January 14, 2018
Yesterday’s 4-0 win over Everton was one of my favourite Spurs performances of the season. Everton look a far more competent unit under Sam Allardyce and, whilst they had not won in five matches coming into this match, three of those were against Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool, so expectations will have been fairly low anyway.
We played with an attacking verve and defensive solidarity – at Wembley – which was a joy to see. Our attacking impetus was led by Son Heung-min, who put in a masterclass of how to play the wide-forward role.
Son’s often mentioned solely in terms of stereotypes of Korean footballers, and I’ve been guilty of doing this myself – he *is* hard-working, he *does* attack his full-back relentlessly, but he’s so much more; so technical, so intelligent. His out-to-in movement for the first goal to drag Cuco Martina inside to leave Serge Aurier free to receive Eriksen’s fabulous switch of play in space was subtle, creative brilliance.
On that note, Aurier ran forward untracked by Gylfi Sigurdsson over and over, and was a hugely positive outlet.
In their BT commentary, Darren Fletcher and Glenn Hoddle repeatedly mentioned the two-footedness of Kane and Son, and it’s such an advantage to have two players willing to use both feet to dribble, pass and shoot. But let’s not forget Eriksen, who is arguably one of the most two-footed players in our team. When Eriksen moved to play mostly on the right I was concerned about him cutting in onto his left foot, but since making that move he has become more consistent, more influential, and more mature as a player. That may be coincidental, but the pocket of space suits him.
One player who does struggle to use two feet – backed up both by the above, and his fairly awful left-footed shot when clear in yesterday’s match – is Dele.
I adore Dele, he’s a fabulous player, but his left foot is a big weakness and he could do with working on it.
— Chris Miller (@WindyCOYS) January 13, 2018
Dele has been in sparkling form over the past month, but he can suffer from being a little one-footed and could learn something from his attacking colleagues’ willingness to use their weaker side.
Spurs’ front four were masterfully backed up by Eric Dier and Mousa Dembélé behind them. This was probably Dembélé’s best game of the season and he looked somewhere close to his best form, wriggling away from challenges as if he were five years younger. The big difference, though, was his aggressiveness with the ball – he passed forward a decent amount (38/66 passes) but also ran forward and committed players. He set Kane away for a shot with a clever slide-rule pass, and created another shooting opportunity as well, his two key passes double his usual rate of 0.9 per 90.
And Dier arguably shone just as much without gaining the same plaudits. Dier will not run with the ball, but he certainly runs without it. Each time an attack broke down, Dier was there closing the angle, squeezing Everton, snuffing out any potential for a counter and ensuring that we won it back quickly. Dier was not just defensively sound, though. 48 of Dier’s 66 passes were forward and he got an assist with a wonderful cross for Kane’s second goal. Neither Dier not Dembélé was particularly expansive – 61/66 passes were played short by Dier, 65/66 for Dembélé – but they used the ball quickly, intelligently, and progressively.
Whilst on the subject of eye-catching play, the team move (every player touched the ball) for our final goal was a thing of beauty. We went from back-to-front quickly and efficiently with so few touches required; Dele’s flick to take Jonjoe Kenny out of the game was a particular highlight of the move. Eriksen’s finish made it look easy, but he timed it to perfection and met the ball with a sweet connection which oozed technical brilliance.
Aurier was again heavily involved in that move, getting away from Sigurdsson’s lethargic attempt at tracking back. Aurier had a mixed bag in terms of his productivity in this match, with none of his five crosses finding a Spurs man (his assist didn’t go down as a cross), but he is adding a regular outlet on the right with his dynamic forward movement. He also averages 1.2 dribbles per 90 minutes, two-thirds of which are successful. He takes his man on more regularly than Ben Davies (0.8 per 90) and Kieran Trippier (0.6) but less so than Danny Rose (3.0), though only 1.6 per 90 of Rose’s take-ons have been successful. I’m excited to see what Pochettino can do to develop Aurier over the next year as he settles into our style.
Spurs have a very tricky period coming up in a fortnight where we play Manchester United (H), Liverpool (A), Arsenal (H) and Juventus (A). This will likely be our most challenging period of the season but we’re coming into it in good nick. We may have a dilemma, though. With Toby Alderweireld’s return reportedly not too far away, Pochettino must decide whether to revert back to a back three to accommodate him, Davinson Sanchez and Jan Vertonghen, or to stick with the 4-2-3-1 which is working so well at the moment.
December 25, 2017
We released a new The Fighting Cock: The Extra Inch podcast a few days ago in which we discussed the season so far. It’s been an interesting start to the campaign for Spurs, tactically and otherwise and I thought we did a reasonable job on the podcast of rounding things up. But there were also some bits we didn’t cover which I’d like to write about.
— The Extra Inch (@TheExtraInch) December 21, 2017
At this point of the season it’s clear that the Champions League has been the priority, and naturally the league form has suffered a little. We still don’t have the squad to be able to manage both successfully, at least not with the injuries we have suffered. A bit more luck on that front, and some reinforcements (either new signings or through promoting youth) in key areas would make this viable, but we’re not there yet.
The Champions League performances have been staggeringly good. No doubt that Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund were not at the top of their form, but they still have fantastic players and know how to win these types of games. The way that we approached all of our matches was savvy, and showed that we’d learnt from last year’s mistakes, which is all one can ask.
Our Premier League performances have been patchy. The remarkable thrashing of Liverpool, that of Huddersfield Town, Stoke City and latterly of the defensively-sound Burnley have been offset somewhat by our own annihilation at the hands of Man City, as well as disappointing home draws with Burnley, Swansea City and West Brom. Wembley took some adapting to.
Pochettino’s been troubled by injuries to key players in key positions leading to various re-shuffles. Victor Wanyama being out is bad news in itself, but with Toby Alderweireld also missing, the need for Eric Dier to drop back into defence to complete the three (or just a two at times!) has left the midfield weak. This, along with Davinson Sanchez’s suspension, led to the return of the back four.
Pochettino has often chosen to play a three-man central midfield this year, presumably partly due to Wanyama’s absence and partly to accommodate Moussa Sissoko. He’s been reticent to risk/trust Sissoko in a two, though he did play that role for the first time against Burnley, and he did it well, keeping things ticking over in the middle whilst Dier went back to his favoured screening role.
The three-man midfield had – in my opinion – halted our attacking impetus, leading to overcrowded central areas and a struggle to spread play quickly. In simplistic terms, it has often caused us to make an extra pass when moving the ball from one side of the pitch to the other, slowing us down, allowing the opposition to shuffle across. It has also meant that Eriksen has typically played deeper, which has limited his involvement in goals. This year he is averaging a goal or assist every 164.4 minutes, compared with 115.4 across last season. There are other reasons for this, sure, but it’s clearly had a direct impact on his game.
Minutes per #THFC goal or assist (all competitions):
1. Kane, 83.0
2. Dele, 129.0
3. Son, 140.9
4. Eriksen, 164.4
5. Trippier, 206.3
— Chris Miller (@WindyCOYS) December 24, 2017
Not many teams could cope without their two most naturally defensive midfielders at once, and it’s a pity that Pochettino has had to (chosen to?) move Dier back for a number of matches rather than to attempt alternatives. It’s probably no surprise that, ignoring the Chelsea game at the start of the season (when Wembley/fitness was an issue), our four Premier League losses (Manchester United, Leicester City, Arsenal, Manchester City) came in matches where we didn’t have Dier or Wanyama in midfield.
The revelation of the season so far has undoubtedly been Davinson Sanchez. 18 months ago this 21-year old was playing for Atlético Nacional in Colombia. He’s only actually played 100 professional matches, but what a player he is. His reading of the game and ability to resist the press are sensational for a player of his age and inexperience. When you add in that he has immense strength and recovery pace, you basically have the full package for a defender. There’s certainly more to come from him in terms of stepping into midfield and using the ball in a slightly more creative way, but there’s a heck of a lot to be excited about. Along with Harry Kane (who has contributed 15 of our 34 goals, a league high contribution) he’s probably been our Player of the Season so far.
We go into the last week of December in good shape: still in the Champions League, a kind FA Cup draw, accelerating into the new year in the Premier League, and with key players returning from injury. We look likely to sign at least one in January (Ross Barkley) with the possibility of others joining too. The Harry Kane Team marches on.
Thanks for reading and commenting this year, for all of your support for my blog, other articles, Twitter account and our podcast. I look forward to more of the same in 2018. Have a wonderful Christmas and I wish you a Happy New Year. COYS!
December 9, 2017
The free hit at APOEL last week felt like the perfect opportunity for Mauricio Pochettino to give Marcus Edwards his first start for Tottenham.
If you only watch first team football and pay no interest to our youth teams, this will likely be your only prior knowledge of our young attacking midfielder:
— New York Spurs (@NYSpurs) September 22, 2016
Edwards made his debut in this match in September 2016, coming off the bench against Gillingham, aged 17. Now 19, and without having seen a single minute of first team football since that day, he might be starting to question why he (eventually) signed a new contact.
Edwards has been doing his thing for Spurs’ youth teams since before he was 16. Impeccable balance and dribbling (after Mousa Dembélé he is the best dribbler at the club), excellent creative vision, and occasional final product have been the order of the day, and not much has changed during that time. He’s got a little sturdier — though, to be honest, strength has never really been an issue due to his low centre of gravity; he’s got a little better at pressing; he’s got a little less close to the first team picture.
Pochettino’s Messi ‘comparisons’ at the time were based on style only, and in no way was he suggesting that Edwards could be as good as one of the greatest footballers of all time. But Pochettino virtually retracted the comment this week, saying ‘Maybe I made a mistake because I believed it was positive and he was going to take it in a positive way.’ In that statement he seems to almost take responsibility for the comment and subsequent reaction and then instantly shirk it — let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and suggest it might be the language barrier confusing matters. But ultimately if the comment has not had the desired effect, it’s as much Pochettino’s misjudgement as it is anything to do with the player.
But this, it turns out, is not the only controversial uttering of Pochettino on Edwards. In his ‘Brave New World’ book/diary, Pochettino says of Edwards ‘He has authority and behavioural problems, and we have to look at the bigger picture to find out the root cause.’ Perhaps it was a strategically placed comment designed to encourage Edwards through tough love, but that must have been pretty difficult for a teenager to see in print.
Edwards’ reported attitude problems have been accepted as truth. As a 16-year old he was seen by some as a sulker. He apparently had run-ins with the hierarchy. Before he signed his new contract, there were rumours of rifts with the club over assurances that he wanted regarding his route to the first team. But by all accounts these are things of the past, and Edwards has got through this fairly typical teenage phase and knuckled down, worked hard, and performed pretty consistently for a player of his type. Indeed, there have been no indications of any problems from his on-pitch behaviour or performances. And if there were such significant issues, why would the club have offered Edwards a contract that runs until 2020?
Even if there were still problems brewing, Pochettino has never shied away from playing other players with ‘attitude problems’: he signed Moussa Sissoko (famed for not turning up every week at Newcastle) and Serge Aurier (over whom well-known on and off pitch question marks existed) and continues to play Danny Rose despite him orchestrating and giving one of the most incredibly damning footballer interviews in recent years. You could even bundle Dele Alli into this conversation, who Pochettino has (rightly) persisted with despite various comments to the press about his character.
It must have been difficult for Edwards to be the best, most talented player at basically every level he’s played at for the last eight to ten years and see very little progression during that time. I could imagine that having a demotivating effect, yet he is still doing the business in the majority of matches — a regular threat, a regular winner of penalties, a regular assist-er of goals and a regular scorer himself.
And his omission (if one could refer to it as such) from the APOEL match was due to ‘performance’ if you take Pochettino at face value. Following that logic one must assume that he is not be ticking the right boxes in training, and that Kazaiah Sterling and Luke Amos are, because if it’s about performance in matches, Edwards (and others) has been playing at levels well above Sterling and Amos over the past 12-18 months. I am a fan of both of these players but there is no denying that they had both dropped off previous performance levels, and I had started to wonder if terrific early potential had started to fall away. Conversely, Edwards has been mostly consistent. One could also suggest that Nkoudou’s performances have been pretty diabolical for the first team, so ‘performance’ meritocracy doesn’t seem to be consistently at play.
There are so many schools of thought on Edwards:
He’s overrated, another John Bostock. — He’s on a different level to John Bostock.
He’s got an attitude. — Yet the club gave him a lengthy contract.
He’s not physically ready. — Though he was physically ready to play against Gillingham nearly 18 months ago.
He’s 19 and his time will come. — This is an optimistic reading that I’m not against accepting.
My opinion is a little different. I think Pochettino is struggling generally to integrate youth players. I’ll explain why.
Since Pochettino took charge he has only truly brought through one youngster: Harry Winks. We’ve seen Josh Onomah have some game time (albeit in uncomfortable positions); Cameron Carter-Vickers came and went on-loan (which is fair, he looked raw); Anton Walkes made a debut and then was sent to the MLS to get regular game-time; Filip Lesniak had a few minutes and was sold; Anthony Georgiou (who most youth-watchers assumed was destined for League One or Two) has had a debut; and now Sterling has five minutes of first team football to his name. In the four years prior to Pochettino, we brought through a really good number of young players, and Pochettino arrived with such a strong reputation for developing youth. So what’s going wrong?
Many will argue that I am biased in favour of youth players, and I cannot deny that this is the case. I openly admit that I would generally rather we put more faith in maximising our academy investment than sign players as punts, such is the level at which our academy output is. Were our youth players less good, of course I wouldn’t say that. However, I am not calling for just any youth players to be called up to the first team, and to be honest I generally had not been supportive of Georgiou, Luke Amos or Tashan Oakley-Boothe getting mintues, because there are others I prefer. Kazaiah Sterling is slightly different because we’re so lacking in striker depth and he seems back to his ‘old’ form recently. Most proponents of our academy only truly rate a relatively small proportion of our youth players and absolutely do not call for regular youth player starts.
However, we have, in my opinion, the best crop of youth players we’ve ever had at Spurs. Not everyone rates Onomah, but for me him, Walker-Peters, Edwards, Japhet Tanganga and Oliver Skipp would be in our top 10 at youth level since I’ve been paying attention, with Kane and Winks in there too amongst a few others that have since moved on – Milos Veljkovic, Ryan Mason, and one of Nabil Bentaleb, Paul-Jose M’Poku, Massimo Luongo or Steven Caulker, all of whom excelled at the various youth levels they played at.
The perception is that it’s undoubtedly more difficult to bring players through whilst the team is towards the top of the league, and playing such high stakes matches (it was arguably easier for Pochettino at Southampton where there was less at stake). The fear is that youth players will make catastrophic mistakes which will lead to… what? Goals, sendings off, nervousness setting in… the inability to pass to that player because they might make an error… something. And yet we’ve seen Walker-Peters play 90 solid minutes of Premier League football on his full debut where he barely put a foot wrong, whilst expensive signing Serge Aurier (who I like incidentally) has been fairly error prone. We’ve seen Winks come in and look like he’s always been a regular, making fewer mistakes than other established senior professionals. Is it really more risky to play Marcus Edwards than, say, GK Nkoudou? Is it more risky playing Walker-Peters than Serge Aurier? I feel like I should also mention Moussa Sissoko now, but it feels like kicking a puppy. Ultimately all new players require just as much patience as youth players. But youth players are not going to let you down in all cases, and particularly not when introduced carefully – ten minutes from the bench here and there is how they should be integrated, just like Winks experienced initially.
The reality is that our best youth players are at a level where they could be trusted. Indeed, most of our Under-23 side could probably slot in and ‘do a job’ amongst ten other first teamers, such is the base level of talent drilled into them over a number of years. That’s not to say that I think all of them should play; that would be ludicrous. But I do think that it’s time to be far more brave in terms of integrating youngsters, particularly at this point in the season when fatigue is becoming an issue, and rotation is required. APOEL would have been an ideal situation for a good number of them.
Moving specifically back to Edwards, Pochettino seems to be sending a message: if you want to play, you have to show that you are ready. But what does that actually mean? Pochettino picks the team. Pochettino manages the squad and its myriad of personalities. The responsibility lies at least partially with the manager, and to defer it entirely to a 19-year old kid seems like imperfect management. If Pochettino is waiting to be 100% satisfied that Edwards is ‘ready’, then he could be waiting a while and risk one of our greatest homegrown talents leaving. Pochettino has a ready-made excuse should Edwards’ not make it: he wasn’t right mentally. He had issues with authority. He didn’t perform in training. And yet if he *does* make it, he claims all of the credit. That doesn’t feel right; this is a joint venture. Recent press conference comments have made it feel otherwise.
Ultimately in Edwards’ case I think this comes down to talent against mentality, and Pochettino’s flexibility with certain players and not others. I know well enough from my own profession that, as a manager, it’s impossible to treat everyone equally, because everyone is different with different motivations and values. But being seen to treat people consistently is important, and if Edwards sees concessions given to those who don’t play as well as him or those who act up and still get games, then I imagine he’s going to find that frustrating.
The non-selection of homegrown players isn’t just a Pochettino issue, it’s an English football issue. The mentality towards youth players *has* to change, because the levels of English and English-grown youth players have changed. Recent competitions suggest that England are producing some of the best youth players in the world; these are excellent footballers who will not let their teams down. And Spurs have one of the top four or five academies in the country, perhaps even top three. Signing a cheap foreign back-up is not necessary because we have *free* back-ups waiting in the wings who just need a chance to be taken on them. Nobody can convince me that Onomah wouldn’t have done at least a good a job as Sissoko in our midfield three given the same game-time, saving us £30m and probably gaining us a very valuable young English asset by this point in the season.
Stakes are high, sure, and it’ll take a bit of bravery for Pochettino to initially take the plunge. But if he fails to bring through some of our quality young players then he is failing on one of his key objectives.
I was encouraged to see his comments yesterday in light of the Champions League squad being a little tight in terms of overseas players: “Now we’re so focussed in trying to bring more English players through the academy. Or if we don’t have this profile, try to take advantage of the English market and add more English players here.” If he truly means that then now is the time to give bench places to some of our talented young players who need to be given a taste of first team football. My short term targets for Pochettino for the rest of the season would be: bring back Onomah in January and give him Sissoko’s minutes. Integrate Edwards into the first team squad and use him from the bench occasionally. Start Edwards, Onomah and Walker-Peters against AFC Wimbledon in the FA Cup. Give Skipp and Tanganga debuts in that match if we’re comfortably ahead. None of that would put us at risk. It’s all achievable.
September 17, 2017
Like many other Spurs fans, I’ve woken up feeling very frustrated after last night’s 0-0 draw with Swansea, in which decisions went against us and chances were missed.
Having scored ten goals in our last three home matches against Swansea, one might have thought that it would be a near-perfect post-Dortmund fixture, but Paul Clement has got Swansea very well organised and they have now kept three clean sheets in their three Premier League away fixtures.
Pochettino didn’t help himself though. With Ben Davies only on the bench after suffering a minor injury against Dortmund, Son Heung-min started at left wing-back. Whilst Son was our best player across the match, the role undoubtedly restricted him, and it was a somewhat strange selection, leading to a re-shuffle at half-time to free him up. Pochettino might have, instead, used Kyle Walker-Peters, who played on the left for England at the Under-20 World Cup — indeed, this was the first time this season that Walker-Peters hadn’t been included in the match day squad, which was odd.
On the right, Keiran Trippier started and Serge Aurier was on the bench after a promising debut against Dortmund. Perhaps this was testament to his lack of fitness, but it would surely have made more sense to play our more attacking right wing-back against a Swansea team who we knew would hunker in and defend, and use Trippier in midweek against Barnsley, against whom he could use his main ability of crossing to find Llorente, who we can expect to start that match. NB: Trippier completed his third dribble of the season in this match, a 300% increase on his tally last season; two out of three have been backwards.
— Chris Miller (@WindyCOYS) September 16, 2017
Pochettino also once against opted to use Moussa Sissoko to the right of Eric Dier in a midfield diamond (ish). Though Sissoko was largely fine in this match, it wasn’t the right game for him. Sissoko excels most when he has space to burst into, and with Swansea sat so deep, this space was restricted. In my opinion we should have opted to use Harry Winks, who offers both more creative passing and a busy-ness which could have helped lift the tempo.
Spurs can also look to two poor decisions which went against us — Martin Olsson’s clear handball and the clear trip on Serge Aurier which was, somewhat bizarrely, given as a handball by Aurier, who clearly took it down neatly on his chest.
Spurs had troubles last year with breaking down teams that defended deep, and I strongly believe that the answer may lie within the squad. 18-year old Marcus Edwards has tremendous dribbling ability and wins penalties at an astonishing rate because defenders don’t know how to stop him. Yesterday we had three defenders on the bench in Juan Foyth, Davies (who was carrying an injury) and Aurier. Surely Edwards could have been included as a substitute at the expense of one of them?
Also dare I say the sort of game where Edwards could come on and win you a pen. Maybe I'm overly optimistic butttt…
— Chris Miller (@WindyCOYS) September 16, 2017
I would hope that Edwards will get a chance against Championship side Barnsley on Tuesday. Should he play well, perhaps we can then expect to see him on the bench for these sorts of games, because he offers a viable answer to a common problem.
Finally, there has been much criticism of Dele Alli on social media for an indifferent performance. Personally I didn’t think that Dele was much worse than anyone else, but it was worth nothing that he was clearly targeted by Swansea, who fouled him five times — our ten other players were fouled four times between them. Dele definitely didn’t shine in this game, but in his role he is expected to attempt a lot of low-percentage passes, twists and turns, so when things don’t go well, it can look particularly bad. His role is one of the most difficult on the pitch to nail, and so I think he deserves a little slack. Despite being crowded out and fouled regularly, he managed to create four chances, the joint highest tally in the team with Sissoko.
Pochettino reacted angrily to talk of Wembley being the reason for this result and with good reason; this was not about Wembley. But it was, at least in part, due to Pochettino’s team selection and tactics. After a tactical triumph on Wednesday, this was disappointing.
September 1, 2017
Now the transfer window has closed, we will be required to notify the Premier League of our 25-man squad.
To summarise the rule, as I do each year, we are able to name a 25-man squad if eight of the players are ‘home grown’. We could name fewer than eight home grown players, but would need to also name fewer than 25 players in our squad — for example, if we only have seven home grown players, we can name a 24-man squad, 6/23, 5/22, etc. A home grown player is defined as follows:
… one who, irrespective of his nationality or age, has been registered with any club affiliated to the Football Association or the Welsh Football Association for a period, continuous or not, of three entire seasons or 36 months prior to his 21st birthday (or the end of the season during which he turns 21).
We do not need to name players who are under 21 on our squad list; for the 2017/18 campaign, players considered ‘under 21’ will have been born on or after 1st January 1996.
Since the beginning of last season we have lost six potential ‘home grown’ players (Kyle Walker, Nabil Bentaleb, Luke McGee, Nathan Oduwa, Filip Lesniak, William Miller) from our squad list. We have added non-home grown players in Moussa Sissoko, Fernando Llorente, Paulo Gazzaniga, Serge Aurier and Davinson Sánchez (though Sánchez has a ‘freebie’ year as an under-21).
Also, since last season, Georges-Kévin N’Koudou has passed the age threshold and will need to be named in the squad, whereas last year he was simply included in our list of under-21 players.
Our ‘named’ 25-man squad should consist of the following (* = home grown player):
We are then able to select any players who were born on or after 1st January 1996 without needing to register them. This means that any of the following (plus the other first and second year academy scholars) would be available for selection. NB: I have presented them in age order.
Connor Ogilvie (on loan)
Anton Walkes (on loan)
Joshua Onomah (on loan)
Cameron Carter Vickers (on loan)
Edit: the squad lists have not been published on the Premier League website. Hilariously we’ve included Will Miller who was sold on deadline day.
As it stands, we have only 20 players that need to be included in our squad list, four of whom are home grown players. This means that we have ‘squad space’ for one more non-home grown player, or for one non-home grown player and four home grown players. From next year, Harry Winks, Connor Ogilvie, Dele Alli, Davinson Sánchez and Joe Pritchard would need to be named in our squad list should we wish to use them. The fact that four of these are considered home grown is useful, though I would suspect that Ogilvie and Pritchard will be permanently transferred either in January or in the summer.
If you are interested in my take on our transfer window activity, I posted a #thread on Twitter earlier.
I'd rate our window as acceptable but not ideal. Sold key player in Walker, didn't deal with Rose situ (i.e. sign long-term replacement).
— Chris Miller (@WindyCOYS) September 1, 2017