It’s a tough time to be a Spurs fan, especially after the dizzy heights of reaching their first-ever Champions League final last season. The last three weeks have seen them go 2-0 up in Olympiakos only to be pegged back to 2-2, a result that could yet hurt them. That was followed by a 2-1 loss at Leicester in the league, a humiliating exit from the Carabao Cup at the hands of Colchester, 7-2 home drubbing at the hands of Bayern Munich and a 3-0 loss at Brighton last weekend. A match that also saw them lose their keeper and captain Hugo Lloris to an injury that will keep him out of action for months.
The only respite during this period came in the form of a 2-1 win at home to Southampton where they did well to win given they played the whole of the second half with ten men after Serge Aurier was sent off.
They’re still short odds-on to make it to the Champions League Last 16 but are sitting down in ninth in the league table and are already out of one of the two domestic Cups. So how did it come to this?
Key Men Underperforming
If you were to name Spurs’ key men over the past three seasons or so, they’d be: Lloris, Jan Vertonghen, Christian Eriksen, Heung-Min Son and Harry Kane.
Lloris has been poor. He was guilty of a childish howler at home to Southampton, displaying a ridiculously casual approach to clearing a simple ball that was down to over-confidence. As for the Bayern game, some of those goals came from fine strikes but had it been, say, Ederson or Jordan Pickford in goal, would they have conceded seven? He did also admittedly make some fine saves in that Southampton match but it’s now just two clean sheets from 11 matches and for that he has to carry a fair share of the blame.
Vertonghen hasn’t been his dominant self while Eriksen’s own poor form can be linked with the summer’s on-off transfer, where Real Madrid were interested in his services and he in them as a potential employer. He clearly felt his time was up at the club and is yet to sign a new contract. Had they sold him they would have solved the problem there and then, losing a fine player but getting a decent fee for him they could re-invest. And had they told him from the off that he wasn’t leaving, at least the issue would have been put to bed that way as well. Instead, the Dane was left in limbo and when he eventually realized he was staying put, he was upset and unsettled and his form suffered.
Son’s case was a little different. Sent off at the back end of last season, he had to sit out the first two league games through suspension. He since scored two at home to Palace and the first in that 2-2 draw at Olympiakos but he hasn’t looked the usual livewire and goal-threat of previous seasons.
As for Kane, he’s notoriously a slow starter to the new season and tends to reach his best form come October. But despite being a regular scorer throughout September including scoring in four matches in a row for Spurs, he hasn’t been quite the game-changer we expect of him these days. But he’s probably been the less guilty of the five in terms of under-performing.
Right-back a problem all season
If the form of his five-star men have been a problem for Pochettino, then the right-back position has been a problem in its own right.
Last season it was England man Kieran Trippier who mostly played there but despite putting in some decent performances particularly in terms of going forward, he was also at fault in a few important games and inconsistent as a whole. When Atletico Madrid came calling and bid £20million, Spurs thought they were getting a pretty fair price for a 29-year-old who had since fallen out of favour with England. Trippier fancied the move as a way of bettering himself as a player under the famously intense management of Diego Simeone and has been excellent so far for the Spanish club.
The plan was to rely on the powerful, all-action Serge Aurier to make the position his own. But the Ivorian reminded us all of his erratic side when being the man sent off in that Southampton game and the fact that former Arsenal forward Serge Gnabry, the man he was marking against Bayern, scored four in the match tells you all you need to know about his performance on that fateful night.
Much is expected of youngster Kyle-Walker Peters but he’s featured just four times this season while experiments to play Davinson Sanchez and Mo Sissoko out of position in that role haven’t really worked out, either. Hindsight is a fine thing but should they have sold Trippier?
Has Pochettino Run his Race?
Well, that’s enough about the players but what Pochettino himself?
It seems he was keen to have sold more players he wasn’t counting on in exchange for some fresh blood coming in but with Daniel Levy in charge of all transfer activity as per-usual, the matter was out of his hands. The one big-name player who arrived, Tanguy Ndomblele, has been highly impressive but perhaps his frustration at the lack of change in his squad spilled over to the players who don’t seem to be responding as they have in the past.
He’s seemed a little more negative about Spurs’ prospects than usual and at times openly critical of his team’s performances, if not that of individuals. He’s certainly not without blame.
What next for Spurs?
So, it seems like the successful cycle may be coming to an end in terms of both the manager and some of the players. Fine, but they’ve still got a big eight months ahead of them.
The absolute minimum expected would be to finish in the Top Four again, a job made easier by the struggles of Manchester United and the transfer ban imposed on Chelsea. Check out the Premier League odds on them managing to do that.
Pochettino is currently the favourite to be the next Premier League manager to leave his job but that would surely be a mistake. The smart move would be for him to see out the season and for the Spurs’ hierarchy to use the next few months to work out who should replace him, if it comes to that.
In the meanwhile, he’ll need to make a few changes. One could be to revert to the 3-4-3 he’s used in the past with some success. In Vertonghen, Sanchez and Toby Alderweireld he has three quality centre-backs while Aurier and Danny Rose/Ben Davies are suited to playing as wing-backs.
He may also have to make some tough calls in terms of who plays. If Eriksen’s form doesn’t improve then he might think about playing Erik Lamela more often. Lucas Moura has been underused as Pochettino has preferred his ‘old favourites’ but maybe he deserves more of a chance. As does Ryan Sessegnon when he’s finally fit.
So plenty for Spurs fans to think about and indeed plenty to worry about. The next few months will be a true test of the mental strength, determination and stomach for the fight for everyone at the club.