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!