May 29, 2017
After living most of my life with Spurs as the punchline to a joke that was only funny to my friends, it still hasn’t completely sunk in that we’re legitimately good. So good, in fact, that some pundits have described us as the best team in the league over the past two seasons.
Leicester trolled us all two seasons ago, and Chelsea had a Europe and injury-free ride to the title this past year, albeit playing some fantastic stuff along the way, with Eden Hazard showing that last season was a blip, and N’Golo Kanté showing that last season was not a blip.
There was — to my eyes — a slight stylistic shift from Spurs in this season, which could perhaps be backed up by the fact that we covered less ground than other teams (I don’t have up-to-date data but on April 21st we were 4th at 114.1km behind West Brom, Man City and Liverpool). Rather than tearing at the opposition and forcing them to turnover the ball, the Pochettino-press evolved to a slightly more sophisticated level. We compressed the pitch, or areas of it, backed the opposition into narrower areas and made ‘getting out’ more difficult, forcing them into risky long-balls, and using our three centre-backs to easily pick up the pieces.
With some previous managers, as time has gone on, we have been ‘figured out’, and tactics have become almost meaningless. With Pochettino and his coaching team, there is constant evolution, some subtle changes, some large changes (i.e. to 3-4-3) and the honing of what we thought was already honed.
Where last year we managed to be largely injury-free, this year we have suffered, but the squad have stepped up. Son Heung-min has gone from being ‘first rotation’ at best to playing 3000 minutes (and starting 23 Premier League games). He has been terrific. Ben Davies has stepped in and performed admirably in the absence of Danny Rose. Kieran Trippier has become a genuine rotation option for Kyle Walker. And, prior to his injury, Harry Winks was on the road to becoming an important option in midfield as well.
There are still some question marks over depth, and finding some cover for Christian Eriksen (who got my Player of the Season vote) would be my priority for the summer. Whilst Erik Lamela and Harry Winks between them can cover some of his skill set, the way that he controls midfield and our tempo, as well as the amount of running he does for the team, makes him almost irreplaceable. Finding someone who can do some more of what he does would be useful. I am a big fan of Manuel Lanzini who, at 24, has considerable upside, but that would be a tricky deal to do (plus his output is far, far more modest).
It looks as though we will also need to find a replacement for Kyle Walker. The excellent Jack Pitt-Brooke is the voice that I trust on the issue, and his piece on the Walker situation at the beginning of the month cited long running disagreements about Walker’s fitness. Spurs’ latest England call-up, Kieran Trippier, has left egg on my face. I had been critical of him, and suggested in May that he wasn’t good enough to be a back-up:
Then you've got Trippier, Carroll, Vorm – fairly sure all aren't good enough for the no. of games we'll need them for, & I'd move them on.
— Chris Miller (@WindyCOYS) May 9, 2016
Trippier has proven to be a more than useful back-up — at least against certain types of opposition, and his crossing is undoubtedly a weapon. Personally, I think there are still concerns over his defensive nous, and I would also question his stylistic fit. By that I mean that Pochettino full-backs (or wing-backs) are all about turning defence into attack as quickly as possible, carrying the ball at pace; Kyle Walker is almost unparalleled in this regard. These two tweets sum it up beautifully:
In over 800 minutes played this season, Kieran Trippier twice attempted to dribble by his defender. He lost the ball both times.
— Michael Caley (@MC_of_A) May 23, 2017
Yes, Trippier is good at crossing and that's fun. But this is what a Pochettino FB looks like:pic.twitter.com/vKx2Z2JaYw
— Nathan (@TTTactics) May 27, 2017
Trippier ended the season with six assists, a highly impressive tally. These came against Watford (x 3 across both matches), Leicester (x 2) and Millwall. Pochettino used him exceptionally, and it is clear that he is a great outlet in matches where he can push on and not worry too much about defending. Next year he needs to work on his defending, as he was exposed at times, particularly against Monaco, Manchester United (where Anthony Martial beat him with regularity) and against his former club, Burnley (Scott Arfield had the better of him several times). At 26 (he turns 27 in September), Trippier is hopefully about to hit his prime but, for me, we cannot go into next year with Trippier as first choice.
Davies on the other side had a nightmare showing against Liverpool, for whom Sadio Mané gave him all kinds of problems. He came back strongly, however, and ended the season with two assists and a goal in his final three matches. I was impressed with Davies’ consistent performances, and I think the fact that he can also fill in on the left of a back three makes him a useful squad option for Pochettino. The constant links with Ryan Sessegnon of Fulham, however, perhaps show that Pochettino would like to bolster the attacking options from the left; Sessegnon is more suited to the wing-back role than Davies.
I am regularly asked on Twitter who will be the next player to ‘do a Winks’, and break into the first team and look the part. With Marcus Edwards recently travelling to Stemwede in Germany to play for us in an Under-19 tournament, rather than participating in the end of season friendly in Hong Kong, there does seem to be concerns about his ‘situation’ again, but I would only be speculating if I were to comment.
The one who might surprise a few people is Josh Onomah. Those who only watch the first team will have seen Onomah’s cameos at right-wing, left-wing, and even as a false nine. Onomah has always played centrally for our Under-18s, Under-21s, Under-23s and for England at various age levels. He has said in the past that his favourite position is number ten but, personally, I have always thought him best as an eight (essentially in the Mousa Dembélé role). The below (unfortunately I am not sure who made it so cannot credit) is a prime example of Onomah in this role, at his best.
— Chris Miller (@WindyCOYS) May 28, 2017
Onomah is just over a year younger thank Winks, and so will start next season at the age Winks started this. It is a big summer for him because Pochettino and co will need to decide whether he is to stay in-house and make up the squad, or to go on loan and have a full season of playing in his favoured position.
Despite finishing without a trophy (having come so close), this was a terrific season for Spurs, and one of undoubted progress. We saw tactical progression, nearly every player improving or consolidating, and the breakthrough of a huge prospect in Harry Winks. The only downside was that very few of our signings proved successful. However, the form and ability of Victor Wanyama was so good that, overall, one is almost tempted to shrug and say ‘one in four ain’t bad’. If we can get that hit rate down to one in three or even one in two this summer, then things will be looking even healthier.