September 21, 2018

Cockerels Coming Home To Roost

Spurs are in a bit of a pickle. It could be a minor pickle, it could be a major pickle — predicting which way this is going to go is so difficult right now due to the sheer number of variables. I’m going to look at some of those variables, be smart after the fact and see if some could have been avoided, suggest some solutions, and consider how much of an impact they might have.

Our midfield / Mousa Dembélé

Not addressing some of our midfield concerns this summer was negligent, particularly when Jack Grealish’s transfer was in our hands for the entire window. We’re now left in a difficult position, with Dembélé no longer able to do all of the Dembélé things, Harry Winks (along with his chronic ankle injury) and Victor Wanyama both still returning from injury, Eric Dier suffering a drop in form, potentially due to having no rest over the summer, and Mauricio Pochettino experimenting with his selections (as I discussed here) as a result of all of the above.

There are a lot of things we could have done to mitigate all of this:

– We could have bought two new central midfielders.
– We could have bought one new central midfielder.
– We could have spent the past three years grooming Josh Onomah to take over from Mousa Dembélé (controversial one, that, as many Spurs fans think he’s useless) rather than playing him out wide.

There are a lot of things we could *still* do to improve the situation:

– We could integrate Luke Amos and Oliver Skipp.
– We could use Under-23 matches to get Wanyama match-fit as soon as possible.
– We could revert to a formation that our midfield players are *all* comfortable with (4-2-3-1 or 3-4-3).

This does not need to be the disaster it currently is. Dembélé’s obvious decline can still be mitigated. And when I say mitigated, absolutely not by playing him at the base of the midfield with Dier in the shuttling role on the right, because if I have to watch that again I’ll snap a pencil.

Harry Kane

I’m at the point where I believe that anyone that does not think that Harry Kane is in some way broken is lying to themself. It could be mental fatigue, he could be physical fatigue, it could be the ankle injury still plaguing him, it could be a combination of all/a couple of these. But: Something. Isn’t. Right. His reduced shot volume post-injury has been discussed over and over and so I won’t repeat it again, but it’s not just his shot volume that’s the issue; he’s just not passing the eye test generally.

I also believe that we’ve adapted our whole shape to compensate for Kane’s current state; that Lucas is playing up with him because he just can’t do the running and isn’t posing his usual threat. It’s worked to some degree (i.e. Lucas is scoring) but it is arguably hurting us defensively.

Harry Kane is our best player but I can’t remember the last time he was our best player in a match. I think we could continue to play him and we’ll probably still get a reasonable tune out of him, but I’m now so firmly in the ‘give the guy a rest’ camp. Pochettino accepts that rotation is required but also says he would be ‘crazy’ to rest Harry Kane. He’s the one that needs it most! This is madness, right?

But there are things we could do to improve the situation:

– Give him four weeks off; temporarily make do with a fluid front-line of Lucas Moura, Erik Lamela and Dele Alli. Watch Kane come back on a hot streak.
– Rotate him. If we’re not going to give him a proper break, at least let him have the odd game off.

Maybe I’m over-simplifying, but something has to give.

Full-backs

Yes, I’m back on message — sorry to the many Kieran Trippier and Ben Davies fans out there.

We have a major problem at full-back. We’ve gone from having the best two in the Premier League two seasons ago, to making tactical decisions based upon covering the weaknesses of our current incumbents. And part of the issue is that they are sort of opposites.

I would be a fool to still not accept that Trippier adds value offensively. It may not be to my taste — i.e. I’m a staunch believer that crossing is overrated, and particularly the type of crossing that Trippier does — but he is very, very good at it. He’s also very good at passing a football. But he’s a bad defender, he’s a bad fit for the style of football that Pochettino had us playing at our best. James Yorke‘s piece for Stats Bomb — Tottenham’s Defensive Issues: Fixing the Right Side — does a great job at illustrating some of the issues, but the problem has now become a stylistic and systematic one.

Because Trippier is not a good defender Pochettino sometimes wants to play three at the back to support him. In playing three at the back, we’re taking out a potential attacking midfielder who can run with the ball to add in another centre-back. Trippier cannot run with the ball. He’s 11th in our squad so far this season for dribbles per 90 minutes. Jan Vertonghen is ahead of him. This creates a problem; the ball frequently ends up funnelled out wide to Trippier, and unless he is already high up the pitch and can put a cross in (we have poor cross completion, and often this leads to a turnover), or has a passing option up the line (he’s very good at delivering these types of passes), the ball frequently goes right back (geddit?) to where it has come from and we struggle to progress.

The same can be said of the left-hand side, where Ben Davies is struggling to recreate the good patch of form he had at the beginning of last season. Davies’ strengths at that point were his ability to marry reliably solid defending with well-timed bursts forward which culminated in two goals and two assists in his first six league appearances. Regrettably Davies’ regression has coincided with Danny Rose’s regression. Spurs should have sold Rose when he sold his story. Alas, we’re a year on and from his perspective his bargaining position with his wages has deteriorated and from our perspective, his transfer value has plummeted. Rose is — as with Dembélé — a shadow of his former self.

There are a lot of things we could have done to mitigate all of this:

– Sold Rose in any of the three windows after his comments.
– Bought a left-back. Pochettino has a great relationship with Luke Shaw, who was unhappy at United. In many ways that seemed a no-brainer.
– Upgraded our right-backs in some way: either through properly integrating Kyle Walker-Peters (if he is deemed good enough) or by signing a player more suited  to Pochettino’s best system than Serge Aurier and/or Kieran Trippier. 24-year old Ricardo Perreira (more than double Trippier’s dribbles p90) at €25million looks a real coup for Leicester, for example.

There are things we could do to improve the situation:

– We could play Kyle Walker-Peters or Serge Aurier at right-back. Aurier can run with the ball — and did a fine job of it against Inter Milan, creating chances consistently with his bursts towards the by-line.
– We could only use Trippier solely as a wing-back, but we *must* play someone who can carry the ball and hit the line (and cut the ball back) elsewhere in the side to compensate for his lack of dribbling.
– Try to find a way to nurture Rose back to his previous form, or play Kyle Walker-Peters at left-back.

So, having written the above I’ve just spotted that my mate Nathan A Clark highlighted the *exact same three issues* in his preview piece Brighton vs Tottenham: Snuffing out or just stuttering? I take this as reassurance that I’m on the right track, because Nath is great. But we do talk football together a fair bit so maybe this is an echo chamber effect. Hopefully I’ve put a slightly different slant on this to Nathan, so I hope you’ve enjoyed this despite the repetition.

If you want to do some more reading on this gloomy Friday, here are some great pieces I’ve read about Spurs this week:

Michael CaleySpurs’ midfield changes, plus lack of chances for Kane, are behind their three straight losses
– Mark (Spurs Fanatic): Inter 2-1 Tottenham: space around the six
Seb Stafford-Bloor: Something is amiss with Harry Kane – but it’s not all his own doing
Jack Pitt-Brooke: No pain, no gain for Harry Winks as Mauricio Pochettino looks to get the best out of Tottenham
– Dave Tickner (Football 365): Tottenham: Five reasons to be cheerful
Nathan A Clark: Brighton vs Tottenham: Snuffing out or just stuttering?

And here’s the piece I mentioned earlier that I wrote for Football.London post-Liverpool: Spurs players were not up to the task against Liverpool, but Pochettino’s tactics did not help

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  • Zachary T. says:

    Great article as ever, Windy. I agree on all points, and I’m worried that we’re finally hitting the wall of how far Poch can take us, given his stubbornness re: Kane, tactics, the fullbacks, etc.

    • Tommy says:

      Are you for real Zach? he has had no backing at all from Levy and thats all you can come out with! put pep, Mourinho or Klopp in as Spurs manager and see them flop too with no backing of new players! they have had millions spent on their squads! Poch is preforming miracles with no budget look at the big picture! so naive your comment is!

  • LXI_Martin says:

    Unusually, I think all this misses the point.

    Form is fickle, but We were better than Inter until Poch made silly substitutions. Hopefully he won’t do that again.

  • HG says:

    i think it’s clear that 4231 is the way to go, with full backs who defend first and attack when they can (no matter which full back is playing).

    it will mean selection headaches, but it also gives the most chance for proper rotation/rest given to the players.

    i love the idea of having various formations that we’re comfortable with, and then using them when necessary, but to have that when you only have 15 or 16 players that you really trust is stupid.

    either trust more members of your squad, or stick to one formation for a period of time.

    considering Poch is very much a ‘system’ manager, and has shown no desire to trust anyone outside of his core group, then he just needs to stick to one style of playing.

    also…Pereira looks absolutely amazing. ever since they wasted £30m on Slimani, Leicester’s transfer business has been very shrewd.

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