January 26, 2015

Tottenham Hotspur 1-2 Leicester City– some thoughts

We were seven minutes plus stoppage time from progression in the FA Cup on Saturday before Leicester City started a comeback that culminated in a complete turn-around.

Spurs dominated possession in the first half without creating too many openings, whilst Leicester were happy to soak up pressure and counter – doing so effectively and creating good chances.

Andrej Kramarić had an opportunity to put Leicester 1-0 up, with Danny Rose failing to cover round despite having a good view of the forward. Michel Vorm’s save was exceptional – the sort that we have become accustomed to with Hugo Lloris in goal.

Kramarić chance

Leicester’s second chance summed up – for me – why Mousa Dembélé and Étienne Capoue are an ineffective central midfield combination from a defensive viewpoint.

Schlupp chance

In the above image, Jeff Schlupp has received the ball, brought it down and Vlad Chiricheș/Andros Townsend are approaching him. Neither Dembélé or Capoue are attempting to get into a defensive position to influence the game – presumably assuming that their team mates will deal with the situation.  I have long been of the opinion that neither has particularly good natural defensive instincts, and this is a good example of that. Younes Kaboul has to keep one eye on Leonardo Ulloa, who has played the pass and is now getting forward to support Schlupp and Kramarić.

Schlupp chance 2

As Schlupp cuts in, there’s a huge gap in the centre of our defence. Either Capoue should have tracked Ulloa, allowing Kaboul to go across to the ball, or one of Capoue / Dembélé should anticipate the potential danger and get into a position to stop Schlupp having a free shot on goal. Presented with the same scenario, I would expect that Stambouli would have provided a more effective barrier.

At the other end we struggled to break down a stubborn Leicester defence, with all three of our central midfield players content to pass sideways to the wingers and give them all of the responsibility of getting in behind the defence. Lamela and Townsend actually achieved on occasions, but having provided openings, Paulinho was guilty of wasting them. His finishing was allegedly an in-joke at Hotspur Way last season, where it was said that he put lots of balls over fences. Based on this display it is easy to see why. He lacked composure and technique and wasted three presentable chances – one going wide, one over, and one straight at the goalkeeper.

Mauricio Pochettino has made some useful substitutions this season, but on this occasion his decisions did not help the situation. At 1-0 and with Leicester gaining a foothold in the game, it had become clear that we were going to need a second goal to kill off the tie. Bringing Christian Eriksen on, then, was a logical move. Taking Townsend off, however, was not. Townsend was having some joy on the right and was looking capable of creating something, especially on the counter. It would have made more sense to take off Paulinho or Dembélé to allow Eriksen to scheme in behind Roberto Soldado. Instead, Eriksen was played on the left, with Lamela switching to the right, and the ineffective Paulinho continuing in the centre (I won’t refer to him as a number 10 as he doesn’t possess any of the qualities of the traditional 10!).

Emmanuel Adebayor then replaced Soldado, which felt a little odd, as Soldado had passed the ball quite well and had won the penalty with an excellent piece of control. Adebayor added more of an aerial threat – challenging for and winning headers, as opposed to jumping into the man and giving away free-kicks as Soldado tends to do – but he undoubtedly slowed down our attacking play. Harry Kane’s introduction for Dembélé after the equaliser was too little, too late – ideally he should have come on for Soldado or Paulinho at the same that Eriksen was introduced.

Vorm’s dreadful error at the end was not his first mistake of the game and, in truth, he was quite lucky to still be on the pitch. Replays showed that he took Kramarić’s back leg rather than the ball in the first half, which should have led to a penalty being awarded and probably to a red card being shown.

Overall it was a disappointing result made more disappointing by the other upsets – this presented a fantastic opportunity to progress in a third cup, and the boos at full-time illustrated the frustration having been in a controlling position.

Pochettino has had to manage his squad carefully to mitigate against fatigue creeping in, which can cause long-term injuries as well as limiting players’ effectiveness (as was so clearly visible against Crystal Palace). But, personally, I don’t feel that we can afford to leave out Eriksen, Harry Kane and Ryan Mason. With none of them in the team we lack a player who can consistently pass forward or open up a defence. My preference would have been to play one of Kane or Eriksen against Sheffield United and the other against Leicester. It will now be interesting to see the team selection on Wednesday – both should start and both should feel relatively fresh.

COYS

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January 25, 2015

24/01/15 Tottenham Hotspur U18s 1-2 Aston Villa U18s, Hotspur Way

Tom Glover (16)
Chris Paul (17) Luke Amos (17) Anton Walkes (17) Lloyd Ross (18)
Zenon Stylianides (17) Charlie Owens (17) (c)
Armani Daly (17) Marcus Edwards (16) Kazaiah Sterling (16)
Ryan Loft (17)

Subs:
Anthony Georgiou (17) for Lloyd Ross, 62.
Shayon Harrison (17) for Ryan Loft, 62.
Cy Goddard (17) for Armani Daly, 70.

Unused sub:
Tom McDermott (16)

Firstly, apologies for a slightly more brief report this time around. It was a very cold afternoon and I forgot my gloves – as a result, I can barely read my notes, and there are far less of them too! Secondly, to put this match into a bit of context: we were playing the second-placed team (before this match they were two points ahead of us having played two more games) and we were playing our second match in less than 48 hours. We made nine changes from the side that beat Wolverhampton Wanderers 2-0 in the FA Youth Cup, with just Anton Walkes and Luke Amos keeping their places.

Walkes and Amos – both of whom turn 18 in February – made up the most experienced element of the team, whilst Marcus Edwards (making his first start) and Kazaiah Sterling (making his second start) were promoted from the Under-16s.

We set up with a back four made up of four central midfielders, although Anton Walkes seems to now play at centre-back more than anywhere else, so perhaps it’s sensible to start thinking of that as his main position. Amos, Lloyd Ross and Chris Paul had all filled in in these positions before, but the full-backs did struggle pretty much throughout this match.

Former Spur Kodi Lyons-Foster was playing at centre-back for Villa, who had a front pairing of Rushian Hepburn-Murphy and Harry McKirdy – both of whom have consistently scored goals throughout the season so far. England Under-16 winger Andre Green lined up on the left with Swedish 16-year old Moustafa Zeidan on the right.

Spurs started off kicking into the strong wind and it was immediately clear that Villa’s game plan was to press high and trap us inside our ownhalf. The away side won two early corners – Tom Glover came to claim the second, but didn’t get near to the ball as the wind the conditions difficult.

Andre Green signalled his intentions after five minutes, beating Chris Paul and putting in a cross which Amos anticipated well and blocked. Spurs went up the other end and got some respite as Loft made the ball stick and went on a dribble which won a corner, but Owens’ kick was cleared. Edwards then showed his ability with some early touches, linking with Loft and feeding Sterling before Villa got on the attack again.

Green beat Paul for a second time, and this time the full-back absolutely scythed him down from behind, drawing a strong response from the Aston Villa bench. The referee did Paul a big favour and resisted the temptation to show a yellow card.

Villa took the lead minutes later – Owens (I think) made a loose pass, McKirdy picked up possession and came forward before getting a shot away. It hit the inside of the post, went back along the line, and seemed to go in off the unfortunate Luke Amos, who had got back onto the line to try to clear. The linesman flagged frantically to confirm that the ball had crossed the line.

Paul did well to chase down a high ball over his shoulder and come away with the ball, but Green came back at him and won it back – fortunately for Paul, Glover came out to smother as Green advanced into the box. A minute later and Green was beating Paul again but Glover got the ball out for a corner. Spurs didn’t organise quickly enough and a short corner created a shooting opportunity far too easily. Glover got down very smartly to save the low, deflected effort, before bellowing out to his team that he had told them about the space that the shot came in from.

Spurs made a rare foray into the Villa half – Stylianides broke forward and picked out Sterling, who used the ball intelligently to find Ross on the left. He fed a cross into Loft at the near post, but it was under-hit and Loft couldn’t come off the near post quickly enough to get to the flight of the ball.

On the other side, Armani Daly beat two men and won a throw, but it was feeling like a real struggle – having to use tricks to wriggle past two just to win a throw pretty much summed up how the first half had gone for Spurs.

25 minutes in Glover saved a stinging shot as Spurs started to get a little foothold and began to restrict Villa better.

Luke Amos went down after a poor challenge from McKirdy; the physio rushed on and there was a brief stoppage. Pretty much as soon as Amos was on, it was 2-0. Walkes’ clearance held up a little in the wind, Lyons-Foster helped it forward, and Hepburn-Murphy broke through between Walkes and Ross with a clear run on goal. Glover came out but perhaps would have been better off staying on his line, as the forward lifted it over his legs and into the unguarded next – an excellent finish.

Spurs had a little injustice 34 minutes in – Edwards got away from his man with some skill and was brought down from behind, but the referee did not even award him a free-kick. A few minutes later and Rory Hale was booked for dragging Daly back by his shirt as he looked to get in down the right.

Hepburn-Murphy made inroads down the right for another effort which won Villa a corner, before Edwards went on a run which opened Villa up. He fed Daly who had a shooting opportunity if he hit it first time, but he cut back – a tee-up for Edwards was on, but he dallied and the defender got a vital foot in.

The second half started with an early booking for Lloyd Ross as he tackled Zeidan but Spurs were far, far better from the off. Sterling beat his man on the outside and put in a left foot cross that was slightly too high for Loft. Loft returned the favour, crossing for Sterling, but this one was just over-hit too.

Stylianides volleyed inches wide from a Ross cross, before another cross towards Loft evaded him slightly on the stretch

Glover was called into action again, making a very good low stop to his right after Hepburn-Murphy had advanced on the left and had a crack.

Captain Charlie Owens made a bit of a mess of a free-kick after Edwards had been fouled, hitting it well over the bar from a decent position.

Spurs replaced Ross and Loft with Harrison and Georgiou – two of the best performers in Thursday night’s cup match – and they had an instant impact. Sterling did well out on the left, Georgiou overlapped from full-back and his cross fell to Stylianides. He found Harrison who turned neatly and finished well with his left foot.

Cy Goddard was introduced for Daly, and he and Edwards schemed away trying to create, but Villa were holding firm.

Edwards somehow kept the ball with the most audacious turn, which saw him on the ground swivelling and leaving defenders in his wake, before teeing up Sterling who himself turned well and got a shot away which right-back Ryan Strain blocked.

Villa had a rare breakaway from which Green fired across goal, but Georgiou was in command and helped it out for a corner.

I had to leave a bit early to get to White Hart Lane, but I’m told that Goddard and Sterling had half-chances but we were unable to get an equaliser.

It was a tough, tough match for what was effectively (at least at this stage in their careers) a second choice eleven, but I felt quite proud of the way that the players battled back in the second half. We beat Villa 1-0 earlier in the season with our first choice team, and I think we would have made it a double had we not had the Youth Cup match this week.

Tom Glover 6 – made some solid saves and was vocal throughout – not an easy day for a keeper with the wind being so strong. I felt he perhaps made the wrong decision for the second goal, but it’s easy to say that in hindsight.
Chris Paul 4 – Andre Green gave Paul an absolutely torrid time in the first half, and had it been a first team match he’d have been walking a tightrope as we would undoubtedly have been booked for an early challenge. Credit to him for coming out and improving as the match went on – he showed a lot of determination and perseverance, and won a few more of his battles.
Luke Amos 7 – despite not being the biggest (he’s tall but slim), Amos filled in admirably, exhibiting his ability to read the game, and putting himself on the line when necessary. His passing out from the back was vital for controlling possession in the second half.
Anton Walkes 7 – a calming presence at the back, but occasionally vulnerable to a ball over the top. Carried the ball out of defence with confidence and won plenty in the air.
Lloyd Ross 5 – he’s not a full-back and never will be, but he stuck to his task relatively well.
Zenon Stylianides 6 – struggled in the first half when we didn’t have the ball, but was good in the second, helping to control possession and break forward when necessary.
Charlie Owens 5 – as with Stylianides he was poor in the first half, but got a lot better as the game went on and as we had more of the ball.
Armani Daly 6 – was often left isolated and so struggled – not through a lack of trying, though. I think had he had a more natural right-back behind him, he’d have had far more success.
Marcus Edwards 7 – my first proper look at the much-hyped midfielder. The ball sticks to him, and he showed some glorious touches too – one in particular where he cushioned a pass first time to a teammate from a firm square ball from Sterling stood out. As he adapts to playing against more physical players he’s going to be a hugely important player in this team.
Kazaiah Sterling 6 – tried hard throughout but didn’t get much change from a good full-back (Liam Hailey). Looking forward to seeing more of him as there’s lots to admire in his game.
Ryan Loft 6 – the first half was very difficult for Loft, but he tried to make the ball stick and had some joy. He looked far better as we started to see more of the ball.

Anthony Georgiou 7 – came on in an unfamiliar left-back role and showed plenty of tenacity and attacking intent.
Shayon Harrison 7 – you can’t ask much more than coming off the bench and scoring!
Cy Goddard – was creative and lively off the bench.

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January 15, 2015

Josh Onomah – a profile

17-year old Josh Onomah made his Tottenham Hotspur debut last night, coming off the bench to replace Andros Townsend on 76 minutes.

Tim Sherwood took Josh to Benfica with the first-team squad as a 16-year old, and the player was then also an unused substitute against Dnipropetrovsk in February, Beşiktaş in December and the first leg of the Burnley tie earlier this month. Born and raised in Enfield, he has been talked up by most who have seen him over the past two years – myself included.

He’s a central midfielder, and his main attributes are his dribbling, balance, pace, and strength. He’s strong in possession and hard to knock off the ball – the way that he bursts into gaps and dribbles in a natural, powerful way have earned him the nickname ‘Pogba-lite’ amongst some; the likeness is clear to see.

Josh joined Spurs as an Under-9, and has represented England at Under-16, 17 and 18 levels. He was a part of the England Under-17 squad that won the European Championships in May, 2013. It sometimes feels that when a young player gets picked for the national side at youth level, that they are subsequently kept in and around the set-up regardless of their progress or the progress of alternative options. However, with Onomah it feels natural that he will continue to represent England all the way to Under-21 level, and hopefully beyond.

Martin Lipton, the Daily Mirror journalist, named Onomah in his ‘How England might look in 2018 XI‘ back in July 2014, saying: “I’m backing Tottenham’s Joshua Onomah to fulfil his promise and come through.”

Onomah is so highly-rated internally that, despite technically being a second-year scholar, he has already signed a professional contract. This generally happens when the club wants to tie exceptional players down, and is quite a rare occurrence at Spurs.

I first saw Onomah as a 15-year old and it was immediately clear that he was immensely talented, although he was quite loose with some of his passing. There had appeared to be question marks over his temperament – I remember seeing him with a face like thunder after one match, with Academy Manager, John McDermott talking to him with his arm around his shoulder as he walked off the pitch. Talk around Hotspur Way was that he got frustrated quickly – whether that was frustration at his own performances, or frustration because he was better than his teammates, I’m unsure. Regardless, in May 2014, McDermott commented on his maturity and it seemed that he had really turned a corner in this respect:

“Another thing I’m pleased about is that he’s matured as a young man, not just on the football pitch, but off it. I’m really pleased with his overall development, not just his football development.”

His post-match interview yesterday was genuinely endearing – he looked so happy to have made his debut and spoke well about where he goes from here.

If you’d like more information on Josh, I recommend reading this fantastic profile from Reddit user RifleEyez.

And below are some more links which might be of interest.

Onomah song.
JOHN DELIGHTED WITH JOSH’S PROGRESS
A 9 vs 9 Under-18 match against QPR played behind closed doors from 2013 – Onomah is number 17. NB: Bentaleb scores after about 30 seconds! (EDIT: this has now been made private, apologies. I’ll leave the link here in case it returns.)
Chelsea U21s vs Tottenham Hotspur U21s – Onomah is wearing number 10.
Tottenham Hotspur U18s 2-3 Fulham 2-3 U18s, Onomah is wearing number 8 and scores after 3 minutes of the match.
Norwich City U21s 3-1 Tottenham Hotspur U21s, Onomah is wearing number 10.
Tottenham Hotspur U21s 2-1 West Ham U21s, Onomah is wearing number 10.

Some of my previous reports featuring Onomah:

25/08/12 Tottenham Hotspur U18s 3-4 Manchester United U18s, Tottenham Hotspur Training Centre
12/10/13 Tottenham Hotspur U18s 2-3 West Ham United U18s, Hotspur Way
23/11/13 Tottenham Hotspur U18s 4-2 Arsenal U18s, Hotspur Way

And some further links from RifleEyez:

Excellent bit of skill
England action vs Turkey. He’s number 8, with yellow boots.
England Under-17s vs Gibraltar, he’s number 10.
England Under-17s vs Holland. Onomah is number 8 again and scores the 2nd goal in the 74th minute.
England Under-17s vs Italy, Onomah is number 8.

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January 15, 2015

Tottenham Hotspur 4-2 Burnley – some thoughts

On Wednesday night Spurs scored four goals without response for the second time in the space of a fortnight. On New Year’s Day, we went from 0-1 down to 4-1 up against Chelsea (finishing 5-3); this time we recovered from a more perilous 0-2 to win 4-2.

Burnley rested three key players – Danny Ings, George Boyd and Ashley Barnes, whilst we rested six in Hugo Lloris, Kyle Walker, Federico Fazio, Harry Kane, Nacer Chadli and Christian Eriksen. Burnley’s fast start was somewhat exaggerated by two early goals, but they punished some poor defending well. The defending for Marvin Sordell’s opener was particularly shambolic.

Marvin Sordell breaks through

Having not having seen a replay from a different angle, it’s difficult to try to explain what was happening here. Younes Kaboul was up-field – I can only think that he was trying to play offside – but with Jan Vertonghen already too deep to allow this, one has to question the lack of organisation and communication, and that surely comes down to captain Kaboul. This could be explained (if not excused), perhaps, by the fact that Kaboul and Vertonghen haven’t played together since the 2nd November.

The second goal came after seven minutes. Benji Stambouli committed a needless foul, allowing free-kick specialist Ross Wallace to step up. His kick deflected off Roberto Soldado leaving Michel Vorm helpless.

The home crowd – assisted by this match being attended by the 1882 movement – roared Tottenham on, and they stepped up immediately. Andros Townsend made inroads on the right, and inverted-wingered the ball in for Soldado to flick on. Paulinho did superbly to get the ball down quickly and turned neatly to volley home.

From there it almost felt inevitable that Spurs would win – an unusual feeling for Spurs fans – and I think that the optimistic atmosphere in the stadium had a lot to do with it.

The positivity in the stands, though, was not always matched by positivity on the pitch.

Kaboul vs Vertonghen

After another miscommunication, Vertonghen turned to shout at Kaboul – who had, again, attempted to play offside – and got a whole load of verbal right back. The crowd responded by chanting Vertonghen’s name, a show of support triggered by a combination of factors: rumours about Kaboul’s falling-out with other members of the squad, his lack of emotion on the bench when we’ve scored goals in recent weeks, and the fact that he had been totally inept in this match until that point.

The slanging match continued for a good few seconds and was followed up later by a similar falling out between Kaboul and Vorm. It is clear that all is not well, and Kaboul leaving during the transfer window seems inevitable (so long as there’s a taker).

Kaboul struggled to cope with Sam Vokes’ strength and movement, but Spurs looked good going forward in much of the rest of the half. As halftime approached, Paulinho nicked the ball in midfield and launched a counter. He was cynically fouled, but Soldado picked up the pieces and fed Townsend. He carried the ball before feeding in a perfect cross for Soldado, who somehow hit the bar. The miss was so bad that the BBC even made a separate video dedicated to it. His reaction was to drop to his knees in despair – Stambouli ran over to quite literally comfort him, so broken that he is. But it’s well worth noting that he also continued to get unwavering support from the stands (“Viva Soldado, viva Soldado, he came from sunny Spain to play with Harry Kane, viva Soldado”) – I don’t think there are many players in the squad for whom there is so much genuine goodwill.

Fortunately for Soldado, his blushes were spared by a Capoue thunderbolt just two minutes later. Ben Davies crossed, Paulinho missed his kick, and the ball sat up nicely for a volley that nearly broke the net.

Just three minutes into the second half, stand-in right back Vlad Chiricheș won a corner, and then got on the end of it at the back post to bundle it home – it actually seemed to hit his arm, but I don’t think he knew a great deal about it.

When Danny Rose scored a fourth three minutes later (to make it three goals in a five minute spell) it felt like we might go on to get a few more, but 4-2 was how it stayed. Rose’s goal deserves praise – for the beautiful pass by Stambouli, perfectly flighted into the path of Soldado; for Rose’s fantastically aggressive run into the six-yard box; and for Soldado’s inch-perfect cross.

Nacer Chadli replaced Rose on the left, and made an excellent cameo – at one point putting Reid (I think) on his backside with his dribbling and close control.

The game did somewhat peter out, but was memorable for Josh Onomah, coming on to make his Tottenham Hotspur debut. I’ll be publishing a short profile of Onomah later, so keep an eye out. Onomah already has a song, which has followed him through the age groups. At a previous 1882 event – an Under-18 match – James Welham came up with the ultra-inventive ‘Do do do do do ONOMAH do do do do ONOMAH do do do do do do do do do do do do do do do do do do do do do!’ to the tune of ‘Mahna Mahna’ from The Muppet Show. It’s since followed him from Under-18 level to Under-21 level and now the first team… a proud moment for James as well as Josh! Onomah made some good touches and passes in tight areas, but didn’t really get to show off his terrific dribbling ability.

Vorm – had no chance with either goal, and looked relatively quick off his line, which was something I’d been concerned about after recent appearances.
Chiricheș – aside from one suicidal pass in the first half, he defended well, was a decent attacking outlet and, of course, scored the goal to put us 3-2 up. I enjoyed a short burst of my song for him – “strolling up the pitch is super Vlad Chiricheș, do do do, do do do do do”…
Kaboul – this was not a good return for Kaboul. He struggled with Vokes (Chiricheș had to repeatedly come across to cover) and was arguing with his own teammates.
Vertonghen – after a shaky start alongside Kaboul, he put in a very assured performance.
Davies – clearly a better defender than Rose, but doesn’t quite offer the same forward thrust. That said, his pass selection in the final third is consistently good, and it was his cross that led to Capoue’s leveller.
Stambouli – had a very busy game and worked hard throughout. There are some signs of him starting to settle.
Capoue – like others, he had a shaky start where Burnley were winning a lot of second balls in his zone, but he improved and was very controlled in the second half. His goal was a beauty!
Townsend – a constant threat and a constant outlet. Ben Mee gave him too much space, and he took advantage over and over again.
Paulinho – better, as Andy Townsend would say! I tweeted at half-time that he was ‘busy but imperfect’ and I think that sums him up. He frequently runs with the ball into areas of the pitch which he then struggles to get out of, but I think we have to just accept his limitations and appreciate his few strengths: first-time flicks and knowing when to arrive in the box. He took his goal superbly.
Rose – he actually started his career as an attacking central midfielder and then became a left winger, but his timing was slightly off in an attacking sense. His arrivals at the back post were generally a little *too* late, but he did marvellously for his goal, making a fantastic, aggressive surge into the six-yard box and pointing to where he wanted the ball played.
Soldado – some relatively good link up play, a nice flicked header for Paulinho’s goal, a wonderful cross for Rose’s goal, but his match will be remembered for *that* miss. Viva Soldado.

Chadli – a genuinely exciting cameo in which he looked a real threat. “Nacer is a dolphin, Nacer is a dolphin, la la la la, la la la la…”.
Onomah – I was so excited to see him get on to make his debut – I hope it’s the first of many appearances. Look out for a short profile which I’ll be publishing later.
Dier – it was good to see him back for the first time since the 6th December, nine games ago.

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January 3, 2015

Poch’s Progress

At just past the halfway point in the league season, it feels like a good time to pause for breath and consider the progress that we have made to date under Mauricio Pochettino, our latest Head Coach.

Expectations were relatively low at the start of the season. Whilst there are always fans and pundits who *expect* a top four finish having made a change (the “why bother changing it if we’re not going to push on?” argument), the majority were happy to accept a lesser league position in another season of transition in order to establish a foundation and to develop the Bielsa-inspired playing philosophy that brought excitement to Southampton. I was certainly in this camp and, more than anything, I wanted to enjoy going to White Hart Lane again – to feel like our club and fans were unified and moving forward with a sense of togetherness.

It could be said, so far, that signs of the footballing philosophy have been less obvious than we might have expected, but that this has not really been detrimental to results. We are currently three points better off than we were last season when looking at the equivalent league results as well as being through to the semi-final of the League Cup and the knock-out phase of the Europa League.

After some fortunate results over the Christmas period, and some less-than-convincing performances, Thursday’s astonishing victory against Chelsea felt like a turning point. The high press was implemented effectively, with Harry Kane once again leading from the front. The team played as a cohesive unit and, putting aside some defensive lapses, there was plenty to be positive about.

Pochettino still has much work to do but he has been helped by shaping a more definite ‘first team’. Over the past six to eight weeks it has become clear which players he values and which he does not. These sorts of decisions were presumably made at this point with the January transfer window in mind, rather than the correlation just being a fortunate coincidence. The sidelining of certain players now gives them an opportunity to find a new club and for Pochettino to streamline the squad in order to bring in a few players of his own – players who he can trust.

Danny Rose’s comments in today’s Mirror seem to be hinting towards those players that are not working so hard being left out:

“Let’s just say if you don’t work hard under the manager, you’re not playing! You better make sure you give 100 per cent each day in training, which is very hard and intense.

But I really enjoy it. As the long as the manager sees you are willing to work hard and want to fight hard for your team-mates then you will go far with him.”

Pochettino is relentless in his pursuit of a fit, hard-working squad. After the Manchester United match he was asked: “what now? Rest, rest, rest?” He responded chirpily: “no, train, train, train”. Our players (specifically Kane, Christian Eriksen and Ryan Mason) have recently featured in the ‘most distance covered’ stats that the Premier League sometimes produce:

MW13

MW16

Eriksen initially struggled under the new coach, and his creative influence was missing at the beginning of the season. After a short bedding-in period, though, it has well and truly returned. But alongside that he has been utterly transformed. Where he was previously seen as a ‘luxury player’, he is now an absolute workhorse who pressurises defenders and creates opportunities for turnovers. Indeed, prior to the Chelsea match, Eriksen’s distance covered was the fourth highest in the Premier League at 210.1km. Staggering.

It is notable that in the last six matches, Kyle Naughton, Aaron Lennon, Younes Kaboul, Étienne Capoue, Paulinho and Emmanuel Adebayor have played just 40 minutes between them. One must assume that all would be available for transfer if a suitable offer were to come in. Roberto Soldado has played 110 of the 540 possible minutes in that time and is another that is likely to be available, although it is difficult to see who would pay the kind of fee that Daniel Levy would demand.

Mousa Dembélé (250 minutes) seems to have come back into favour and might be granted a stay of execution, at least until the summer. On the other hand, whilst Vlad Chiricheș (180 minutes) has performed pretty admirably at right-back, he seems set to join Roma on loan with a view to a permanent move.

Interestingly, Eric Dier has not featured at all across this six game period either, but there’s little chance of him moving on permanently – he would provide useful cover were the likes of Chiricheș or Kaboul to leave. Alternatively, there would be no shortage of takers were he to be made available for loan.

The final player regularly linked with a move away is Andros Townsend. Townsend has become a bit of an enigma and divides opinion in the stands. His precision penalty on the stroke of half-time against Chelsea was met with a celebration largely of relief from the player – he will certainly want to use that moment as a springboard, and I think he has shown enough to warrant being used for the rest of the season, at least as a rotation option.

Townsend is an imperfect player but he is certainly not beyond moulding. After seeing the work Pochettino has done to improve (or at least bring the best from) Nacer Chadli and Eriksen, I am hopeful that he can help Townsend to realise his potential – the very definition of a coach. Besides this, we have so few players capable of committing defenders that Townsend offers something a little different from the norm.

Should we be able to create some space in the squad, we might see a couple of players come in. Hector Moreno was a player that I mentioned in September – having played under Pochettino at Espanyol, Moreno is a player that our coach knows, likes and can rely upon. The partnership of Jan Vertonghen and Federico Fazio has become a reliable one (played 15, won 11, drawn 3, lost 1), and if one of them were to be injured, the team would certainly suffer. Moreno would provide excellent cover, and signing him in January would give him time to settle in before potentially becoming first choice next season.

Various journalists (including the well-connected Matt Spiro) are pointing towards Adrien Rabiot, the 19-year old midfielder from Paris Saint-Germain, signing on a six-month loan. Rabiot has been linked for a number of weeks, and makes sense as a stop-gap if Pochettino’s first choice target (who is, presumably, still Morgan Schneiderlin) cannot be obtained at this point.

Rabiot has played just 215 minutes in Ligue 1 this season, but last season he managed 1112 minutes (11 starts). With Nabil Bentaleb heading off to the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations with Algeria in a week or so, Rabiot would provide useful cover. A quick comparison with Bentaleb (Rabiot of last season vs Bentaleb of this) seems to indicate why this would be a smart short-term move, with Rabiot averaging more key passes per 90 minutes, taking on more shots, but also making more tackles. His upright, head-up style would hopefully ensure that we don’t lose the sense of calm that Bentaleb gives us in a midfield area that in the Premier League can be very chaotic.

An alternative to Rabiot would be to promote from within and use Miloš Veljković, whose loan at Middlesbrough is due to end around the time that Bentaleb leaves. Their Head Coach, Aitor Karanka, was full of praise after his 30-minute cameo against Ipswich:

“I am very pleased with Milos. I felt he was the best player on the pitch in the last game. He went onto the pitch at a difficult time and he showed everyone he is a mature player, even though he is only 19 years old.”

Veljković got some game time in pre-season and looked like he could step up, but the counter-argument is that it might benefit him to stay on loan and play regularly across the rest of the season, rather than making a handful of appearances for us during January.

Alongside Rabiot, Spurs might want to sign another forward, with Soldado and Adebayor still struggling in different ways and for very different reasons. Danny Ings might represent a budget option – mostly because his contract is up in the summer – and at 22-years old (and being English) he seems to suit the Levy buying policy of old. It will, I suppose, depend on how Ings’ numbers are portrayed in Paul Mitchell’s ‘black box’, but his high-energy, honest style would suit the current framework and would mean that the burden on Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen is reduced a little to negate the possibility of burn-out. Naturally Burnley would be reluctant to sell as they will be reliant on Ings’ goals for Premier League survival, but an offer of around £10 million might convince them to cash in.

January will also see the arrival of DeAndre Yedlin. Having only seen Yedlin at the World Cup, in the recent USA friendly against Colombia and once in the MLS, I am not best-placed to provide a verdict on whether Yedlin will be a hit. However, from the little I have seen I would suggest that most of his initial game-time will be in the Under-21s. That said, his arrival might mean that Pochettino is happier to sell Lennon and/or Naughton, since Yedlin could provide cover in both positions.

In closing, it would be remiss of me to not mention Pochettino’s bravery in picking young players. Tim Sherwood has been receiving plaudits over the past week – after all, it was he who entrusted Bentaleb and Kane last season – and it is fair to say that Sherwood offered our youngsters belief and confidence. But Pochettino was not afraid to go with youth at Southampton, and it’s unlikely that the platform that Sherwood provided had a significant impact on his selection criteria, albeit it helped iron out some of the youngsters’ creases. Pochettino’s use of Mason, and his interest in selecting development squad players on the bench shows to me that he would have done things his way regardless. The average age of our team against Chelsea was just 24. This is fairly remarkable, and I would suspect that this is more likely to go down rather than up as Pochettino has a say in moulding and developing his own squad.

And let’s not forget that there are plenty more youngsters bubbling under the surface that might get a chance in the near future. Harry Winks has made his debut, Dominic Ball and Josh Onomah have made the bench, and Connor Ogilvie and Nathan Oduwa cannot be far behind. There is certainly potential for clearing out mostly-unused squad fodder, and promoting from within to replace them should Pochettino feel that youngsters are more likely to buy into his philosophy. It’s just a pity that we don’t have another young forward who could help to replace Adebayor and/or Soldado in the squad.

Pochettino’s start at Spurs has been solid but unspectacular. We have made progress in the league and cups without always playing well and there have been improvements in key players as the season has progressed – most notably Kane, Eriksen, Chadli, Fazio and Ben Davies (who has put in some really steady performances of late). The nature of this time of the football calendar means that within a month it is possible that we could be out of all of the cups and falling down the league – if that does happen, let’s not forget that this season is about building a philosophy, building a foundation, and building confidence in one of the best Academies in the country. But let’s hope that doesn’t happen and that we go on to win a cup – something to reward the hard work we’ve seen of late. Either way: so far, so good.

Happy New Year and COYS.

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Yeah, so, back to McEvoy going to Colchester...
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