It’s that time of the year again, where Tottenham Hotspur fans suffer the inevitable dip in their team’s form that happens at the most important time of the season. To add insult to injury, the final ten games of the season are typically where fierce rivals Arsenal enter into a rich vein of form, and this season is no different, with the Gunners taking maximum points from all of their eight Premier League games since facing Spurs themselves at White Hart Lane.
This weekend’s disappointing defeat at home to Aston Villa signalled the likely end of Tottenham’s quest for the coveted final Champions League spot – to make the top four now would surely require Tottenham to win all of their games and for Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City and Southampton all to experience a dramatic lapse in form.
Given the likely prospect that Tottenham will at best play Europa League football next season, and that position-wise they are currently worse-off than last season, it may be hard to justify why Tim Sherwood was sacked in place of Mauricio Pochettino.
Sherwood inherited a demoralised squad and brought some decent results to the club, and whilst the team didn’t exactly set the world alight, Sherwood did bring back proven goal-scorer Adebayor and get him scoring again, while changing to a more appealing, direct style of play than that seen under André Villas-Boas.
Retrospectively, it seems harsh that a manager who – as he famously proclaimed – has the best win ratio of any Tottenham manager, shouldn’t be given a chance to start a new season on his own terms.
On the other hand, there is evidence as to why Mauricio Pochettino was brought in, and why he is the better fit for Tottenham.
First and foremost, this has been a very hard season to get fourth place – Chelsea, Manchester United, City, Arsenal and Southampton have all improved in some way since last season, which has obviously made it even harder for Spurs to reach the top four berths – and given Spurs not bringing in any game changers in the transfer windows, it would take a miracle with the relatively average squad they have to achieve any higher than fifth in this season.
Not by much, but the Spurs defence seemed to improve under Pochettino at the start of this season, however the self-destructive nature that was the main undoing of Spurs’ defence last season has since returned, and Spurs have now let in more league goals than any other team in the top 12 positions, and are on course to let in more goals over this season than last.
Pochettino has introduced home-grown players such as Mason and Kane as integral parts of the team and has kept the average age of the squad at the lowest in the Premier League and one of the lowest in all of Europe’s top leagues. He has to take at least some responsibility for the development of Danny Rose as a footballer over the past season who’s come from a sporadic left back to a real force on the left side, keeping the great prospect that is Ben Davies out of the team, and even earning himself an England call-up.
Vertonghen, for the main part has looked far more like his imperious self, boasting that fine blend of power and class, and Hugo Lloris has typically been outstanding – which presumably isn’t down to Pochettino’s coaching as such, more-so to the exceptional talent the French captain possesses.
Christian Eriksen has shown his class on a semi-regular basis, popping up with important goals and assists, notably his efforts in the League Cup semi-final against Sheffield United. However a problem with the modern-day creative midfielder or ‘trequartista’ is a lack of consistency, exemplified by no less than Özil, Silva, and Mata to name a few, and Eriksen is no different – for him to really show his great capabilities in the Premier League, he needs to work on his consistency.
Spurs have had far more ‘exciting’ games this year, considering all the games won in the last minute through Christian Eriksen or Harry Kane for example, alongside the memorable 2-1 victory over Arsenal or the 5-3 masterclass over league leaders Chelsea.
The aggressive, high pressing style of play is definitely easier on the eye than that of AVB’s (and to an extent Tim Sherwood’s) dour, defensive approach, and far more late goals are seen, due to the athletic state the players have to be in, in order to cope in such a system.
Finally, who’s to forget the sensational Harry Kane, who has surprised everyone this season with the sheer number of goals scored – if he can carry this goal-scoring form into next season, we could well see Spurs with a top notch striker, something which they haven’t really had for a long time.
The real failure of Tottenham Hotspur however, is that every season they fail to bring a number of top quality signings into the team – as we saw last season and this season, very few of the signings brought in have made a difference. If the club seriously has any hope of reaching the Champions League again, Levy needs to buy quality, not just bargain buys and future prospects.
Obviously, Pochettino has a policy of allowing youth players to shine in the squad, which is great to break in potential talent, but it would be foolish to expect miracles straight away, such a developmental process takes time.
The outcome of this season is now irrelevant for the North Londoners, what Pochettino can do now is build on these good foundations of a team with quality signings in the summer, and then finally next season we can see a serious top four bid from Tottenham Hotspur.