 100% until well into the New Year,so we have to start quickly and get points (and confidence) on the board,and i honestly believe we will. Another strong title challenge for us this season imo

  • Gary says:

    Part of becoming bigger and better is handling bigger and better expectations. When previously aiming for fourth Spurs usually finished 5th. In trying to finish 1st last season they finished 3rd. COYS

    3rd
    Last 16
    4th rd domestic cups
    Rose
    Edwards YPOTY

  • Lloyd Stiles says:

    ironically, part of me feels our title chances would be better this year had we not made the CL. Chelsea and Liverpool have a huge advantage this season because they don’t have European football and i have to say i expect both to finish top 4 this year.

    as for us, i think Wanyama and Janssen are fantastic signings. Wanyama already knows Poch’s beloved system so won’t need much integration and Janssen, though still largely unproven at the highest level, has really impressed me in preseason with his movement and first touch passing and finishing.

    in my opinion our season will be defined by two things. our home form and how quickly Poch masters the ability to rotate and still come away victorious.

    though our home form was good last year, we collected the same points as Southampton (who finished 6th), six less than champions Leicester and five less than 5th placed Manchester United. there is definitely room for improvement there.

    last year we clearly focused on our League campaign, playing virtual second string teams in the three cup competitions. this season we need to learn how to win games with 6 or 7 of our ‘best 11’ players in the side, just like Utd always could when Ferguson was in charge. we need to trust Trippier and Davies more. we need to trust Wanyama to get the job done in midfield. we need to believe that Janssen is as good as Kane and that Son will start to knock the goals in. we want to be playing over 50 games and, in essence, i don’t want anyone not called Hugo starting more than 40 of them. we have to keep everyone match fit and fresh.

    if we can do those two things, then i think everything and anything is possible. if we can’t, then i expect it will feel like a disappointing season.

    Prem – 5th.
    CL – 3rd in group and drop to EL.
    EL – 1/4 final.
    LC – 1/2 final.
    FA – 5th round.

    i realise those predictions are probably somewhat negative, but though i think we have a fantastic first 11 that can play some wonderful football, i worry whether Poch will rotate effectively and i think, now that we are effectively seen as one of the big boys, we may actually find it more difficult to break those midtable teams down at home.

    here’s hoping they prove me wrong.

    COYS!

  • Lloyd Stiles says:

    oh…i forgot these.

    PoY – Dembele (if he stays fit)
    YPoY – Janssen

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RT @thfcacademy: Brief highlights of yesterday's UEFA Youth League draw with Real Madrid: https://t.co/WTLbLDwkPr
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