Monthly Archives: October 2015

#FreeOnomah: Is a lack of action holding back the latest Spurs prodigy?

onomah

From Google Images

In the 81st minute of Tottenham’s dismal Europa League defeat against Anderlecht on Thursday, Joshua Onomah trotted on in place of Andros Townsend.

Many fans on social media, myself included, welcomed Onomah’s introduction. Townsend, once again, had drifted through a game and offered no meaningful end-product. He had one shot at the end of the first half, which was wide, and from memory he didn’t create any chances. His presence shifted Erik Lamela to the left side, where he is less effective, and Townsend failed to offer sufficient defensive cover for Kieran Trippier, who endured another tricky Thursday night.

With Spurs down and showing little indication that they had any fight left in them, Onomah’s arrival seemed as much a statement by a visibly angry Mauricio Pochettino aimed at Townsend as it did a tactical move or part of a considered strategy to gradually ease Onomah into a first-team role. Still, Onomah became involved in the game and had one or two nice touches.

Meanwhile, Youri Tielemans, the FIFA/Football Manager wonderkid widely seen as the next Belgian prospect to be snapped up by a big European club, played an assured if quiet 90 minutes. He look technically excellent, though his impact on the game was limited. He was surpassed in midfield by the experienced Sebastian Defour and Leander “Clive” Dendoncker, a young defensive midfielder who was instrumental in Anderlecht seizing control of the game.

I couldn’t help but think of the comparison between Tielemans and Onomah. Nothing gets the teeth of English football fans gnashing like our inability to turn our talented youngsters into top-level performers. Spurs, rightly, receive praise for being better than most Premier League clubs at player development, but the Tielemans-Onomah comparison is a good illustration of how hard it can be.

Some basic facts. Tielemans and Onomah are both 18. They were born within two weeks of each other — Onomah on April 27, 1997, and Tielemans on May 7. Both are versatile midfielders. Onomah is an attacking midfielder who plays best behind a striker, but he can also play in the wider attacking midfield positions and, while it is early days, looks like he has the physical size to eventually play deeper. Tielemans is a central midfielder, who can play in a more advanced position like on Thursday, in a deeper role, or on the left side.

For club this season, Onomah has played nine minutes of competitive action for the first-team. He has also played one U21 game, going 90 minutes. Total: 99 minutes. *

In 2014/15, Onomah played in 17 U21 matches, and made one sub appearance (14 minutes) in the FA Cup. Total: 1,394 minutes.

In 2013/14, Onomah played in 3 U21 matches, for a total of 199 minutes.

Tielemans has played rather more. This season, he has appeared in 10 Jupiler League games and three times in the Europa League. totalling 920 minutes.

In 2014/15, Tielemans made 51 first-team appearances (including six in the Champions League), totalling 3,956 minutes.

In 2013/14, Tielemans made 35 first-team appearances, again playing in the Champions League, totalling 2,340 minutes.

In total, Tielemans has 7,216 minutes of first-team action for Anderlecht. He has played 93 times and scored 13 goals. By comparison, Onomah has just 23 minutes of first-team action for Spurs, or 1,692 minutes including U21 action.

That is a massive difference.

Sure, Onomah may be learning and improving all the time while he trains with Pochettino’s first-team squad. And yes, the Jupiler League may not be as strong as the Premier League (though that didn’t stop Anderlecht from giving Spurs a sound beating). But there is surely no substitute for actually playing — putting those things you learn into practice in a competitive match, no matter what level. For Onomah, 99 minutes by late October feels woefully short of what he would require.

Getting minutes for the first-team at Spurs is tough. Onomah is part of a clutch of players vying for three attacking midfield slots: Eriksen, Lamela, Son, Alli, Chadli, Dembele, Townsend, N’Jie and Pritchard (sadly injured). In the brutal, perma-crisis atmosphere of the Premier League, where you are only ever a few games away from being next for the sack, you can understand why even a manager like Pochettino is reluctant to give Onomah a chance ahead of more experienced options. There are only so many minutes you can set aside for development. At the moment, those minutes seem to be going to Clinton N’Jie.

A good comparison for Tielemans, in terms of getting good experience early in his career, is Christian Eriksen. Before the 2013/14 season when he joined Spurs, Eriksen played 157 times across four seasons for Ajax, totalling 11,654 minutes. Is there any wonder Eriksen arrived at Spurs, aged 21, looking like a complete player?

If Onomah isn’t getting playing time for the first team, and the U21 league isn’t providing sufficient opportunities, then he needs to be loaned out. Take Andros Townsend as an example of how this system can work: in five seasons before 2013/14, he played (with a couple of cup appearances for Spurs thrown in) a total of 118 games, for 9,061 minutes. That’s not as many minutes as Eriksen, and not at such a high level as Ajax, but then Townsend isn’t as good a player as Eriksen. Townsend returned to Spurs ready for his first-team role, and has had plenty of chances to stake a regular spot since then.

I’d add that ahead of Onomah in the Spurs pecking order is Dele Alli. Alli is just one year older than Onomah — he is also an April birthday — but is now a regular starter for Spurs and has played for England. Last season, Alli played 3,826 minutes for MK Dons, and the season before that he had 2,453 minutes.

If Onomah is going to get a chance, it is now. Son is injured for several more weeks, while Chadli and Pritchard are longer term absentees. N’Jie is more likely to be used to give Kane a breather up front, while Townsend is either in bad form or is showing that he is a limited player who has stalled out in terms of his development.

From what little I’ve seen of Onomah, and from everything I’ve read, he is about as good a prospect to come through the Spurs academy for a while. But we are very good at hyping prospects, so it is hard to know for sure.

Onomah may never be as good as Alli or Tielemans, and may be on a slower curve in terms of physical development. But, aged 18, he needs to be playing — and if it isn’t at Spurs, then there are plenty of Championship or League One clubs that would love to have him on loan.

It is time for the Joshua Onomah era begin, one way or another.

Or, to put it in Twitter-speak, #FreeOnomah.

Please follow me on Twitter for more random musing on Spurs and life. Handle is @spurs_report.

* All stats from the excellent TransferMarkt. Injury time not included from what I can make of it, so for example, Onomah played 12 minutes last night, but only nine minutes are accorded to him by the site. The site doesn’t have U18 data.

The curious history of the inaugural Premier League shirt sponsors

In the course of researching a piece on Spurs, I found myself looking through a list of Premier League clubs from the inaugural season in 1992/93.

Wikipedia also helpfully listed the shirt sponsors for this seminal vintage of English football. At first glance, it struck me as an interesting list from a historical point of view — a real statement of where we were as a nation and economy more than two decades ago. Likewise, with seven online gambling sponsors and seven sponsors of various types from Asia and the Middle East, the 2015/16 batch probably tells us a lot about where things stand now in England, too.

Just like some of the clubs — Wimbledon and Oldham Athletic, anyone? — the sponsors have suffered divergent fates since their logos adorned the shirts of the new English footballing elite of 1992/93. So where are they now? I decided to take a bit of time and have a look, for no particular reason other than that I can.

photo

From Daily Mail via Google Images

Arsenal — JVC

The Japanese TV and VHS pioneer was one of the longest running shirt sponsors, their red logo emblazoning Gunners shirts for 18 years. In 2008, JVC merged with home appliance maker Kenwood to form JVC Kenwood. The JVC brand remains alive, but has never quite hit the heights (insert Arsenal joke here).

Aston Villa — Mita Copiers

Mita Copiers was a brand of Mita Industrial, a Japanese photocopier manufacturer. Mita Industrial was acquired by Kyocera in 2000, and the Mita brand no longer exists. Kyocera sponsored Reading FC for three years from 2005 to 2008, during which time no doubt photocopier sales soared in the Berkshire area.

Blackburn Rovers — McEwan’s Lager

A once popular Scottish lager whose ups and downs and changes in ownership in some ways mirror Blackburn Rovers. The McEwan’s brand was sold by Scottish and Newcastle to Heineken, and with customer tastes shifting away from cheap lagers, McEwan’s Lager was discontinued in 2003. The McEwan’s brand has subsequently been sold again, to Wells & Youngs, and is on the up again, but talk of a McEwan’s Lager comeback has come to nothing.

Chelsea — Commodore International

A computer pioneer whose Commodore and Amiga machines were the starting point for many gamers. Commodore was overtaken and left in the dust by Microsoft, Apple and others. It filed for bankruptcy in 1994.

Coventry City — Peugeot

A French auto maker that is part of PSA Peugeot Citroën. The Peugeot 205 was one of the biggest sellers in Europe the late 1980s and early 1990s. Peugeot had a major factory at Ryton, outside Coventry, where it produced the 309, 405, 306 and 205 types. The factory was shut down in 2007. Top Gear did a piece on Peugeot, and, um, it wasn’t great.

Crystal Palace — Tulip Computers

A Dutch computer company that manufactured the Tulip PC. The Tulip PC was simply a copy of the IBM PC, and unsurprisingly IBM sued. The case, per Wikipedia, was settled in 1989. Tulip acquired the Commodore brand name in 1997, sold it, and then tried to by it back on the cheap a year later. Tulip changed its named to Nedfield, but went bust a year later.

Everton — NEC

An information technology and electronics manufacturer, part of Japan’s Sumitomo conglomerate. Employs more than 100,000 people worldwide.

Ipswich Town — Fisons

A pharmaceutical, scientific instruments and horticultural chemicals company headquartered in Ipswich. It was acquired by Rhone-Poulenc in 1995. Rhone-Poulenc merged with Hoechst in 1999 to form Aventis. Aventis mergerd with Sanofi-Synthélabo in 2004, and became Sanofi in 2011. The freehold of the former Fisons headquarters site, closed in 1995 and empty since, has recently been sold to a developer.

Leeds United — Admiral

A British sportswear brand that, despite ups and downs as new entrants such as Umbro and Adidas added competition, continued to supply English and overseas teams through the 1990s. Moved into cricket in the 2000s, supplying the England team. Nowadays supplies the West Indies cricket team, and some football teams including AFC Wimbledon. Very much second division in sportswear terms — much like Leeds.

Liverpool — Carslberg

A Danish brewer that has, per its own statistics, a 14.2% share of the UK beer market. Employs more than 40,000 people worldwide.

Manchester City — Brother

A Japanese electrical equipment manufacturer, most notably of printers. Sponsored Manchester City for 10 years until 1999. Employs more than 30,000 people worldwide.

Manchester United — Sharp

A Japanese consumer electronics manufacturer. Sponsor of Manchester United from 1983 to 2000 and whose logo will always be associated by Red Devils fans with the rise of United under Sir Alex Ferguson and the treble winning team of 1998/99. Revenues of $28 billion in 2014.

Middlesbrough —  Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI)

Formerly Britain’s largest chemical manufacturer, it was acquired by Dutch multinational AkzoNobel in 2008. Parts of ICI were then sold off to Germany’s Henkel corporation, and the ICI brand ceased to exist. ICI had two key manufacturing sites in the Middlesbrough area — at Billington and Wilton — and former parts of ICI continue to operate at these sites.

Norwich City — Norwich and Peterborough

A building society founded in 1860. It was merged with Yorkshire Building Society in 2011 and ceased independent trading. N&P at the time of the merger was the ninth largest building society in the UK, but became undone with its decision to sell Keydata Investment Services products. Keydata collapsed leaving investors out of pocket to the tune of hundreds of millions of pounds, and its founder was fined a record £75m by the Financial Conduct Authority.

Nottingham Forest — Shipstones (home)

A brand of beer brewed by James Shipstone & Sons in Nottingham. Production at the brewery ended in 1991, but the brand was continued for several more years. The Shipstones brand was brought by a beer enthusiast in 2013, and is making a comeback in the Nottingham area. Labbats, Canada’s largest brewer and part of the Anheuser-Busch InBev empire, sponsored the away shirt.

Oldham Athletic — JD Sports

A sports retailer founded in Bury. Per its corporate website, has 800 stores “across a number of retail fascias” — or to put it in English, owns a number of high street brands in addition to JD Sports, such as Size? and Blacks.

Queens Park Rangers — Classic FM

A national radio station for classical music founded by GWR and launched in 1992. Now part of Global Radio and still going strong — but hasn’t sponsored any more football teams. QPR was brought by music executive Chris Wright in 1995 — his Chrysalis Radio group would eventually be sold and become Global Radio. I’m not sure it really connects, but it’s all a bit circuitous, perhaps as one would expect for a club nicknamed The Hoops.

Sheffield United — Laver

Arnold Laver is a timber company. While manufacturing has moved out to Mosborough, Arnold Laver’s headquarters remains on Brammall Lane next to Sheffield United’s stadium. Arnold Laver were the main sponsor of Sheffield United from 1985 to 1995, and Arnold Laver himself was a director for 30 years. The South Stand at Brammall Lane used to be the Laver Stand.

Sheffield Wednesday — Sanderson

A Sheffield-based software company that provides solutions to retail and manufacturing businesses. Its founder, Paul Thompson, became a director and largest shareholder of West Brom before selling his stake. He also became involved at Southampton, which also took the Sanderson sponsorship. Sanderson was followed as Sheffield Wednesday’s shirt sponsor by Chupa Chups.

Southampton — Draper Tools

A family-run tools business based in Chandler’s Ford, Hampshire (which is also where the headquarters of DIY giant B&Q is located). Draper Tools sponsored Southampton from 1984 to 1993, taking over from the now defunct Air Florida. Draper Tools is going strong under its third generation of Draper ownership.

Tottenham Hotspur — Holsten

A brewer originally from Hamburg in Germany. Its most famous brand is its pale lager, Holsten Pilsener. Holsten was acquired by Carlsberg in 2004. Holsten sponsored Spurs from 1983 to 1995, and again from 1999 until 2002. Still going, but never really hit the big-time — insert Spurs joke here (for the sake of balance at least).

Wimbledon — No sponsor

It wouldn’t be long before there was no club, or possibly two, depending on your view of these things. For readers of cached versions of this blog in 2045, MK Dons was where the great Dele Alli started out before being bought by Spurs for a bargain £5 million in 2014.

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So, an interesting list. Much like today, there were a fair number of Asian sponsors, but mostly Japanese in reflection of the strength of corporate Japan at the time. Out of the 20 sponsors, eight no longer exist (or like, Shipstones, are fundamentally different businesses). In 23 years time, let’s see how many of the online gambling companies and forex/accounting software providers on the current Premier League shirts are still going strong.

For what it’s worth, of the original Premier League teams, 11 are no longer in the Premier League. A further four (Palace, Manchester City, Norwich and Southampton) have experienced relegation. So quite a high attrition rate, and puts the longevity of Arsenal, Aston Villa, Everton, Liverpool, Manchester United and Spurs into context.

Thanks for reading. Please follow me on Twitter for more random musings on Spurs.

Random musings on Spurs and football in general: A curious combination of Jurgen Klopp, Nigel Owens and Andros Townsend

Unlike the previous international break, which came indecently early in the season, I’ve rather enjoyed this one.

It’s helped by there being Rugby World Cup to tuck into, which has proved a feast of sporting goodness, the woeful England performance excluded. Also, with Spurs performing well and quietly progressing up the table, there is none of the usual excessive rumination that can come with a long break between Premier League matches.

I’ve had a few random thoughts in the past few days, covering Andros Townsend and England, Premier League refs and Spurs fixtures. I’ll post them up here, rather than try to force them into longer but ill-fitting blog posts.

A potentially weird run ahead for Spurs

Must Spurs fans agree that it is a little unlucky to be first up against Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool. While it will take time for his methods to embed, I’m sure the players will be bang up for it. That said, Brendan Rodgers was always successful at translating his grudge against Spurs for being looked over in favour of AVB into strong performances, so I can’t see that it will be any worse. A tricky Saturday lunchtime kick off awaits.

But looking ahead at the fixture list, and the managers under pressure, there seems more than a chance that Klopp won’t be the first debutant manager Mauricio Pochettino ends up facing.

In three games time, we face Aston Villa at White Hart Lane on November 2. Judging by the leaking coming from Tim Sherwood, and the subsequent leaking coming from the club about David Moyes, Tactics Tim’s time may be almost up. It is hard to have much sympathy — he seems an unpleasant individual who isn’t as good a manager as he thinks. It feels like Sherwood is one bad result from the sack, and with Moyes also near an exit from Sociedad, could Villa be trotting out at White Hart Lane with a new manager and a fired up squad?

Too soon? Maybe. But there is more.

On December 5, we travel to West Brom. If you have had the misfortune of watching West Brom this season, it is impossible not to notice that they absolutely stink. Instead of the pumped-up Pulis-ball we saw in the early Stoke years and at Crystal Palace, West Brom are playing dreadful stuff, and incompetently. They are conceding a ton of goals, not scoring many, and the midfield looks devoid of any creativity. West Brom have been quietly dysfunctional for a while now, with Jeremy Peace a sort of poor man’s Daniel Levy, jumping from strategy to strategy and just about getting away with it. But they are right in the thick of it this season, and Pulis doesn’t look like he is enjoying life at the Hawthorns at all. Unless they find a way of tightening up in the next six weeks, I would not be surprised if Pulis walked or Peace pushed him out in favour of someone more willing to go along with whatever strategy the club currently applies in the transfer market.

We follow that match with a visit from Newcastle. Newcastle, and it pains me to say this as they’ve always been my second-favourite Premier League team, are horrific and there has been little or nothing from Steve McClaren to suggest he is the man to turn it around. You’d think Brendan or again someone like Moyes — someone with a chip on their shoulder and a desire to make a difference, rather than someone like the ex-England man who knows his best days are behind him — need to take over that club and get a grip of it. But Mike Ashley is stubborn and will probably give McClaren a bit of time to turn things around, not least as he is so soon into a long-term contract. I’d say though, if Newcastle are still in the bottom three by mid-December, a managerial change would hardly be a massive surprise.

So, it’s all a bit hypothetical, but these things are fun to play out. I suspect Klopp won’t be the sole beneficiary of the New Manager Bounce against Spurs this season.

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Time to mic up Premier League refs

One of my favourite parts of the Rugby World Cup has been the ability to hear referees interact with players and other officials.

The highlight was the brilliant Nigel Owens, the most Welsh-sounding person alive, telling off Scotland’s Stuart Hogg at St James’s Park for diving — “Dive like that again and come back in two weeks to play. Watch it”. The Scottish fullback, who’d thrown himself to the ground and knew it, trotted back to his position shaking his head like a naughty schoolboy.

In the Namibia v Georgia match, a slugfest down at Exeter in which two teams high on brutality but low on skill went at it in the most physical fashion, the referee was nevertheless respected when he intervened. “Sorry sir, thank you sir”, the hulking Georgian number 8 responded in almost comic style, like a modern Oliver Twist addressing Mr Bumble.

While the TMO in rugby can slow down the game and be a bit tedious, the ability to hear the referee clears up any doubts about the decision-making process, and invariably it shows the referees in a good light. Keeping across 30 players on the rugby field is almost impossible, but the referees have done a superb job and are respected among players and media.

In cricket, not everyone took to the use of technology when it came in, and the obscure nature of the game initially made the implementation a bit tricky. Adding, say, Hawkeye technology to track the ball, but then ignoring the precise track for a greyer area of “umpire’s call” was a touch weird and caused much chuntering. This summer, for the first time, the interaction between on-field and TV umpires was made public, and it changed the minds of even the most ardent critics on TV and radio. While the decisions themselves remained open to debate, just like in rugby the decision-making process was crystal clear, and showed the umpires to be expertly following procedures and making as accurate judgements as possible with the human eye.

When goalline technology finally came in to the Premier League last season, I thought this would open the floodgates to increasing use of technology. But there seems virtually no demand from media or fans for more technology, despite almost every match feature a blown offside call, perceived inconsistency over yellow cards, or dubious penalty decisions. I guess football’s governing body, which should be leading the roll-out of new technologies, is a bit side-tracked at the moment. Amazingly, even in the Champions League, the supposed pinnacle of club football, there isn’t goalline technology.

To me, the sight of two linesmen crab-stepping up and down the touchline and waving a flag seems totally anachronistic. It is technically impossible to call offside correctly in most cases, as you can’t look in two places at once. Linesmen seem like cyborgs at time, so devoid are they of personality, but actual cyborgs would be better. Using technology to decide offside would be more accurate and would free up the linesmen to actually be assistant referees and improve the all-round officiating. However, I appreciate it will take time to test the technology and ensure it functions properly — for example how to pick up who touched the ball last and whether offside applies or not. But we are almost there.

In the meantime, one thing the FA could do immediately is turn on the microphones so that we can hear the refs make their decision. At the moment, all decisions are seen in a vacuum and so often don’t appear to make much sense. But if you heard a referee, say, warn a player on a yellow card that he was one more foul from being sent off, it would make the perceived leniency crystal clear. Instead of a ref being seen to be inconsistent about the awarding of yellows, he will be shown to be in control of the situation and the players, and also displaying the sort of common sense in trying to keep the contest 11 vs 11 rather than fundamentally altering a game over what me be a rather trivial infringement.

Likewise, when a ref books a player for diving it can seem arbitrary, like the ref who carded Falcao for his dive against Southampton. If we heard the ref’s thinking — “you went down before the contact, throwing yourself into the goalkeeper in a dangerous way, that is a yellow card”, or whatever it was — we would be much more informed, and while we can disagree with the decision, we at least know the logic behind the decision. I don’t like the idea of referees being forced out before hostile media and grilled about each decision, which feels like the direction we are going in.

Of course, people will say in football this live chat would be impossible to broadcast due to the language, but is that really true? Players may eff and blind at the moment, but most will clear it up if they know what they are saying is being heard by kids. And those who don’t will soon learn when they start to be fined or suspended. If the mics pick up a bit of rough language during the action, so be it — it happens in rugby and the commentators apologize and everyone moves on.

I find the current arguments over individual decisions very boring, and there are far more interesting aspects of the game that could be analysed on Match of the Day. There will always be marginal decisions, for example in offside, but if there is a clear and transparent protocol, and effective technology, then we can accept them better and move on. Jose Mourinho will have to find another excuse in future rants.

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Andros for England

Andros for England

From Google Images

Roy Hodgson has used 33 players in qualifying for Euro 2016, which seems an awful lot to me. Sure, there will be injuries, and Roy did just go 10 out of 10, but I can’t help thinking this enormous rotation is over complicating what should be a fairly simple selection for the tournament itself.

Let’s face it, the standard of international football isn’t all that high. The pace is generally very slow compared with the Premier League or other top leagues, and teams without that many “good” players can nonetheless be very competitive. While teams with transcendent talent levels like the recent Spanish team may come along once in a while and dominate, normally big tournaments are contested by the most organised and disciplined teams. This can produce surprise winners — like Denmark or Greece — or worthy winners like Germany at the last World Cup. These teams won because they were the best teams, not because they had the best 11 players or best 23-man squads. If that seems like a statement of the obvious, then why do we seem to constantly be engaged in a process of testing out young players and blooding them, when we could just be cementing a core unit and giving it the time it needs to perfectly understand and execute Roy’s game plan?

Take Andros Townsend. He may be blinking useless for Spurs (on the rare occasion that he even gets a game), but he has consistently produced the goods for England. For whatever reason, his ability to run with the ball from deep and take shots works against international defences, and good ones too like Italy. I suspect the pace of the Premier League negates this advantage, but you won’t see much gegenpressing in France next summer. Still, as he is struggling at club level, he may well miss out even though there appears little relationship between his performances for Spurs and England.

Then take Michael Carrick. He has played 33 times for England, and rarely has he dominated the midfield and set the tempo like he has done for years at Manchester United. Again, it may be something to do with the pace of the football, but he just doesn’t look nearly as effective. But, with concerns over the lack of a natural defensive midfield option, he looks likely to get another shot. He is 34 now — so I think we can safely so that what we’ve seen is what we’ll get in international terms.

You would have thought, after years and years and years of seeing Stevie Gerrard and Frank Lampard try but fail to effectively form a midfield combo for England, despite being the best two midfielders in the Premier League, we would have learned to differentiate between club performances and country performances, and accept that the most effective England XI may not be the strongest XI on paper.

So I hope Roy doesn’t experiment with tactics or personnel in the matches between now and the Euros. I want to see the same team, playing the same way, so that when we all rock up in France, England will know exactly what they are doing and are ready to execute when it matters.

(I sent this in to F365 as a letter)

Autumn Statement: Some thoughts on where Spurs stand eight games in

dierallison

Getty Images via Google Images

After a brief Indian Summer, it has turned autumnal in England this week. Wind and rain, temperatures dropping, leaves starting to fall from the trees. It feels like football weather, finally.

Of course, we are eight matches in — almost a quarter of the 2015/2016 season is already gone. For Messrs Rodgers and Advocaat, the game is already up, while the seats are warming under a few other managers, “Tactics” Tim Sherwood included. Eight matches may or may not be sufficient sample size from a statistical point of view, but it feels we’ve seen enough of the latest edition of Spurs to draw some conclusions about where we stand.

In no particular order:

POCHETTINO SETTLES IN

I wrote last week about Mauricio Pochettino and how his philosophy finally appeared to be taking root at Spurs. I saw more evidence of this against Monaco. I wasn’t able to watch the Swansea game due to the ridiculous restrictions on broadcasting Spurs matches in the UK, but from what I read it sounded like Spurs played well and could have won. It felt a respectable point. Crucially, it appears that Poch may have found his solution to managing his squad through the Europa League. It always felt like a double-edge sword — play a weakened team in the Europa League and risk loss of momentum, or play a strong team and risk tiredness on Sundays. But, perhaps smartly, it appears Poch has focused on finding players he thinks are capable of playing back-to-back — the likes of Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Eric Dier. If you look at top teams, star players generally play almost every match — to be rested is a rare treat, and to be savoured all the more for it. It has taken a while, but Poch is finding players he thinks can survive the rigours of Spurs’ schedule.

UNSPURSY

Jamie Carragher’s comments about Liverpool “becoming like Tottenham or Newcastle” riled a few Spurs fans, but not me. It just showed the Liverpool delusion at its worst, and how supposedly insightful pundits like Carragher have missed the fact that Spurs are a rather different proposition nowadays. As one wag put it on Twitter (I’d link by can’t remember who it was unfortunately), Liverpool “saying they won’t do a Spurs then doing a Spurs is more Spursy than anything Spurs have ever done.” Gary Neville, on the other hand, has noticed, and was impressed by the foundations being built by White Hart Lane. We saw it in patches last season — all those late goals showed a toughness that Spurs fans aren’t accustomed to. It has stepped up this season. Aside from a narrow defeat against Manchester United, Spurs are unbeaten in the past seven (our longest unbeaten runs in the previous two seasons were six games. We managed a 12-game run in 2012/2013). We’ve come from behind to trounce Man City, when previously we have rolled over against them, while we also scored a late winner against Sunderland and ground out a win against a tough Crystal Palace side. On Sunday, Spurs came back twice against Swansea in a post-Europa Sunday outing. Spurs are among the group with the best defensive records in the league, and the advanced stats look pretty good in terms of underlying numbers. The squad is the youngest in the league, the camp seems united, and the exit of the Sporting Director, Franco Baldini, was handled smoothly with none of the public bloodletting that often occurs as reputations are fought for.

GOOD SIGNINGS

The transfer market has been a bit of an ordeal in recent seasons — Christian Eriksen is the last screaming success. But, for the first time in a couple of seasons, there is real excitement about a couple of the new boys: Son Heung-min and Dele Alli (bought in January but only arrived at the club this summer). Son has taken to the Premier League like a duck to water. His constant motion, excellent technique and ability to involve himself in the game have clearly lifted the team. Hopefully his foot injury isn’t chronic, because he could be a key player at Spurs for years to come and is a massive upgrade to our attacking midfield options. Meanwhile, Spurs may have struck gold with Alli. When I see him, I can’t help but think of Steven Gerrard — there is something about the rangy athleticism, deceptively good technique and the positive intent of his attacking play that reminds me of the former Liverpool captain. I know that is setting the bar impossibly high, but even if he never quite hits the heights of Gerrard, he looks like quite the player.

JURY STILL OUT

We’ve barely seen anything of Kevin Wimmer, so it is impossible to draw any conclusions — other than he may struggle to see serious playing time with the partnership of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen looking stable. But, while Fede Fazio looked like he was playing in floppy clown shoes against Arsenal, I liked what I saw from Wimmer in that game. He looked quick, strong and composed, and I hope he is first choice once injuries and suspensions strike our Belgian duo. As for Clinton N’Jie, gosh he looks raw. There may well be talent there — he did a great job exploiting a tiring Man City defence to set up Erik Lamela. Also, he obviously has pace to burn. But, if Kane got injured and Son isn’t recovered, could he play up top in the Premier League? It feels like a big ask. He reminds me of rookies who get drafted in NBA because of their size or athleticism, but haven’t yet shown they know how to actually play the game. Some learn and become stars, but many just never make that leap from athlete to sportsman. We’ll see with N’Jie.

STRIKER SHORTAGE

On this subject, it feels like we are a striker light in the squad. On Sunday, with Son injured and Kane tiring, from the sounds of it Poch lacked a good option to send on and possibly win the game. I watched the Everton game, and thought the lack of a striker on the bench was glaring. I like Son as a replacement for Kane as they feel very similar players in terms of work rate and ability to play across the line. But it feels samey — I fear that Spurs are a touch predictable, and are reliant on superior fitness to grind down opposition, rather than having players in the match-day squad capable of causing opposition defences different types of problems. I think Saido Berahino would have been a huge addition to this squad — his all round play is good, but also he has that touch of the Jermain Defoe about him, sniffing out goals. It is hard to impress in the dreadful West Brom team Tony Pulis has assembled, but Berahino is still finding ways to score. I’m sure our chances of winning against Swansea and Everton would have improved with Berahino in the squad.

DIER WOLF AND OTHER SUCCESS STORIES

While Dele Alli has attracted the attention of Roy Hodgson, many of us Spurs fans would say that our player of the season so far has been Eric Dier. His superb midfield play has given the team the platform it needs, both defensively and in attack. He also seems an increasingly vocal part of the team — I loved his interview with Spurs TV after the Man City match, and his anger at the lack of respect he felt that Spurs receive. Watching the footage between final whistle and advert break, as “Glory Glory Tottenham Hotspur” reverberated around White Hart Lane, I noticed Hugo Lloris make a beeline for Dier and give him an extra long hug. Hugo is as smart as they come, and knows Dier, as much as Toby and Jan, are the reason he is picking the ball out the back of the net a whole lot less this season. There have been other successes too. Erik Lamela has rightly received praise for his good form. In a team that risks becoming predictable, having someone like Lamela on song feels even more important. He may drive us mad with his inability to retain possession and with too many silly fouls, but he makes stuff happen. Also, I’d like to say a word about Ben Davies. Instead of being dispirited by falling behind Danny Rose in the pecking order, he has worked hard and made the most of Rose’s early season injury to establish himself as first-choice. He may not offer the attacking dynamism of Rose, but he is much better defensively and has been an important factor in Spurs’ tight play this season.

PLAYERS WITH SOMETHING TO PROVE

There have been a few disappointments among a generally very positive set of performances. I’ve not been pleased with what I have seen from Nacer Chadli. He appears to have drifted back to his form in his first season. Yes, he remains an occasional goal threat, but he isn’t involving himself enough in the attacking play. There is a lack of ambition in his play. I hope he rediscovers his fire, as he is a useful player. Andros Townsend, meanwhile, has done virtually nothing in his limited opportunities. I didn’t see him against Swansea, but from what I heard he was hopeless. I was very disappointed with his performance against Arsenal. He just doesn’t create enough. He was already running out of chances last season, but it can surely only be a matter of time before he is moved on. I’d also say that Nabil Bentaleb has something to prove. He started the season poorly and then got hurt on international duty. It could be a costly injury, as he has lost his place in midfield. With Dier suspended, Bentaleb may get a chance against Liverpool to restake his claim. I hope he takes it — he is a very good young player and can grow from adversity, even if he has been the subject of some overexcited buffoonery from certain Spurs bloggers in recent months.

RIGHT BACK CONUNDRUM

If there is one position where Spurs may be struggling, it is at right back. For the first time in what feels a long time, Kyle Walker is fully fit and has established himself as first choice ahead of Kieran Trippier. But I’ve never been convinced by Walker. While he has incredible athleticism, work rate and good crossing technique, he lacks game intelligence. Jefferson Montero is a tough opponent, and by all accounts Walker improved through the game, but for the first Swansea goal it was far too easy for the Swansea winger to get his cross in. Time and time again, Walker lets crosses into the box. Danny Rose is similar, which is one big reason why I prefer Ben Davies. He also continues to make dumb errors — he gave the ball away for the Man City goal, and nearly gave Crystal Palace a big opportunity. Now he is fit, he may benefit from an extended run and whatever magic touch Pochettino has for fullbacks. But I’m not quite sure he has the footballing IQ to cut out the errors. He reminds me a little of Younes Kaboul — when you spend so much of your early career being able to rely on your speed to bail yourself out of mistakes, you run a risk of not learning from the mistakes. As for Trippier, while he has looked generally quite good in his Europa outings, in both matches he has made big errors — he gave away a sloppy penalty, and allowed his man to score a header against Monaco. Let’s give him more time to settle down, but the jury is out. I wonder if, in his black box, Paul Mitchell isn’t looking around Europe for possible long-term upgrades at right back. Of course, there is a promising prospect at the club in Kyle Walker-Peters.

IS THE TOP FOUR ON?

Chelsea look terrible, and they must be at serious risk of missing out on the Top Four this season. I’ve actually thought Liverpool have looked OK in spells, but clearly the Brendan Rodgers “thing” had started to run its course. Jurgen Klopp seems an incredibly fit for that squad and city, so I’d certainly expect them to pick up. While the likes of Palace and Leicester look strong, I’d imagine they will fall away a little. Among the chasing pack, Spurs seem well positioned. We are two points off the Top Four, have the joint best defensive record and are unbeaten in the last seven games. This has been achieved with only one Harry Kane goal (OK, so maybe two if you count the Swansea howler), with first-choice midfielders Christian Eriksen, Ryan Mason and Nabil Bentaleb missing games through injury, and Son Heung-min arriving late in the transfer window. The trouncing of Man City will have been noticed: Spurs may not be seen as the pushover we once were among the Premier League big boys. I’d still back Liverpool to finish above Spurs, and suspect Palace, Everton, Swansea and Southampton will run us close, but I’m feeling more optimistic now than I was at the start of the season. I suspect that feeling is shared by many Spurs fans.

THE MONTH AHEAD

The next block of matches are rather interesting. We open at White Hart Lane against Liverpool, who will likely be under new management. It is a tad unlucky to face Liverpool in the first match under Klopp as you imagine they will be motivated. But Brendan Rodgers always managed to get Liverpool going against us, so it can’t really be worse. Then, we have two very winnable games — Bournemouth away and Villa at home. I suppose, though, there is a risk Villa are under new management by then as well. This is followed by the North London derby. Who knows which Arsenal will turn up? They won what was a battle of squads in the Capital One Cup. And it looks like Alexis Sanchez is back in business. But if Spurs can hang tough and avoid going behind early, spaces tend to emerge in the Arsenal midfield. Looking at the run, two draws and two wins would be a good return. That would take us on to 21 points going into the final international break, enough, I’d imagine, to see Spurs sitting within the Top Four. A good month, and things might start getting interesting. Is that excitement in the air, or is just the autumn?

Please do follow me on Twitter for more random musings, generally on Spurs. I’m @crg_yeah

The Pochettino era begins….at last

I’ve done a piece over at Fresh Spurs on Mauricio Pochettino, and how his philosophy finally appears to be taking root.

“There is a section of the fanbase at Spurs that have never taken to Pochettino, and I can understand the doubts as the glimpses of the Pochettino philosophy have been fleeting at times. 

Since the strong spell at the start of the year, Spurs fell out of Champions League contention, crashed out of the Europa League, lost in the Capital One Cup to John Terry’s Chelsea, embarked on a pointless post-season tour when the players needed rest, messed up pre-season with the Audi Cup just before the opener at Old Trafford, failed to sign an experienced midfielder and second striker in the transfer window, and endured a 12-hour Harry Kane goal drought.”

Please head over and check it out. I’ve been on blogging hiatus the past couple of weeks, but my schedule is clearer now so my inane ramblings will continue.

Please do follow me on Twitter (@crg_yeah).