May 29, 2017

Some Post-Season Thoughts

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:

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:

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.

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.

 

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May 22, 2017

Loanee Round-Up

Spurs have used the loan system to send out a few players this year – primarily those that they are looking to sell, but also a couple of younger prospects. I shall start with four players who have now either left Spurs or look set to in the summer.

Federico Fazio – AS Roma (Serie A)

Fazio played 3766 minutes at Roma, including 2937 in Serie A. The transfer was reportedly made permanent in January, but that has not been confirmed by either club as yet. He has been a mainstay there and has become a popular figure.

Nabil Bentaleb – FC Schalke 04 (Bundesliga)

Bentaleb has played 3354 minutes for Schalke including 2463 in the Bundesliga during which he has five goals and five assists. It’s easy to see why Schalke have made the transfer permanent – good luck, Nabil, I for one shall miss you.

Clinton Njie – Marseille (Ligue 1)

Njie has played 1118 minutes for Marseille scoring four goals and getting an assist in Ligue 1. He has played mostly from the left wing, but occasionally as a centre-forward. He seems likely to make the move permanent in the summer, though it seems the deal is dependent on various clauses being met.

Nathan Oduwa – Peterborough United (League One)

Oduwa only managed 112 minutes across three competitions for Peterborough before joining Slovenian PrvaLiga club Olimpija Ljubljana on a permanent basis in January.

Many thanks to Alan Swan (@PTAlanSwann), Chief Sports Writer at the Peterborough Telegraph, who provided the following on his progress:

Nathan Oduwa was a strange signing as our team played a rigid midfield diamond formation for most of his time with us. They had no real use for wingers.

Oduwa didn’t start a single game, not even in the Checkatrade Trophy when the inexperienced and very young often played.

He showed very little in his nine substitute appearances, but most of them were very brief.

A disappointing season for Oduwa, after creating a bit of buzz last year. We wish him well in Slovenia.

Will Miller – Burton Albion (Championship)

Miller made 15 Championship appearances for Burton, accumulating 402 minutes in the league and another 32 in the FA Cup.

Many thanks to Joshua Murray (@JoshuaMurrayBM) — who is the Burton Albion writer from the Burton Mail — for this terrific write-up on Miller.

The Spurs website labels Will Miller a ‘versatile attacking midfielder’, but it was up front where the 20-year-old gained almost all of his game time on loan at Burton Albion.

His pace around the field up top made him a constant nuisance to defenders as he chased and harried them down out of possession, while allowing him to make dangerous runs into the channels when Albion attacked.

Miller also showed a good eye for finding space as a striker. That showed when he grabbed his first goal in senior football, notching a 94th-minute equaliser at Wolves in September. He hung back on the edge of the box as a cross from the right was looped towards the far post, before charging into a gap just as possession was knocked back into the danger area – and he was on hand to provide the cool finishing touch.

Brewers boss Nigel Clough has spoken highly of Miller’s presence in the Albion camp all season. He could have returned to Spurs in January when his initial loan deal expired, but decided to stay on and help the club’s bid for Championship survival, despite battling with six other loanees, with a limit of five loan spaces in a matchday squad.

His attitude around the training ground was apparently superb, and he will have learned plenty from playing alongside experienced forwards like Chris O’Grady and Luke Varney this term, having made a total of 16 first-team appearances.

If his work ethic on and off the field for the Brewers is anything to go by, he could well have a bright future ahead at White Hart Lane.

Miller has been included in the first-team squad for the friendly in Hong Kong later this week.

Luke McGee – Peterborough United (League One)

McGee ended the campaign with Peterborough’s Players’ Player of the Season award, having kept nine clean sheets in 39 matches in League One.

Many thanks again to Alan Swan (@PTAlanSwann), who provided the following about Luke:

Luke McGee is the best goalkeeper I’ve seen at Posh in the last 20 years.

Excellent shot-stopper (including four penalty saves), good control of his penalty area, decent with the ball at his feet and obvious passion for his team. Luke was never afraid to speak/shout his mind at defenders and officials.

Form did dip a little in the second-half of the campaign, but he finished the season strongly.

We’d love to have him back (Barry Fry has offered to take him on a free transfer with a huge sell-on clause which is good of him), but he is obviously destined for far better things than our little club.

Luke Amos – Southend United (League One)

Amos only played 125 minutes for Southend, but was well thought of by Phil Brown. Their promotion chase made it difficult for Brown to mess with a settled team.

After his football league debut, in which he played 51 minutes as they came back from 2-0 down to beat Walsall 3-2, Brown said “I was so disappointed for Luke Amos that I had to bring him off. He played well and kept the ball. He has a good career ahead of him.”

20-year old Amos is a busy, technically-sound central midfielder and another League One loan next year would be handy; particularly if he could head out at the beginning of the year an establish himself for a full season.

Connor Ogilvie – Stevenage (League Two)

Ogilvie re-joined Stevenage in January and made 18 appearances, playing 1619 minutes in League Two. Ogilvie was very popular amongst Stevenage fans as the responses to this tweet will testify.

After such a promising start to his career with glittering displays in Under-18 football, Ogilvie has stagnated somewhat. I think he has suffered a little from being equally comfortable at left-back and centre-back (though he played as an attacking left-back for Stevenage). As Spurs will likely need left-sided centre-back cover next season (assuming Wimmer leaves), it will be interesting to see whether Ogilvie, now 21, is taken on the pre-season tour, or whether he is sold in the summer; one would presume the latter.

Ryan Loft – Stevenage (League Two)

Loft played just 82 minutes across nine appearances, coming on at the end of matches.

With thanks to Neil Metcalfe (@Metcalficus) for his thoughts on Ryan Loft:

Loft never really worked. Looked a little overawed with the senior game. Had one glorious chance at Hartlepool not long after coming up but it came at him quick and was missed. Would have been a big confidence boost had it gone in. But given a longer loan spell somewhere next season it may be different.

He returned to play several Premier League 2 matches as he was not getting much game-time, and it will be interesting to see whether he is kept on to make up the numbers in the PL2 next season.

Shayon Harrison – Yeovil Town (League Two)

Harrison played 530 minutes for Yeovil across 16 appearances, scoring once.

Harrison was name-checked by Pochettino during the season which caused a bit of hype, but the 19-year old looks some way off a first team shot as it stands.

More of a natural number ten than an out and out nine, Harrison has consistently scored goals at youth level and now needs to ensure that the rest of his game can match his finishing.

Anton Walkes – Atlanta United (MLS)

Many thanks to Doug Roberson (@DougRobersonAJC), a reporter for AJC, who provided the following on Walkes’ progress:

He has made two appearances for Atlanta United and is typically the third centerback in the rotation. He was unlucky to give up an own goal in the inaugural game against New York Red Bulls. He came in and played the second half of the loss at Montreal after Leandro Gonzalez Pirez received a red card at the end of the first half. He has shown athleticism and an understanding of manager Gerardo Martino’s system. The team’s schedule will become very compressed in September, which is when he may get a start or two. It will be interesting to see if Atlanta United tries to make the loan permanent in the winter transfer window.

Filip Lesniak – Slovan Liberec (Czech First League)

And finally our recent debutant, Lesniak. It did not work out for him at Slovan Liberec where he played just 48 minutes and returned early.

Despite making his Premier League debut against Leicester, Lesniak looks likely to leave in the summer when his contract ends. I could see him eventually doing well somewhere like Bournemouth where he’s a technically-sound, steady cog in a machine, but in all likelihood he will need to start lower and work his way back up the league structure.

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May 18, 2017

Memory Lane

Since the club confirmed that this season will be the last at White Hart Lane (at least as it is now), there has been an outpouring of articles, videos, stories, memory-sharing and emotion about the old girl. Each of us has his or her memories of this place that we have always known, grown up in.

We all remember players celebrating special goals in front of us, but for me it is those quirky memories which link me to a specific area of the ground which have stayed with me and within my family.

When I was growing up in the early nineties, my parents would take my sister and I and we would sit in the Paxton Upper. A man who regularly sat there would become part of our communal memory, such was his love for our midfielder, Paul Allen. He would loudly shout
‘come on Paul Allen’ every time he came close to the ball; man, he loved him some Paul Allen.

And repeated whenever a man named Ashley comes on the television (rare nowadays, admittedly) is the phrase ‘Ashley’s a bird’s name’ – which we had all thoroughly enjoyed being screamed at Derby County’s Ashley Ward by a guy sitting near to us in the East Lower when Ward came over to collect a loose pas.

Likewise ‘The Colonel’s’ catchphrases pop back into our heads whenever we eat burgers together. That guy was outside the Paxton every home game for decades, yelling ‘look at these’ and ‘haaaaandsome’, and became known as the colonel as that was how he’d address every third man buying burgers. The first time he called my dad ‘colonel’ was one of the happiest days of my childhood.

These ridiculous memories and thoughts are all important to me and have collective importance in my family because they represent moments that we have shared together thanks to Spurs. But there’s so much more to White Hart Lane than my compartmentalised nuggets of weirdness.

White Hart Lane is dripping in history, and I am simply unable to do it justice. From Billy Nicholson to Glenn Hoddle to Ledley King, legends have been

So, instead, you should watch Memory Lane. A group of Spurs fans including my good friend Flav from The Fighting Cock podcast spent a ludicrous amount of time researching, interviewing for and producing this wonderful movie, and all proceeds go to local charity, Exposure.

Watch and enjoy this wonderful piece of work, and if you enjoy learning more about our club’s illustrious history, consider sharing with your friends and family. COYS.

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January 29, 2017

Wycombe – second half thoughts

Having re-watched the first half this morning, I re-watched the second this afternoon.

The substitution of Vincent Janssen for ‘GK’ Nkoudou saw Son Heung-min move a little deeper, and Josh Onomah was pushed out to the left. The presence of Janssen gave Spurs the possibility of playing into feet higher up the pitch, and Janssen had a couple of early moments where he controlled the ball and brought others into the game.

Ten minutes passed and there was still no goal so Mauricio Pochettino had Dele and Mousa Dembélé preparing for action. Spurs became increasingly desperate: Josh Onomah took on two shots from range — one good, one less so.

The breakthrough finally came when Son Heung-min got on the score sheet having been found by Cameron Carter-Vickers, still up from a corner. Pochettino immediately brought Dele and Dembélé on for Kevin Wimmer and Onomah, with Dier dropping into the back line, and Dembélé slipping into midfield alongside Winks.

We levelled four minutes later — Trippier’s ball down the line was excellent, Janssen’s first touch was positive, and he was blocked off by Aaron Pierre. He took the ball off Son and buried the penalty (just), getting a big hug from Son as he retreated back into his own half for the kick-off.

Trippier was forced off injured on 73 minutes and it took Spurs a few minutes to settle into a new formation — at first, Dembélé looked to be at left wing-back in a 3-4-2, but it was soon changed to a 4-4-1 with Sissoko at right-back.

Throughout the half, Carter-Vickers made some good passes into the channels and pushed into midfield — on second viewing, he actually looked good for the majority of the game, and it was just the rash tackle for the penalty that really ‘blotted his copybook’, as they say.

Spurs were pushing and it felt like the momentum had shifted and that we would go on to win the game. That was until Eric Dier took a disastrously poor free-kick, aimed towards Sissoko but feebly struck and easily intercepted. Miles Weston broke down the right, knocked it past Dier, and then took his time when crossing, picking out a wonderful ball which fellow substitute Gary Thompson got up to power home. Ben Davies is not the best at defending back-post headers like this, and barely got up to challenge. It was poor from Dier, who went from the sublime to the ridiculous throughout the match. Some of his passing was top class, but at other times he looked sluggish and lacking in focus.

Having scored on 82 minutes, Wycombe must have felt that they would see the game out. However, Dele’s incredible piece of composure to level it on 89 minutes gave Spurs the impetus again, and when the fourth official announced the six minutes of added time, it gave the Spurs players a lift.

The winning Son goal again came via a deflection, but his positivity was the catalyst once again. He exchanged passes with Janssen and didn’t rush his finish, though it’s unclear whether it was going in without the touch from Jacobson.

It was a cruel way for Wycombe to lose, though Spurs did deserve the victory — we ended the game having had 22 attempts at goal, to Wycombe’s 17 (8 of which came from set pieces in the case of the away side). Wycombe’s goalkeeper touched the ball more than any of their other players. Their were a number of good performances from Wycombe — particularly from Sam Wood and Sido Jombati (and to a lesser extent Adebayo Akinfenwa) — but their key man of this season so far, Scott Kashket, completed just two passes all game.

Dele looked like a superstar when he came on. The goal was magnificent, but it’s the intangible — his general aura — which seemed to lift the rest of the team. Dembélé also added a calmness in midfield, and Son had another good half, showing positivity and generally making good decisions. Son’s vibrancy was key to Spurs throughout, and he was involved in most of our good moments.

Vincent Jansson looked tenacious — he was really fired up — and had some good moments, though his touch was far from immaculate and at times he looked a little immobile. Personally I feel as though he might benefit from some Under-23 games to try to regain his goal-scoring touch (from open play at least!) and to try to shed a few pounds; he could do with being a bit leaner.

It was such a mixed bag for Spurs, with Nkoudou, Davies and Wimmer having particularly shaky games, plus Onomah and Sissoko failing to push their claims for a first team place. I thought Onomah played it too safe and, though he made very few mistakes, he needed to do more. Mousa Sissoko had a better second half than first, but has such a knack of getting himself into a good position and then wasting it, occasionally in almost comical fashion. At one point he got the ball lost under his feet, at another he played a bizarre pass to nobody. Perhaps Pochettino can coach him to become a useful asset, but he still looks a very odd purchase as it stands.

It will be fascinating to see the team selection for the next round and whether Pochettino will go with a stronger core, perhaps with some youngsters on the bench to bring on if the game is safe.

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January 29, 2017

Wycombe – first half thoughts

Sometimes when you watch a game like yesterday’s in the flesh, you’re so focussed on the craziness that you don’t get to focus on what specifically went wrong. I’ve re-watched the first half of the match this morning and below are some hastily written thoughts.

Spurs were not as terrible on second viewing as I’d initially thought. Whilst we had some sloppy defensive moments, largely from set pieces, we had control of the midfield and created some good openings. Georges-Kévin N’Koudou got the ball in great areas twice in the first five minutes – once when faced by Wycombe’s right-back, Sido Jombati, and once when Son Heung-min played him into space. In the first instance he telegraphed his take-on and was dispossessed, in the second instance he had a poor touch and ended up winning a corner when he should have driven towards goal and got a shot or a cross away. Ben Davies’ resulting corner was a mishit/scuffed effort. These early moments essentially summed up the whole half.

Nkoudou was wasteful, and reminded me a lot of a very young Aaron Lennon. He shuttled up and down the touchline with speed, but more often than not backed himself into a corner and then failed to get himself out of it with very poor crosses. At one point Nkoudou played a horrendous square pass to Sissoko straight out of touch, and the edit switched to a scowling Pochettino! He also played a loose ball which surrendered possession in the build-up to the Wycombe penalty. He is a young player — he does not turn 22 until mid-February — but the signs, so far, are not great. He was taken off at half-time, and whether that was owing to injury or Pochettino being unimpressed, we’ll probably never know.

The high standard of Wycombe’s set pieces made ours look even poorer. Whomever decided to give the job to Kieran Trippier and Ben Davies need only re-watch the first half to realise that this was a bad decision. Both mishit several and lacked any real quality on their deliveries. The best came when Davies looped up a ball to Trippier just inside the box, but his wild swing sent the ball into the stands.

Trippier was also a bit of a concern defensively — he gave up a big chance to Sam Wood at the back post when he got sucked inside to mark Akinfenwa (despite there being two men on him already), leaving Wood unmarked. Later, after he telegraphed a free-kick straight to a Wycombe player and then, in attempting to recover the situation, he committed himself in the Wycombe half,  allowing them to mount a counter-attack in which Wood charged into the vacated right-back area and ended up looping a shot wide when well-placed.

Moussa Sissoko was hopelessly erratic, the ball often bouncing off his feet as if he were putting up a barrier rather than trying to take it into his control. He did have one fantastic moment, though, where he turned his marker on the edge of the box and set up Son for a good chance. At one point Sissoko had two successive dreadful touches which led to ricochets falling for Josh Onomah — he played in Son then got into the box and nearly got on the end of a Son cross. Sometimes his mis-control causes chaos amongst the opposition.

Onomah was neat and tidy but failed to impose himself on the game and wanted too many touches. If he’s to make a serious play for the first team then he needs to learn to release the ball sooner, to play more instinctively, and to impact the game. On the plus side, he often made good off-the-ball runs to create space for others, and that sort of unselfish work will not get him noticed by fans, but will please his coach. I can’t see Onomah getting too many more minutes this season, so at this point I would be keen for him to go out on loan to a club who will play him deeper in midfield, where he is far better in my opinion (see the clip I link to below).

The back-line looked rickety for much of the first half. We were given a warning of Wycombe’s set piece quality when Anthony Stewart peeled away at the back post and beat Trippier in the air, but Vorm got down well. Kevin Wimmer had a couple of wobbles, and Carter-Vickers showed his immaturity when giving away the penalty — there was no reason for him to lunge in, with Wood running the ball towards the touchline and not the goal.

Harry Winks regularly drove us forward from deep and was our second best player in the opening 45. The best, though, was Son, who put in a live-wire display and was unlucky not to score a couple. Had he buried his big chance from Jamal Blackman’s mistake early on, it might have been a very different tie. He stretched the Wycombe defence well with his movement on the shoulder, creating gaps which our first choice players would have filled with glee. He also did a reasonable job of dropping deep to link play, though those around him did not work off him as well as he might have hoped.

Another positive was the number of impressive diagonal passes from our deeper players. Cameron Carter-Vickers, Kevin Wimmer and Eric Dier all played exceptional passes in the first half, which was encouraging. Carter-Vickers finding Dier’s excellent run only for his knock-down to go inches ahead of Son was one of many ‘nearly’ moments of the first half.

I’ll be back later to give some thoughts on the second half!

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Further to last week's news, Peterborough have given up on signing Luke McGee. #COYS https://t.co/6QCuiC30YS
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