August 10, 2018
Dear Mr Levy,
No wait, that’s that other bloke.
As Mauricio Pochettino delivered a staggeringly philosophical press conference yesterday, which moved between the ever-so-slightly sanctimonious and pure, glorious serenity, some of the cracks of the transfer window were smoothed over. He’s wonderful in these situations; a true company man, protecting his team, his boss and himself with pragmatism, the odd joke, plenty of smiles and a warmth rarely seen in such arenas.
Spurs only have themselves to blame for this mess — if, indeed, it is one; I’ll come back to that — which began two years ago when we signed Vincent Janssen, Georges-Kévin N’Koudou and Moussa Sissoko, three players we’ve presumably been looking to shift in every window since.
We have a squad bloated with problems — some players are not good enough, some want to leave — and Pochettino’s ‘We didn’t sell players and with 25 players in the squad it is difficult to add players.’ comment pretty much explains that it is difficult to do ‘in’ business without first doing ‘out’ business.
The plan over the next few weeks needs to be to find loan takers for some of those players that we ultimately want to flog and those players that are ultimately going to potentially cause unrest. Which is, I presume, why we’re talking to Schalke about a loan move for Danny Rose.
Within the bloat, however, is a core of excellence. Our first fourteen or fifteen players are a match for nearly any other side in the league, and comfortably top four worthy. The rest? Well, we have to make it work. Pochettino’s brilliance comes in his ability to improve. To squeeze extra from a starting point which doesn’t seem to have any slack. Every year we see growth from within the squad; last year it was Kieran Trippier and Ben Davies, this year someone else will step up, that’s simply inevitable with a coach as good as ours.
There is untapped potential there too, some of which we’ve seen in pre-season (Oliver Skipp, Luke Amos, et al) and some of which we haven’t (Josh Onomah and, whisper it quietly, Marcus Edwards). Many fans have given up on Onomah and Edwards, but if we can harness that talent, the upside is huge. Onomah can do some of the things that our long-term target, Jack Grealish, can do, possessing both the ability to drive with the ball from central midfield and to pass the ball effectively, illustrated by the fact that he was statistically one of the best progressive passers in the Championship last season:
This is @footballfactman's model's best progressive passers from midfield areas this season in the Championship – good to see Onomah so high up the list and in good company with Neves and Maddison (amongst others). #THFC #COYS pic.twitter.com/gR150r2yf3
— Chris Miller (@WindyCOYS) May 30, 2018
— Chris Miller (@WindyCOYS) April 14, 2018
Edwards has had well-documented problems — before and during his loan spell at Norwich, but all need not be lost and a clean slate and change of approach from both club and player could finally see both benefit. Perhaps I’m deluded and both will be on loan by September.
— New York Spurs (@NYSpurs) September 22, 2016
But I do think this window has been a mess. I think Daniel Levy has failed in this window, as he did in August 2016, as he did in January 2017, as he largely did in August 2017 and as he did in January 2018. But the failing, in my opinion, is in not putting an appropriate structure in place as much as being one of (lack of) ambition or his famed negotiation tactics. He invites pressure onto himself by being so closely involved in the process, and by not having recruitment experts on hand to do what he cannot.
We accept that Spurs cannot match the spending power of other Premier League clubs with bottomless pits of cash — certainly not having just spent a billion quid on a stadium, and certainly not until we are at a point where we can stretch our wage structure (after a year of increased match-day revenue, perhaps). So we need to be canny, we need to dig that bit deeper, we need to use other methods to identify players. It all seemed to be going so well with the (albeit short-lived) appointment of Paul Mitchell, his black box, a new analytics team, and an increased focus on using ‘modern’ methods to recruit, rather than relying on word of mouth and ‘the eye test’. This has not yielded results.
As I’ve spoken about on The Extra Inch, my biggest hope for this window was that Spurs had got their act together and would act early to secure targets which may be a little under the radar, making the deals that bit easier to do. Pochettino’s pre-World Cup comments implied that the intention was to do business early, to have signings available for pre-season. Clearly, our inability to sell has inhibited our ability to buy, and we have to consider that in future windows. Perhaps we need to accept less. Or better, to not buy trash in the first place.
I hope that this will lead to a change in approach. Where a signing is simply squad fodder, let’s promote from within instead. Let’s utilise the talent already at the club to fill those squad places. This has multiple benefits, but the main two being the savings in outlay (of course), which frees up funds to genuinely improve the first team, but also creates the sense of a progression route being in place from the Academy, which will hopefully put an end to us shedding our top talent in the way that we have over the past two years.
Another young Spur flies the nest. So far this summer we’ve lost our best U15 (Forson), best first year academy prospect (Madueke), one of our best U23s from last season (Bennetts) & one of our best U18s who outscored everyone else in the league by a distance (Griffiths). https://t.co/5G58AyBpdL
— Chris Miller (@WindyCOYS) August 1, 2018
It is clear to any sensible observers that Spurs have basically stood still this summer whilst, at least on the surface, those around us have improved. The window has been a disaster in many ways, but the disaster is within context and — just as importantly — is containable.
Even having signed nobody, we probably have the fourth best squad in the league, and we probably have the second best manager in the league. A manager capable of over-achieving, and so third place again would be no great surprise to anybody.
We are short on fit first teamers for now, sure, but we have a relatively ‘easy’ (with the caveat that ‘there are no easy games in the Premier League) start to the season that will hopefully allow us time to get players fit before we play United.
The positivity that the new stadium will bring can provide the same bounce as a new signing and whilst we might be left wondering what might have been had we strengthened, I still foresee a positive season for Spurs, and hopefully this will be the year that we finally bring a trophy home.
On a personal level, I have negotiated flexible working for the next few months which will give me a little more time to write, to podcast, and to engage more generally, and I can’t wait for the season to get going.
July 21, 2018
With the transfer window closing at 17:00 on Thursday 9th August, there are fewer than 19 days left on which to do business. At the end of the window 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 (HGP) is defined as follows:
An HGP means a player who, irrespective of nationality or age, has been registered with any club affiliated to The Football Association or the Football Association of Wales for a period, continuous or not, of three entire seasons, or 36 months, before his 21st birthday (or the end of the season during which he turns 21). – Source: Premier League
We do not need to name players who are under 21 on our squad list; for the 2018/19 campaign, players considered ‘under 21’ will have been born on or after 1st January 1997.
Since the beginning of last season we have added one non-home grown player in Lucas Moura.
Also, since last season, Harry Winks, Connor Ogilvie, Dele Alli and Davinson Sánchez have all passed the age threshold and will need to be named in the squad, whereas last year they could all simply be included in our list of under-21 players.
Our ‘named’ 25-man squad might consist of the following (* = home grown player):
NB: there are only 24 players and Georges-Kévin N’Koudou has been left out in this example, as we only have seven home grown players over 21.
Of course, we are then able to select any players who were born on or after 1st January 1997 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.
Jonathan De Bie
As it stands, we have 25 players over 21 and not all of them can be named on our Premier League squad list, as only seven of them are home grown players. This means that we have ‘squad space’ for one more grown player, but no space for more non-home grown players without first removing one.
From next year (2019/20), Luke Amos, Anthony Georgiou, Kyle Walker-Peters, Josh Onomah, Shayon Harrison, Tom Glover, and Cameron Carter Vickers would need to be named on our squad list should we wish to use them as they were all born before 1st January 1998. The fact that all seven of these are considered home grown is useful, though I would suspect that some of them will be permanently transferred before the start of next season.
That’s the facts dealt with; now some commentary on the above. Firstly, a number of players listed in my example squad list are seen as expendable (Vincent Janssen, Fernando Llorente, Moussa Sissoko, Connor Ogilvie*), but rumours suggest that we are struggling to sell unwanted players and, indeed, only have loan offers on the table for Janssen, Sissoko and Nkoudou. Alderweireld, Rose and Dembélé were expected to leave, but all has currently gone quiet.
The state of the squad – bloated with a lot of deadwood – points towards an at-least-partially unsuccessful transfer policy, and helps to explain in part why our summer has been quiet so far. Mauricio Pochettino likes to work with a small squad, but is also presumably acutely aware that being left with players that cannot be listed in the Premier League squad is not an efficient use of his wage budget. In essence: we need to sell before we can buy.
Also: Jack Grealish makes total sense. Central midfield is a problem position, with Harry Winks needing to prove his fitness and Mousa Dembélé 1. visibly declining and 2. rumoured to be leaving. As a homegrown player, we could add Grealish to the squad without having to sell. He is not yet 23, covers some of the skills missing from the squad (driving runs forward, creative passing from deep-ish midfield) and is available for a reasonable price for various reasons.
Finally, we are being linked with wingers and I don’t really know why. We signed Lucas Moura in January, and are now looking pretty well-stocked for players who play wide in a 4-2-3-1 or 3-4-3, with Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli, Son Heung-min, Erik Lamela, and Lucas Moura all used in these roles (I’m assuming we will sell Moussa Sissoko and GK Nkoudou). One may argue that Christian Eriksen will be moved back into a three-man midfield this year, but that would then assume we would switch to a system (4-3-3?) that allows just three forwards, which you would have to assume would be Kane, Son, and Dele, with Lamela and Lucas as rotation options.
Another suggestion is that the wingers we are being linked with – Anthony Martial, Wilfried Zaha, Malcom – could cover Kane too. We have some reasonable squad cover for Kane through Son (and, I guess, Llorente if he stays), and Lamela showed potential as a false nine last season if we were short. Essentially, I personally think funds are better spent elsewhere in this team unless Pochettino has given up on Lucas already (which would seem hasty).
The good news is that the World Cup and lack of signings means that young players will get opportunities on the pre-season tour, and will have a chance to impress Pochettino; this could ultimately lead to some squad gaps being filled from within. Cynically, I think it’s a problem that our young players tend to only get a chance when we are down to the bare bones, but that’s another article. Walker-Peters, Onomah and Amos are all now 21 and probably need to make decisions about their long-term futures, or will risk becoming versions of Ruben Loftus-Cheek (just 2,442 Premier League minutes – the equivalent of 27 matches – at the age of 22 despite having such ability). Perhaps this was the long-term plan all along, and Pochettino has timed it perfectly.
May 18, 2018
This has been a season of consolidation. In the league we’ve finished higher than expected. Pre-season predictions generally suggested that Spurs would finish anywhere from 4th – 6th, particularly given the Wembley factor. The cups were, yet again, a case of what might have been. The League Cup exit to West Ham — having been 2-0 up — was one of the low points of the season. The FA Cup semi-final defeat to Manchester United felt painfully inevitable. And the Champions League exit to Juventus came on a day where expectations were relatively low, but was a bitter pill to swallow because the match had been going so well. The Champions League campaign on the whole was one of which we can be proud; some historic moments, some wonderful atmospheres, and Harry Winks’ coming of age at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium.
Mauricio Pochettino has, yet again, overseen improvements in individual players to levels not previously thought possible. I’m particularly looking at Ben Davies, who has come on significantly. Previously thought a mediocre back-up, Davies is now an important squad member who has made 38 appearances in all competitions, scoring twice and getting six assists too.
Other than Davies, we’ve seen big improvements elsewhere, even from players who were previously already established. Christian Eriksen has gone up another notch, and is now arguably, along with Harry Kane, our best player. I voted for him as Player of the Season, such is his importance, his influence. When he’s not there, we are infinitely slower and less able to create. He could play for any club in the world, and I would personally be making him captain or vice-captain (I do like a captain in the middle of the pitch…) in an attempt to convince him to stick around longer.
Son Heung-min has become near enough elite. He managed 18 goals and 11 assists in 53 appearances in all competitions, at a rate of a goal or assist every 116.5 minutes, which is quite brilliant. He showed his versatility again too, playing from the left, from the right and through the middle, covering for Kane when necessary. Next season we need to learn when to take him out and give him a breather, as he seemed totally exhausted by the season’s end, though finishing the season with an injury didn’t help.
Jan Vertonghen has been immense. With Toby Alderweireld absent for long periods, we have been somewhat reliant on Vertonghen to marshal our defence, nurturing new boy Davinson Sanchez in the process. Sanchez’s first season has been unbelievably impressive — he is a mega-talent — and I am sure that he would say that the reliability and quality of Vertonghen alongside him has been a great help and has allowed him to bed in smoothly. Vertonghen has always been a lovely player; his quality on the ball often out-shone his defending in his early years at Spurs. But he has become more robust over time, his decision-making is 99% perfect, and he still steps out from defence like few other players in the Premier League, swaggering forward in a fashion that says ‘I could play anywhere, but I choose to play at the back’. I did notice towards the end of the season that Vertonghen started to look a little creaky on the turn when we played a particularly high line, and I wonder if — at the ripe old age of 31 (lol) — we may find that he needs our back line to start a few yards deeper over time.
Mauricio Pochettino’s post-season comments regarding the direction of travel at the club were fascinating, two comments stood out in particular:
“I think it’s a moment where the club needs to take risks and try to work, if possible, harder than the previous season to be competitive again because every season will be worse and will be more difficult.”
“I think after four years we need to assess this period and if we want to play and be really contenders for big, big trophies, I think we need to review a little bit. It’s fantastic today all that we achieved, but it will be so important to create again, assess all that has happened and create a different, not project, but add different ideas to help the club to move on and be closer to winning titles in the next few years.”
I think there are two key points to take from this. Firstly, Pochettino is clearly urging Levy to take a slight change in approach, to be a little less risk-averse. And secondly, and possibly more specifically, to make some fairly significant changes to the squad.
It is likely that there will be a number of players leaving the club in the summer, most notably Toby Alderweireld. I foolishly convinced myself that the ITK was true and that there were some off-pitch issues surrounding him not playing, but it seems clear that he will leave in the hunt for trophies and market-value wages. Danny Rose may have back-tracked on his comments of last summer, but I wonder whether that’s mainly because his stock has fallen somewhat. In hindsight we should have sold him at his peak value, and we may end up hanging onto him despite everything — I cannot see why we would sell to Everton, who seem to be the only interested party now. Mousa Dembélé’s body has finally given up on him and, after years of carefully managing his schedule to maximise him, his performances have begun to dip. He had some real highs this season — particularly in Europe — but he had several really rough games too, and he now seems destined to move to China. He’s approaching 31, but I would say that he’s an ‘old’ 31 due to his niggling hip injuries, so I don’t begrudge him moving for that one last, big pay-day. One would have to imagine that Fernando Llorente, Moussa Sissoko and Vincent Janssen will all leave, and all have to be seen as transfer failures. I cannot see that we would recoup anything like what we paid, but between them they will be on big money, and that saving will be useful.
That is five or six players and all would probably need replacing in some way, adding up to arguably more major surgery than we have done under Pochettino than at any point other than his first season, so his comments were particularly timely.
We have another area of weakness which would be fairly easy to upgrade, but it’s problematic. Kieran Trippier is a good, solid player who has a skill set which is not suited to the way that we play. He is all about holding his position in the opposition half, receiving the ball and delivering early crosses for onrushing players. Crossing is an incredibly inefficient way of scoring goals, and our style requires someone who is able to carry the ball forward at pace, get his 10-20 yards up the pitch, and then ether hit the byline and play cut-backs, or lay the ball off for our attacking midfielders to probe centrally; i.e. exactly what Kyle Walker was so good at. Serge Aurier shows signs of having some potential to do elements of this, but there remain concerns over his rashness in defence, and his ability to beat a man. Certainly he is more agile and dynamic than Trippier, able to shift his weight more quickly and launch us from defence into attack more naturally, but he will require a lot of moulding from Pochettino to become a success. Then we have Kyle Walker-Peters. Two Premier League matches, two Man of the Match awards. If I’d had my way, he would have been fully integrated over the past two years and we might not have needed to sign Aurier, but we are where we are. Walker-Peters has all the balance and dribbling ability to be a success, plus the recovery pace to allow him to play further forward. In my opinion he is a far more natural fit for our 3-4-3 than either of the alternatives. We have been at our very best under Pochettino with two high quality, in-form wing-backs and, as such, my personal preference would be to sell Trippier (who is approaching 28) *and* Aurier (who I think will require rather a lot of fine-tuning), to sign a high calibre right-back (I rather fancied Porto’s Ricardo Pereira, but it seems that Leicester have got in there first), and to use Walker-Peters as rotation. My gut feel is that we will start the season with all three of our current right-backs, and I just hope that Walker-Peters has the opportunities to make the position his own.
Normally a club will go into the summer with a couple of key areas to strengthen, but this time around we will likely require reinforcements in almost every area of the pitch, and that includes goalkeeper with Michel Vorm coming to the end of his contract and expected to move on. Some of these squad spaces could be filled by young players *prepares self for rant*.
Spurs have sold Keanan Bennetts to Borussia Mönchengladbach this week, amidst talk that Reo Griffiths — scorer of 32 goals in the Under-18 league this season, twice as many as anyone else — may also move on, and may also move abroad. The loss of Bennetts and potential loss of Griffiths follows a trend of us selling talented young players to German clubs – Milos Velkovic, Ismail Azzaoui and, of course, Nabil Bentaleb all followed that course. Bentaleb would likely get in our current matchday squad. Veljkovic is going to be a high-class centre-back. Azzaoui has been unfortunate with injuries but has played 1000 minutes this season and is going to be worth a fair bit in the future. Veljkovic in particular is an interesting one, and his situation seemed to pre-empt what’s happening now. He wanted assurances that eventually he’d get first team football, but Spurs wouldn’t give him those until he signed a contract. The stand-off intensified and he joined Werder Bremen for a token gesture fee in February 2016. He will be in the Serbia squad for the World Cup. He’s a ball-playing centre-back who would have been ideal for us in the long-term, but we would not compromise.
Had Bennetts been on the bench for a couple of League Cup matches earlier in the season he’d probably feel integrated and like he wanted to stick around. Heck, he could have been used at left wing-back when Walker-Peters (a very right-footed full-back) was having to fill in there — he’s certainly physically ready, and he has the pace to scare opposition defenders. Had he played, he’d have suddenly been worth £3/4/5m and, had he done well he’d have been worth double that, perhaps more. Not all youth players are going to become first team players but we should maximise profit. So even from the ‘our Academy players aren’t good enough for the first team’ perspective, it’s worth giving them *some* minutes just to add value. Ultimately he’s a player that will likely be worth multiple millions one day, so even if you don’t think he’ll be first team material, we could have at least built his value up with strategic first team involvement and loans.
Spurs losing young players is not confined to scholars and above — last season we lost Nya Kirby to Crystal Palace at 16, and this year it seems Noni Madueke will be joining Manchester United as a scholar. These two are big talents and, whilst it’s not unusual for 16-year olds to change clubs before their scholarships, it does make you wonder why potential stars would leave our wonderful training centre, and the lack of progression opportunities may be one reason.
As a whole, Premier League teams are failing to bring through talented young players (England are strong across the board from Under-16 to Under-21), instead choosing to spend millions on (often sub-standard) players from abroad. German clubs have now identified that within English academies there’s an untapped pool of top class technical talent, available cheaply and willing to move for first team football.
We’ve seen players like Ademola Lookman, Reece Oxford, Jadon Sancho make the move, and they are rumoured to soon be followed by Rhian Brewster, and now Bennetts and potentially Griffiths. If I was a Sporting Director at a European club I’d be all over the English market, there’s so much talent — and it’s a money-ball dream because all they need is opportunity and suddenly they’re worth a fortune!
Spurs need to develop a coherent plan for bringing players from Academy to first team, as that is currently failing. We’ve built an incredible training complex, have elite coaches at various age groups, and are producing excellent Under-18 players (the team finished 4th this season behind some very good sides). But it seems to stop after that, and there’s a lot of work to do with the Under-23s, with the loans, and with the link to the first team. Let’s hope that next season we can develop a plan for bringing young players through to our first team squad to back-fill, save us some money, and to hopefully develop the next Kane, Winks or Walker-Peters.
So onto next season. If this season has been one of consolidation, next season appears set up to be one of transition. We will likely have a number of key positions to fill and will also have a reduced pre-season due to the World Cup hampering preparations. We will have our third home stadium in as many years and so new routines, a new pitch and a new atmosphere. Pochettino will, more than ever, have to get a new group up to speed efficiently, and will be reliant on some of his key players to carry the weight initially. We could do without Harry Kane blanking in August, for example, and we could also do without too many coming back from the World Cup with burn-out.
This is possibly Pochettino’s biggest challenge yet, and he will be judged by the summer transfer business, since he now has more control at the club.
Looking at his transfer business to date (below – taken from the legendary Topspurs), I would suggest, perhaps generously, that there are eight hits, eight misses, and six maybes. That ratio could do with tweaking, and I think that explains his recent comments about a change of approach.
|2017/18||Lucas Moura||Paris Saint-Germain||Jan-18||£25,000,000|
|2017/18||Fernando Llorente||Swansea City||Aug-17||£12,000,000|
|2017/18||Serge Aurier||Paris Saint-Germain||Aug-17||£23,000,000|
|2017/18||Davinson Sanchez||Ajax Amsterdam||Aug-17||£42,000,000|
|2016/17||Vincent Janssen||AZ Alkmaar||Jul-16||£17,000,000|
|2015/16||Son Heung-min||Bayer Leverkusen||Aug-15||£22,000,000|
|2015/16||Toby Alderweireld||Atlético Madrid||Jul-15||£11,500,000|
|2015/16||Clinton N’Jie||Olympique Lyonnais||Aug-15||£8,300,000|
|2015/16||Kevin Wimmer||FC Köln||Jun-15||£4,300,000|
|2014/15||Dele Alli||Milton Keys Dons||Feb-15||£5,000,000|
|2014/15||DeAndre Yedlin||Seattle Sounders||Aug-14||£2,500,000|
|2014/15||Eric Dier||Sporting Lisbon||Jul-14||£4,000,000|
|2014/15||Ben Davies||Swansea City||Jul-14||Part-Ex|
|2014/15||Michel Vorm||Swansea City||Jul-14||£5,000,000|
As ever, fans will be desperate for a cup triumph, and perhaps some lessons will have been learned this year, though frankly I feel as though I’ve said that before. The team selection against Manchester United — with Alderweireld and Lloris on the bench — was certainly questionable.
We have some major surgery to do this summer, but the potential is great, with some wonderful players throughout the spine of our team. Do this right, and we can challenge on all fronts. Get it wrong, and we could find ourselves taking a backwards step.
March 8, 2018
Having completed so much of the hard work on Wednesday night, Spurs were sadly unable to see out a tie which we largely dominated across two legs. Ultimately we had 23 minutes to see out, but our wily opponents out foxed us and did enough to scrape through – which you could say is somewhat typical of them.
Juventus’ tactical switch on 60 minutes arguably made all the difference. Kwadwo Asamoah came on for Blaise Matuidi, with Juventus switching to a back four and Alex Sandro suddenly having greater support on the left. Max Allegri perhaps got slightly fortuitous with the next change moments later – his hand was somewhat forced with Medhi Benatia’s injury, but rather than bringing on Daniele Rugani to replace him like-for-like as a centre-back, he brought on veteran Stephan Lichtsteiner to play as an attacking right-back, shifting 36-year old Andrea Barzagli inside. The shape change created their first goal — and arguably their second.
Lichtsteiner had been on the pitch a matter of moments when he burst forward to support a Juve attack, immediately giving Ben Davies a problem with an overload on our left.
Davies did not have any real support and Lichtsteiner was easily able to get down the line and put a cross in.
The cross came in, Davinson Sanchez spotted Sami Khedira but couldn’t challenge him in time, and he flicked the ball on intelligently.
Neither Kieran Trippier nor Christian Eriksen followed Gonzalo Higuaín and he was left with a tap-in at the back post.
Spurs had seven defenders against four attackers in the box, and so to concede in this manner was disappointing – we can be vulnerable from crosses due to similar disorganisation, and it is one area where we could tighten up. When you play with attacking full-backs, covering at the back post is not easy, but this goal was very preventable.
Pochettino didn’t react to the tactical/personnel changes when they happened, but nor did he/we sort ourselves out from the restart. With Spurs’ back four suddenly having to be very wary of Juventus’ increased wide threat and, therefore, spread across the pitch and vulnerable, Juventus mounted their next attack through the middle.
Ben Davies had dropped deeper due to the threat of the pace of Douglas Costa and added support from Lichtsteiner. The back line was suddenly not playing ‘as one’. Despite that, when Davinson Sanchez moved forward to press the ball, Trippier needed to cover round, tuck in, and stay with the forward.
With Trippier caught in two minds he failed to track Paulo Dybala. Instead, he tried to play offside, allowing Dybala to run through unchallenged: he finished the move beautifully.
On the night, Allegri outdid Pochettino in these few key moments. He largely kept things tight (though Harry Kane did make a mug of Giorgio Chiellini for his big chance, and it could have been so different had that landed the other side of the post), restricting Mousa Dembélé with the extra body in midfield, and was able to turn the screw when it mattered, switching shape and adding additional support in wide areas through Asamoah and Lichtsteiner.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but Pochettino used to use Harry Winks as a player to come on and close out matches. Even without Winks on the bench, could we have brought Wanyama on when that first goal went in to steady the ship and try to try to keep the ball for a few minutes? A midfield three might well have been able to prevent that second goal.
There is nobody in world football that I would want more than Pochettino as our manager right now, and this criticism is not meant as a definitive statement of Pochettino’s failure. In fact, this Champions League campaign can absolutely be seen as a great success, as we have punched above our weight throughout. Our approach across these two games was highly impressive, and this was never an easy tie. We were playing against some elite players with decades of experience and honours to go with it, and yet we played with energy, fluidity and were easy on the eye.
Ultimately what was lacking was a bit of nous at key moments to reorganise, adjust, and to hunker down when needed. Pochettino will have learnt bundles from this match, as will our players, and hopefully it will stand us in good stead should we qualify for the Champions League again next year.
Me at 19:45 yesterday: it's a free hit, zero expectations, Juve are an incredible team & we have no right to beat them, whatever happens happens, the players have done us proud regardless, it'd be nice to go through but it's not the end of the world if we don't.
Me this morning: pic.twitter.com/rrwNbdyBtT
— Chris Miller (@WindyCOYS) March 8, 2018
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.