Monthly Archives: November 2015

Spurs are on their way to the Tofiq Bahramov Stadium: A seat-by-seat analysis

clintonplace

You know, you can take your advanced stats, take your tactical GIFs, take your heat maps, key pass arrows and “five things we’ve learned” fucking listicles.

You want to know what is REALLY going on with this Spurs team? Let’s do it the old-fashioned way: Who is sitting next to who on the team plane?

It may be a fancy jet rather than a filthy coach, and the players may be on a few bob a week, but the same rules apply when we were all playing Under 15s on a Saturday morning.

Who is the class pet sitting up front with the team captain? Who is the Billy No Mates on his own? What are the cliques? And does Spurs even have a cool gang lounging around at the back?

Let’s do this:

Seats 1a and 1b

Hugo Lloris and Eric Dier. The first big surprise here. Eric is only 21, and could well have chosen to be in the back amongst the lads. But here he is, next to Le Captain, with the senior boys. Says a lot about a player many see as a future Spurs leader. Eric appears to have brought along a copy of the Sun, which would be enough reading on a six-hour flight for most footballers, but not for a clearly intelligent lad who wasn’t educated in Britain. I presume, Hugo’s brought along some Voltaire, Sartre, Balzac or Proust for after take-off. Expect some multilingual philosophical discussion of the nature of existence, and how they are going to handle Diego Costa at the weekend.

Seats 1c and 1d

Michel Vorm and Jan Vertonghen. More senior lads up front. First time all season we’ve seen the our Belgian centre-back pairing broken up — they even looked unstoppable in the Davies Cup football tennis. But, we Spurs fans know, it there is one thing that is going to ruin the strongest defensive partnership that we’ve had for years, it’s going to be Michel Vorm.

Seats 2a, 2c and 2d

Toby looks like he’s got what all long-distance travellers desire more than anything: an empty seat next to him. He’s near his buddies, but gets a bit of breathing room. The move to Spurs is working well for him. Across the aisle, I think it is Kieran Trippier and Kevin Wimmer, but we’ve not seen much of them this season so I’m not really sure.

Seats 3a and 3b

A midfield combo here of Christian Eriksen and Tommy Carroll. Is this little Tommy’s last European trip with Spurs? It could well be. Aged 23, he’d barely had a kick this season, and Eriksen is one of the main guys blocking his way into the first-team. If I was Eriksen, I’d be a bit afraid of going to sleep. Although saying that, Tommy hardly screams ruthless ambition, or he may have played more in his career.

Seats 3c and 3d

Harry Kane and Ryan Mason. Our vice captain and leader, sat next to our legend. This is the heartbeat of the club, the core of the “one of our own” philosophy that is sweeping through the club and singlehandedly enabling Spurs to afford the inevitable massive cost overruns that will occur trying to build a huge new stadium on a piece of land the size of a postage stamp. Most Spurs fans are on Harry hamstring watch and didn’t want him to travel to Baku. Here’s the secret: Harry wanted to go.

Seats 4a, 4b, 4c and 4d

The kids: Harry Winks, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Josh Onomah and Shayon Harrison. To be honest, they look more like a bunch of lads from the new Tottenham UTC who’ve somehow boarded the wrong plane for a school trip. For Harrison especially, it’s been a big few weeks: training with England and now travelling to Azerbaijan. Not sure he’s played much though. Welcome to the world of professional football.

Seat 5a

Oh no, it’s Clinton N’Jie. He appears to be doing that thing where you pretend to talk on your phone so that people don’t realize you are all on your own. He’s looked rawer than sashimi since he arrived from Lyon, and has struggled with injury. Is this the first transfer bust of the Paul Mitchell era? Or has Andros Townsend just nipped to the loo and they are about to settle in for a good-times, six-hour game of Boggle?

Seats 5c and 5d

Dele Alli and Luke McGee. Dele has taken English football by storm, to such an extent that he has earned a specialist Twitter handle. We’ve seen an interesting progression in his friendships this season: early on, he and Son Heung-min were mates on and off the field, then it was Eric Dier, who seems to have dropped him for the chance to sit next to Hugo. Now, it is Luke McGee. You wonder, for all his insouciance on the pitch, and effervescence on the training field, if Dele may be an exhausting travelling companion and general pain in the arse? Luke and Dele were schooled at football tennis, so a bit of bonding may be required.

Seats 6c and 6d

Son Heung-min and Ben Davies. They’ve got the seats next to the toilets, which no-one wants. Son has been making great strides with his English since he joined the club, but I’d be amazed if he can understand a word Davies says. That Welsh accent is THICK.

The cool kids at the back

I think we all know, that in this Spurs squad, the cool gang lolling around at the back with the girls, the booze and the dirty magazines are Mauricio Pochettino and his coaching crew. In fact, it’s not even close to a contest, is it?

Erm, please follow me on Twitter for more random pieces on Spurs. Handle is @spurs_report

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The mild irritation of the Europa League, and its potential impact on Spurs vs Chelsea

spurstromso

The Arctic Circle was cold, but it was far from the toughest trip Spurs have made during the Europa League years. Mirror via Google Images.

Spurs are in serious danger of missing out on the Europa League next season, and not for the reasons that some predicted.

This week, the 12-game unbeaten run will be tested by a visit from José Mourinho’s Chelsea, less than 72 hours after Spurs complete a 4,968 mile round-trip to Baku.

This grand voyage to the far reaches of Europe has been something of an asterix amid the sea of positivity after Tottenham’s dismantling of West Ham on Sunday. You can understand why Mauricio Pochettino and his players were cautious post-match, talking instead about taking it a game at a time. A defeat next Sunday would be deflating, even if far from terminal with a relatively easy slate of games through until January.

Plenty has been written previously about the “Curse of the Europa League”Raphael Honigstein, for example, recently took a detailed look at its potentially draining impact across major leagues. I got rather het up about the trip to Baku in a recent post, bemoaning the inflexible Europa League scheduling and the lucky break it represents for Mourinho.

But it got me thinking. How much of a problem has the Europa League travel been for Spurs, specifically? In particular, how big an impact does it have on our performances in the following league game?

Or in other words, how screwed are we by the trip to Baku? And should I go out and do my Christmas shopping rather than risk watching The Special One and the Captain, Leader, Legend celebrating at White Hart Lane?

I’ve spent a little time researching our Europa League travels, and the result the following game. I’ve put it into a spreadsheet below.

We’re now into the fourth year of our current Europa League run, during which time we’ve played Thursday and the following weekend 37 times* — almost an entire Premier League season of extra games.

I doubt that 37 games is nearly enough to draw any deep conclusions, but it throws up a couple of interesting numbers.

  • In the past three seasons, Spurs averaged fewer points in league matches immediately following Europa League commitments. In these three seasons, we averaged 1.50 points per game (ppg) in matches after the Europa League, while we averaged 1.91 ppg when we had no Thursday night match.
  • So far this season, we are doing better after European games — but we are at most halfway through our campaign and made a slow start in the league, so let’s hold judgement for now.
  • In the previous three seasons, we averaged 1.89 ppg in matches after Europa League away games, and 1.07 ppg after home Europa League matches.
  • Our median round-trip distance is 2,280 miles — just a bit further than flying to Belgrade and back. When we’ve had a trip further than the 2,280 miles, our record is W 3, L 3, D 1. On trips below the median, our record is W 7, L 3, D 1.
  • In London derbies after Europa League matches, our record is W 5, L 5, D 2.

Other key points: We’ve never been as far as Baku. Our previous longest trip was to Tblisi in 2013/14 — 4,454 miles there and back. We beat Swansea at home the following Sunday.

Looking at the distances, you can see what a brutal campaign we had in 2013/14. We travelled a total of 18,332 miles, averaging 3,056 miles per Europa League away trip. We had some very heavy defeats that season — we lost 0-3 to West Ham after a trip to Moscow to play Anzi, and the 5-0 home defeat to Liverpool that led to AVB’s sacking was after a Thursday night fixture. We also lost 4-0 at Anfield, without any midweek distraction. We were thumped 6-0 and 5-1 by Man City, and Chelsea put four past us at the Bridge.

Spurs had all sorts of problems that season — we ended up being managed by Tim Sherwood, for example — but we couldn’t have had a more draining Europa League draw if we’d tried. We still picked up more points than in 2014/15, but it was utter misery.

Last season wasn’t much better — in the group stages our round trips were 2,140 miles, 2,936 miles and 3,090 miles. Yes, we’ve got a nasty trip coming up, but Monaco and particularly Anderlecht were nice, short journeys.

I also scraped together the performances of fellow Premier League travellers from the previous three seasons: Everton, Swansea and Liverpool.

Everton last season struggled to 11th, and Europa League fatigue was widely cited as a reason. However, Everton averaged more points in matches immediately after Thursday night fixtures (1.40 ppg) than they did without (1.18 ppg). I bet it didn’t feel that way for Everton fans. Everton scored seven points after both home and away European fixtures. Fatigue may well have been a factor in the poor league performance, but if it was, it was a problem that played out across a number of games, rather than striking immediately on a Thursday-Sunday back-to-back.

Swansea and Liverpool had a similar record as Spurs — points per game dipping after Thursday night matches, but picking up more points after Europa road trips than home matches. Liverpool went at 1.22 ppg after their European matches, and 1.72 ppg without. But their schedule was particularly brutal — facing Man City, Arsenal, Man Utd, Everton and Chelsea after Europa matches. I’d almost feel sorry for Brendan, if he wasn’t such a plonker.

An obvious truth lies here though — the result on Sunday after a match on Thursday is more likely to be affected by the quality of your opposition than tired legs, tired minds or spending long periods on a plane. The opposition will always have had longer to prepare than the team playing Thursday. It’s up to them to make the extra preparation count — like Chelsea did in the Capital One Cup final, for example, and West Ham absolutely did when Big Sam’s team rolled us over at White Hart Lane and set in motion the failure of the Bale money strategy.

I don’t think it is just the players who may suffer from fatigue, it’s the fans too. Sunday games, especially the 4pm kick-off in a marquee fixture, are fun, in moderation. But Saturday is the day for football — you can drink all day, and travel all day. The atmosphere is never quite the same for an early Sunday kick-off as it is on Saturday. Football is less enjoyable as an experience, and when you get defeats like we had against West Brom, Newcastle and Stoke, they feel even more deflating.

Pochettino, unusually, allowed himself a little moan about the scheduling: “I laugh, I only smile.”

With all the unconvincing enthusiasm of a dad before a mammoth car journey with his small kids, Hugo Lloris told Spurs TV that the team would benefit from the time they get to spend together on the long trip to Baku.

Hugo also hinted that a strong squad would travel. Pochettino may yet decide to leave some players at home — I’d love to see Harry Kane and Eric Dier given the night off, for injury avoidance. As I previously stated, we are far more likely to finish in the Top Four than win the Europa League, and even if we lose to Qarabag we’re almost guaranteed to go through if we beat Monaco at home.

It feels like Pochettino is unconvinced by the benefits of weakened teams in Europa League matches. Winning may be a better cure for fatigue than rest, in his view.

The rudimentary data suggests the “curse” of the Europa League may be overstated, at least for Spurs. Our league position hasn’t cratered like in some of the examples Honigstein set out. For Spurs, the Europa League is more of an irritation, no matter the distance travelled.

The problem is the persistent nature of the irritation — in the Champions League, at most half of your games will be Wednesday to Saturday, but it is in reality less as the top teams play more often in marquee Sunday match-ups. Spurs have had 37 games in recent seasons on minimum rest. That is 37 times the Premier League opposition have had the chance to prepare more than Spurs. You always feel like you are having to catch up — and I wonder if that is the main fatigue, as much as the air miles and the extra yards covered on the pitch. Perhaps this is where that leaking of points — 0.4 ppg for Spurs in the past three seasons — comes in.

As I said, I don’t want to draw too many conclusions from the small amount of data. But I’m less gloomy than I was when I was hypothesizing about playing Chelsea after such a long trip. The Christmas shopping can wait.

I’d note, the last time we played Chelsea, it was also our third match in a six-day period. It went pretty well.

To Azerbaijan, then.

* For Spurs, in all cases bar one it has been Thursday to Sunday. We had one Thursday to Monday — that night at Upton Park when Gareth Bale did this. Everton’s away win against QPR also came on Monday, after a trip to Kiev. There was no match after the home leg of the knock-out tie with Lyon in 2012/13 — I presume we made a nice early exit from the FA Cup that year. Hence 37 rather than 38 games. All distance data is from www.worldatlas.com using London as starting point.

Thanks for reading. Please follow me on Twitter for more articles and general Spurs-related ramblings.

 

DeAndre Yedlin is alive and kicking at Sunderland

yedlin

Via Google Images

When Sam Allardyce was appointed manager at Sunderland, I assumed this was bad news for DeAndre Yedlin. The American right back made his first appearance for his loan club in Dick Advocaat’s final match in charge, but he seemed a poor fit under Big Sam.

Big Sam is not famed as a developer of young talent, and his managerial success has been built on his ability to quickly organise a struggling team defensively. This normally involves turning to experienced players, who should in theory know what they are doing if the system is right.

At right back, Sunderland have Billy Jones, who as played 377 matches for different English clubs, and Adam Matthews, who made nearly 200 appearances for Cardiff and Celtic before joining Sunderland in the summer. One would have guessed that one of these two would have been chosen by Big Sam ahead of Yedlin, who has less than 80 first-team appearances for club and country in his career to date.

But so far, Big Sam has picked Yedlin in each of his four games in charge. Yedlin was played in right midfield against Everton, a shambolic 6-2 defeat, but was back at right back the following game when Sunderland lost 1-0 at home against Southampton.

It has been reported that Matthews, who has played just once since joining Sunderland, has already been told he can leave. Billy Jones is now playing left back. It seems, Yedlin has earned a chance for an extended run at right back.

The only concern is that Yedlin missed two potentially vital weeks of Big Sam Boot Camp this international break while playing for the USA in World Cup qualifiers against St Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago (and I thought England playing in Alicante was a nice trip). It always felt, personally, that Yedlin continuously being called away for international duty cost him a chance to impress Mauricio Pochettino at Spurs, but hopefully this doesn’t set him back at Sunderland.

Sunderland will surely be looking to bring in new players in January, but they have needs across the pitch. The less they have to spend on right backs, the more they get to spend on strikers and creative players. (I’m making an early call that Andros Townsend ends up at Sunderland in January. Adam Johnson is on trial for child sex offences in February, and if found guilty he may be jailed. Townsend would be an obvious replacement.)

I watched the Tyne-Wear derby where Sunderland beat Newcastle 3-0. This was a big test for Yedlin, probably his biggest match since playing in the World Cup. I thought he was excellent defensively — his positioning was good, he was aggressive in winning the ball, and he didn’t give the ball away. When Newcastle threatened, it was down Sunderland’s left flank, which struggled early on with Daryl Janmaat.

The view from Sunderland fans on Reddit is fairly positive. On a recent thread about Yedlin, views ranged from “I think he is doing great” to “Okay overall” to “He’s no Phil Bardsley”. That last one may be a compliment.

Yedlin this week spoke to SI’s Grant Wahl, and it was an interesting read. It sounded like the Sunderland experience was helping him grow on and off the pitch — which was exactly the point of him being sent up there.

Under new manager Sam Allardyce at Sunderland, Yedlin said the team has been playing more direct than he’s been used to, forcing him to focus more on defending than usual. But he added that’s a good thing, since defending is “the part of my game that needs the most work.”

Now that he’s playing in Premier League games at Sunderland, Yedlin said he feels like everything is starting to fall into place. Spurs coaches have kept in touch with him, and he’s looking forward to playing the rest of the season with Sunderland, then returning to Spurs and competing for a spot in the team.

Sunderland may not have been where Yedlin envisaged he’d end up after moving from Seattle, but there is a huge opportunity for him. It is great to read that he appears to be embracing it.

Kyle Walker has been hugely impressive this season for Spurs, and is cementing his position as first-choice. But he has a history of injuries, and Spurs hopefully have learned the lesson of not having sufficient cover at full back. Walker’s back-up, Kieran Trippier, hasn’t impressed in his Europa League appearances so far, making several big errors.

Danny Rose proved that good performances on loan at Sunderland can be a pathway to a first-team place at Spurs, which should be all the incentive that Yedlin requires. Early days, but I’m not writing Yedlin off as another Franco Baldini bust quite yet.

Spurs back in for Berahino? An analysis of the West Brom striker and what he would bring

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Sky Sports via Google Images

With most of the squad off on international duty, you can bet Messrs Levy, Pochettino and Mitchell have been meeting at Hotspur Way over the past week to hammer out transfer strategy for January.

Spurs are firmly in the hunt for the Champions League places, so the question will be whether to bring forward spending that may have been deferred until next summer had Poch’s boys been less feisty. There is a finite amount of money to be spent, due to the need to ensure the accounts are as rosy as possible as Spurs undertake the financing for the new stadium. But with the wage bill significantly trimmed after a summer of pragmatic player trading, and having recorded an £80 million profit in the previous financial year, there should be, in old football parlance, “money to get one or two in.”

In many ways, it’s a no-brainer. Spurs may not have a better to chance to crack the Top Four for seasons to come, but still remain a Harry Kane metatarsal away from a serious problem up front. Son Heung-min deputized well for Kane in one Europa league match, Clinton N’Jie not so well in another. That’s how lucky we’ve been.

Clearly, judging by the nasty Saido Berahino business on transfer deadline day, an attempt was made to bring in another forward in the summer. Meanwhile, the form of Eric Dier may have put an end to attempts to recruit an established defensive midfielder. Or, it may have highlighted the benefits of having someone playing a defensive role, and made Pochettino want a world-class one even more.

Several reports have suggested that the Berahino deal may be back on: Oh to be a fly on the wall for that first phone call between Daniel Levy and Jeremy Peace.

Since vowing to not play for Peace again, Berahino has exploited a loophole of instead playing for West Brom, to a modest degree of success, scoring three times in 10 games. Reports in local media suggest Berahino has neither been offered nor asked for a new deal, meaning his well-below-market-rate £15,000 per week deal has 18 months to run come January. If West Brom gained plaudits from some for standing up to Tottenham’s clumsy advances in the summer, they will be lucky to get a similar £25 million offer in January. Such are the choices clubs have to make when bigger predators coming hunting.

Berahino is a divisive figure in the game, a bit like Jermain Defoe was to a certain extent early in his career. Some see him as the sort of player Defoe would have been if he had come through the ranks now — a poacher who also has developed some ability to play from wide and with his back to goal. Others see him as a streaky forward who is living off one good season, who is overrated because of his nationality and whose personal baggage means he should be avoided.

I thought I’d take a closer look at his record and see if there is anything that can be taken from it. I’m not a Number Wizard, but there is a lot of data out there so I want to try and use it. I welcome any constructive criticism — special thanks to James Yorke of Statsbomb fame for taking time to offer detailed advice on my piece on Kyle Walker. People on the internet in doing nice things shock.

The first thing I wanted to look at is Berahino’s goal-scoring record. Last season, he scored 14 goals in 38 league appearances. This season he has three goals in his 10 appearances and in 2013/14 he managed five goals in 32 league appearances. So, while this season is still young, you can see how you can start spinning a “one-season wonder” line, as was thrown at our Harry not so long ago. But, a more detailed analysis paints a somewhat different picture.

BerahinoGoalsTable

I’ve taken data from Transfermarkt.com — it includes all cup and reserve appearances. Particularly early on in a career, first-team minutes can be limited, especially in the league — just look at how someone like Kane was required to prove himself in the Europa League and Cup teams before making the jump. You can see, aside from his first season of playing reserve football, Berahino has been very consistent in scoring goals in the minutes available. This season, while Berahino has played 10 times, he has only played 662 minutes — barely two thirds of what he could have done. He has averaged a goal every other game in three seasons, and in two others he is under a goal every 2.5 games.

I thought I would compare him to a couple of other players of a similar age, Kane and Danny Ings. All three have similar trajectories, in terms of requiring time in lower leagues before hitting their stride.

berahinogoalscomp

As you can see, Berahino stacks up very well. While he has never quite caught fire to the same degree as Kane did last season, Berahino was scoring at a faster rate than Kane in 2011/12 and 2012/13 as they were attempting to establish themselves outside the Premier League. Ings was red hot in 2013/14 as he fired Burnley into the Premier League, but went at less than a goal every three games in Burnley’s season in the top flight and was comfortably outperformed before that. Sadly injury has ended his first Liverpool season early.

Going a little deeper, here is a table comparing these three strikers in terms of shots per 90 minutes, using WhoScored statistics (which only includes Premier League data, not cups which is a touch annoying).  I’ve also added shots outside box — just to see if they are padding shot numbers with long range efforts, which they aren’t really.

berahinoshotspergame

Looking at last season, Kane scored 21 league goals while averaging 3.9 shots per 90 minutes. Berahino scored 14 while averaging 2.6 shots per 90, and Ings 11 goals while averaging 2.9 per 90. If this is a reasonable measure of being “clinical” or “efficient” — someone, please help me back to the shallow end — Berahino is certainly ahead of Ings, and is exactly on a par with Kane.

I also added passes per 90 into this table. This is more my curiosity, just as an ultra simplistic measure of how “involved” they were. More than anything, I wanted to see if the “goal hanger” tag can be directed at Berahino — was he just waiting around for the ball to come to him? You’d say, he passes less than Kane but more than Ings. “Key passes” per 90 in the league last season showed Kane on 1.2 per 90, Ings on 1.0 and Berahino on 0.9. I’m not sure this proves anything, but I’m just throwing it out there.

This season so far, Berahino is averaging just 1.3 shots per 90 minutes. That is way lower than in previous seasons and speaks to the misery of playing in this West Brom team.

I had a play with Paul Riley’s dashboard of analytics tools to see if I could illustrate how much more fun it is to be Harry Kane than Saido Berahino at the moment.

First, this is shots on target contrasting Spurs and Kane (above), to WBA and Berahino (below). Kane is getting loads of shots on target from inside the box, Berahino not so much.

spurswbakanebera

Second, I thought I would contrast the key passes and assists, especially from the key creative players in the team, of which a striker is likely to be the main beneficiary. For Spurs, this is Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela (Mousa Dembele, despite all the recent positivity, really doesn’t create much). For West Brom, I struggled to even think who the creative players could be in a midfield of James McClean, Darren Fletcher, Stephane Sessegnon and Claudio Yacob.  In terms of numbers of arrows into the box, the main creators appear to be James Morrison, who Pulis no longer starts, and Chris Brunt, who is being forced to play out of position at left back. Yeah.

As you can see, it is grim.

berahino_keypass_comp

Spurs have created 143 chances this season, ranking them 4th, while West Brom are rock bottom with just 86 chances created. West Brom rank second bottom in total passes — behind a direct but fun Leicester, playing what Andre Villas-Boas might like to call “vertical football”. West Brom’s percentage of shots within 6 yards is the highest in the league at 14 percent. I’d imagine this points to a fair number of the chances coming from crosses. Berahino is 1.79m (5ft 10) — his strike partners are Salomon Rondon (1.86m) and Rickie Lambert (1.87m). We can guess where the crosses are more likely to be aimed. I’ve watched this West Brom team a couple of times, they are more like the late Pulis era Stoke than the fiercely competitive Crystal Palace team he coaxed out of relegation trouble. They’ve tightened up a little defensively, and three 1-0 wins against fellow strugglers Villa, Norwich and Sunderland have given them a flattering league position. But West Brom are just plain horrible — if I was Berahino, I’d want out of there on style alone.

I don’t want to draw too many conclusions from the data presented above. However, there is certainly a case to be made that Berahino is a consistent goal-getter, who would score more on a team like Spurs who create plenty of chances.

The dreaded bit on character

The other side of the Berahino dilemma is the more intangible stuff — baggage, attitude, or whatever vaguely offensive term you want to use to describe it.

There have been a few incidents — inhaling nitrous oxide, an arrest for drink driving, his petulant tweet on deadline day — that have been used to paint a picture of a potentially bad character. By contrast, aged 22 he has already set up a personal foundation aimed at improving lives in Africa, and is a devout Christian (which doesn’t mean you don’t err once in a while).

His personal story is extraordinary. This is his “Early Life” entry from Wikipedia:

Born in Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi, Berahino played football as a child with a ball of plastic bags tied up with laces. His father was killed in 1997 during the Burundian Civil War. He travelled to England alone at the age of 10, fleeing the ongoing war to join his mother, brother and sisters who had already been granted asylum in Newtown, Birmingham. He could not locate his family on arrival, and was put in a care home. After his mother Liliane was traced, immigration officials had to administer a DNA test to confirm their relationship.

By contrast, as far as we are aware, the most traumatic thing that happened in Harry Kane’s childhood was being photographed in an Arsenal shirt.

Once you are tarred with the “bad character” brush in the media and by ex-pros, it is very hard to shake it off. So far this season, Pulis has criticized Berahino for being out of shape due to being distracted by a move in pre-season, and suggested he was a wimp after his missed header against Manchester United. This isn’t exactly helping his chances of a move, which I suspect Pulis knows full well.

This may be a concern for Spurs. Under Pochettino there has been a ruthless rooting out of players who aren’t willing or able to live up to the head coach’s demanding training and tactical requirements. Talent hasn’t been the only factor in who stays, and who goes. The word “character” is sometimes laughed at due to its excessive use by the Proper Football Men, but you can’t look at what Spurs have done in the past 18 months and ignore the importance of this particular issue in the club’s decision making. Tottenham’s head of player identification, Rob Mackenzie, acknowledged exactly the importance of character recently.

My snap judgement is that the criticism of Berahino is on the harsh side. Young men do daft things. But if, say, something as silly as an inappropriate tweet is held against Berahino among Premier League recruiters, that could create an advantage for Spurs in trying to find value in an inflated striker market. Either way, you can bet Spurs would be doing comprehensive due diligence before spending big on Berahino — as they will on every player after the Bale money debacle.

In conclusion

We’re in a fortunate position at Spurs in that we have already discovered a leading front man in Harry Kane. What we need is talented forward players who can provide cover if Kane is hurt or in need of rest, and also contribute when playing alongside him. We lack punch off the bench in tight matches — for example in the draws against Everton and Swansea.

Scoring goals for West Brom isn’t easy — only Romelu Lukaku and Peter Odemwingie have hit the 15-goal mark in the past five seasons. Averaging a goal less than every 2.5 games for this lot is nothing to be sniffed at. Berahino may be a divisive figure, but for the right price he feels a good bet.

Thanks for reading. For more random musings on Spurs, please follow me on Twitter — @spurs_report

Lurking in the deep: Spurs and the threat posed by Man Utd

Louis

Louis van Gaal realises his Rooney replacement dossier is a touch on the thin side. Via Google Images

Goldman Sachs was infamously described by Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi as a “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.”

Manchester United, appropriately enough run by a former investment banker, are the vampire squid of the Premier League, attempting to suck the life out of the competition through the force of its myriad commercial deals with global mega brands like Zong, Wahaha and Mister Potato.

The legacy of decades of Sir Alex Ferguson-inspired domination has been the belief that Manchester United have the duty to fillet the Premier League of its best players, and the financial muscle to do exactly this.

Since Wayne Rooney arrived in 2004/05, United have spent £296.5 million on British or British-based players. according to a rough and dirty calculation using Soccerbase values. The list combines young talents summoned to a bigger stage, such as Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Wilfried Zaha, and established Premier League performers such as Robin van Persie and Juan Mata, whose moves had the double advantage of strengthening Man Utd while theoretically weakening a rival.

(Spurs, hardly shrinking violets when it comes to the transfer market, have spent £200 million domestically in that period, although that figure is inflated by a few, shall we say, “circular” deals that have seen the likes of Robbie Keane, Jermain Defoe and Younes Kaboul go, and then come back soon after, for a handsome profit.)

Spurs have been on the receiving end of Manchester United’s preying instincts in the past, with Michael Carrick and Dimitar Berbatov heading north in search of glory and fortune. If reports are to be believed, Tottenham lured United into a bidding war with Real Madrid over Gareth Bale, but the player had his heart set on Spain.

Along with Everton, Manchester United see Spurs as a prime feeder club — an also-ran with a track record of identifying and developing talent in preparation for starring roles at the Theatre of Dreams. Lads, it’s Tottenham, and so forth. Before we get too high and mighty, this is just a basic fact of life in the Premier League food chain. Spurs snapping their fingers at West Brom over Saido Berahino and expecting them to fold on deadline day was no more edifying.

“Arr Squidy, it was nothing personal, I just heard there was gold in your belly”

So why do I bring this up now, when it is going so goddam well for Spurs?

The problem is, with every goal Harry Kane bangs in, and every rival midfielder Dele Alli forces off at half-time through dizziness, the merciless red cephalopod will be more tempted to insert its funnel into Hotspur Way and suck out our lifeblood. We saw it in the summer with Kane, and we will see it again now he’s shaken the “one-season wonder” tag. This isn’t some doomsday scenario, desperately searching for a cloud in a clear blue sky. This is just the reality of being Spurs.

In Kane and Alli, Spurs have a couple of very shiny young things that fit what Manchester United need on and off the pitch. With Spurs unexpectedly feisty and having the temerity to challenge United for a Top Four position, possibly for years to come, United need to do something about it.

The cozy Top Four arrangement, whereby only chronic incompetence by one of United, Manchester City, Chelsea (tee-hee) and Arsenal sees them miss out on the Champions League, is wonderfully lucrative, even as poor English TV viewers pay out ever more for the privilege of occasionally watching their team’s Premier League matches. The Big Four can’t be letting a suddenly competent Spurs, or a Jurgen Klopp-inspired Liverpool, crash their party. The best way to do this? Strip them for parts.

From the Spurs perspective, Manchester United are the ones to fear. Mercifully, the whole Tottenham-Woolwich thing and the dreadful relationships between the boardrooms at Spurs and Chelsea remove much of the intra-city threat. Manchester CIty’s whole project remains a weirdly empty and pointless one, and while they managed to tempt Raheem Sterling, they’ve not yet seriously tried to recruit any good young’uns from Spurs. I hope it stays that way. But Manchester United — they’ve done it before, and they will try to do it again. For Liverpool, as Chelsea proved with Fernando Torres, Arsenal tried to prove with Luis Suarez and Manchester City proved with Raheem Sterling, the danger is from everywhere but Old Trafford.

Oddly, under Fergie, I always had a “lesser of four evils” feeling towards Manchester United. Yes, they won an awful lot, but they did so at the expense of Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool. Furthermore, they always used to win stylishly — I don’t think there has been a better Premier League team to watch than the one with Ronaldo, Rooney and Tevez up top — and normally with a healthy sprinkling of English players.

Now, they are just a monstrosity. They are the most boring team in the league, they no longer produce good young English players, and they fling money around in an embarrassing fashion, driving up the prices for everyone else and making English football a laughing stock in Europe. Their accumulation of corporate sponsors is shameless, and their ownership structure would be reprehensible if it wasn’t so hilariously ironic — the vampire squid of the Premier League is in turn owned by blood-sucking parasites in the Glazers who contribute nothing, and extract as much as they can fill their boots with. Worst of all though, you used to be able to rely on Man United to beat the Arsenal, and now they can’t even do that.

So aside from the strategic benefit of cutting off Spurs’ balls, why am I so worried that Kane and Alli, among all young global footballing superstars, seem so potentially appealing to Manchester United?

First, with Rooney seemingly in decline, United need a replacement attacking figurehead. Nevermind that United dropped £36 million and rising on Anthony Martial, who looks pretty handy. With his slicked back hair, pleasing media presence and deadly finishing — possibly in that order of importance for Brand United — Kane is an obvious contender as the next “iconic striker” at Old Trafford. (There really aren’t that many other choices, though Romelu Lukaku at Everton may just save our bacon.)

kaneunited

Long live Photoshop. Via Google.

In midfield, United have a lot of pleasing passers who are capable of playing 90 minutes of keep-ball, which unfortunately for paying fans at Old Trafford they’ve taken to doing. At some stage, the Red Devils are going to need to start doing radical things like “creating chances” and “scoring goals” or Louis van Gaal is going to experience the wrong end of a pitchfork. It is admittedly early days, but Alli has already shown himself to be a dynamic two-way midfield player willing and able to break forward and score goals.

If Spurs are looking for favours from even favoured media outlets in playing down any rumours, they’ve got another thing coming. Take this week’s missive from Jason Burt of the Daily Telegraph:

He [Kane] was linked to Manchester United over the summer and, although no bid was made, Spurs again declared that he would not be sold. “He’s one of our own,” the Spurs supporters gleefully sing about Kane in a chant that both the player and the club embrace. Yet it is a strategy that might be tested to the full should the right level of club come calling with an offer that proves very difficult to turn down. Spurs still need to prove they are not a selling club.

It’s classic #journalese — artfully combining a strong official denial with some vague statements of the obvious to ensure the contentious issue in question remains very much alive and available for extensive future coverage.

Kane himself couldn’t have been any clearer that he sees his long-term future at Spurs, but that isn’t going to stop him being linked with a move away. The problem isn’t just the clickbait incentive of the media — it’s the track record of almost every other top footballer in recent decades.

How many have been able to resist the lure of big clubs and big wages? Steven Gerrard maybe, but he handed in a transfer request to seek a move to Chelsea six weeks AFTER Liverpool won the bloomin’ Champions League, and with a huge contract on the table. Before that, I’m really racking my brains and going back a long way. Matt Le Tissier? All due respect to Ledley King, Jamie Carragher and, erm, Tony Hibbert — Real Madrid or Man Utd weren’t exactly knocking the door down for them, for differing reasons.

Kane may be as dreamily perfect and loyal to the end as us fans want to believe. Maybe he watched the sight of Wayne Rooney driving sadly around Goodison Park, a king without a kingdom, and will seek to avoid the loss of being a legend and being loved, no matter the cost in trophies and money. But more likely, when push comes to shove, he can’t resist. He wouldn’t have survived the ruthless culls on his way up the Spurs ranks if it wasn’t for a single-minded determination and fierce ambition.

I’d add, I don’t really buy the “just say no, he has years left on his contract” argument of player retention. It ignores basic principles such as squad cohesion, player incentives and club stability. You play Football Manager and assume that once you click through half a season the player will just back down like the walking spreadsheet that he is. Humans are complicated, and humans together are complex. Are West Brom better for having kept an unhappy Saido Berahino? I’ve had the misfortune of watching them a couple of times this season, and I’m not sure. At best, it’s a delaying tactic.

Spurs have no interest in selling Kane, or any other of the young jewels. No bid is worth it from Spurs point of view, not with the future so bright and the new stadium coming. No bid is worth it from Daniel Levy’s perspective — his reputation in the eyes of the fans would never recover.

But United’s appetite for talent is voracious. They are lurking in the deep, tentacles at the ready, poised to strike. They are going to undermine Spurs, unsettle our players, and offer such huge amounts of money that a logical argument for agreeing to a sale may seep in and cloud the decision-making process like blood in clear water.

So Spurs better get ready. Phase one: How about finishing above United again? No ambitious player wants to take a step down.

Thanks for reading. If you are interested in more random musings on all things Spurs, please follow me on Twitter, My handle is @crg_yeah

Winter is coming: A comprehensive review of where Spurs stand 12 games in, and the challenges ahead

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Getty via Google Images

The November international break is upon us, giving the Spurs squad a deserved break before the descent into the breathless winter schedule.

Tottenham’s England contingent head off for two interesting friendlies against Spain and France, and good performances from Eric Dier, Dele Alli, Kyle Walker and Harry Kane will add further fuel to the hype that is building around the young core that Mauricio Pochettino has assembled.

So, 12 games in, it is a perfect opportunity to take stock of what has been a hugely promising start to the season, and look forward to what is to come.

But first, some thoughts on the North London Derby.

Good performance, but could have been a great result

Spurs, shrugging off two games played previously in the week, descended upon the Emirates looking meaner, leaner and hungrier than an Arsenal squad bearing scars from its shellacking against Bayern on Wednesday night.

Spurs were respectful in the opening passages, clearly mindful of Arsenal’s performance against Manchester United. In that game, Arsenal, embarrassed by another midweek Champions League defeat, hurtled out of the gates and had the game won before the travelling Man United fans could say “Schweinsteiger”. The key to Spurs’ dominance came on about 20 minutes, when Mauricio Pochettino switched Dele Alli and Mousa Dembele. Alli’s dynamism was too much for Santi Cazorla, who was withdrawn citing dizziness at half-time. In a deeper role, the play flowed through a rejuvenated Dembele, who once again drove forward where in previous seasons he would have laid the ball off sideways and had a breather.

It was a strange game: while Spurs were far better in midfield performance, we didn’t seem to create all that many chances. None of Kane or Eriksen’s chances at 1-0 up seemed that strong, while Toby Alderweireld was unlucky that his header from an exquisite Erik Lamela corner went straight at Petr Cech. Arsenal, meanwhile, looked second-best for most of the game, but nevertheless had two very clear chances for Olivier Giroud. The XG map from Michael Caley captured this very well.

I warned in the build-up that Arsenal weren’t to be taken lightly, despite the buoyancy enveloping the Spurs fanbase. While they lack a quality striker and midfield power, they are formidable chance creators. I’m starting to get Mesut Ozil — so much of the focus from commentators is on what he doesn’t do, at the expense of what he does. He has created 54 chances this season, which is insane. His cross for the equalizer was perfection.

On the goal, there is a little blame to spread around. First, Son Heung-min made an error in his pressing, giving Ozil time to get the cross in. It’s getting weird when we bemoan the absence of Erik Lamela in our defensive shape. Second, Alderweireld lost Giroud, who was hanging deeper. This left Walker with both Giroud and Gibbs to deal with — Ozil exploited this to the maximum. Finally, Hugo Lloris should have done better. He was oddly passive throughout the game, and the goal sneaked through almost in slow motion when he really should have found a way of blocking it. But, if a Lloris mistake is what it takes for Spurs to drop points these days, then we are in very good shape because they don’t happen often.

After the goal, I was impressed with the way Spurs saw out the game. It was very mature — they recognised that the game was now gone, and focused on closing it out and making sure we at least came out with a point. A lot of reports said that Spurs tired, but I’m not sure it was tiredness — they started walking to the ball to slow it, not because they were out of puff.

I felt proud watching this performance. The midfielders tore, wolf-like, into Arsenal. It was almost poetic in its relentless beauty. We saw Spurs go toe-to-toe with Arsenal at the Lane last Spring, but this was the first time in a long time that I can remember a feeling of dominance. But, Arsenal are very dangerous, and a point against them is never bad, no matter how disappointing it may have felt on 90 minutes. Arsenal fans left the Emirates knowing that Spurs are coming for them, and hard.

Tottenham 2.0 in numbers

This is a different Spurs team we are watching, I know most fans feel this. Young, hungry, together: the Tottenham 2.0 that I talked about over the summer, that feeling of calm and direction off the field, is now manifesting on it. Some numbers paint a better picture than I can with words.

  • Spurs lead the league in tackles (23.9) and fouls (14.3) per game, per WhoScored. I believe some of the fouls weren’t by Erik Lamela, but I can’t be sure. This is NOT what you expect, historically from Spurs, but it will take some time before the “Soft Spurs” narrative disappears from our TV screens, and by “some time” I mean when ex-Liverpool and Manchester United players no longer appear. More fouls and tackles aren’t necessarily a good thing, per se, but illustrates a new toughness that I welcome.
  • Spurs ran 115km and made 589 sprints on Monday, played Anderlecht on Thursday, and then ran another 114km and made 516 sprints on Sunday, per F365. As far as I’m aware, we’ve outrun our opponents every match bar the Liverpool match, when Liverpool were desperately trying to impress Jurgen Klopp.
  • Spurs have gone from one of the most porous defenses, to the tightest. In his metric of danger zone shots not assisted by crosses (a measure for reflecting “good” chances from open play), Michael Caley shows how Spurs have transformed this. Last season, Spurs gave up between 120-140 danger zone shots (non-crosses), this season 11 games in that number is not yet at 20. (And, against Arsenal, most of their chances came from crosses — so some work to do on aerial defending).
  • Of Spurs 20 goals this season, seven have come from set pieces. This is the highest number in the league. We have two outstanding set piece takers in Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela, but even so this may be unsustainable.
  • Going back to the Arsenal game again, it was a good example of how we are creating chances, but not necessarily good ones. It has always felt like we shoot a  lot from long range — that’s something that hasn’t changed much from AVB to Poch. This season, per WhoScored, 57 percent of our shots are inside the box. For Arsenal, that number is 72 percent, and Southampton, a real rival for 4th place, it is 71 percent. Man City are at 62 percent. Manchester United’s anaemic attack shoots from inside the box on just 51 percent of occasions. Of course, Arsenal in particular get stick for NOT shooting outside the box — but still it seems that Harry Kane is having to create his own chances, ending with a snapshot at goal from 20 yards out, too often. There is room for improvement on chance creation from open play.
  • Spurs are on an 11 game unbeaten streak, but some perspective is needed on this. First, I previously stated Spurs are on the longest unbeaten streak since the peak Redknapp team of Modric and Bale in 2011/12. That is incorrect, my apologies. Under Redknapp, the longest streak Spurs managed was 11 games. The 12-game streak I have been referring to was in 2012/13 under AVB. Credit where credit is due, etc… In the AVB streak, Spurs won eight and drew four (28 points). In the streak under Redknapp, Spurs won 10 and drew one (31 points). In Poch’s streak, Spurs have won five and drawn six (21 points). So, while we are hard to beat, Spurs are still finding it a little hard to win.
  • Finally, if this is too encouraging, here are two XG-based forecasts of where we stand. In short, we are right where we need to be.

Warning, Europa League scheduling may cause headaches

The Europa League trip to Qarabag, in Azerbaijan, represents a major dilemma for Pochettino. We’ve had short trips to Monaco and Anderlecht so far, but Baku is a different ball game at 2,460 miles in distance. That is a near 5,000-mile round-trip wedged between a Super Sunday clash with West Ham, and an early Sunday kick-off against Chelsea. It is a brutal bit of scheduling — just the sort of luck, perhaps, that Mourinho needs to cling on to his job.

Here are places that are closer to London than Baku: Cairo (2,180 miles), Beirut (2,147 miles), Tromso (an old and cold Europa League friend, up in the Arctic Circle but just 1,397 miles away), Perm (the Russian hairstyle capital in the Urals, and just 2,222 miles away, if you need any work done). In fairness though, Baku is marginally closer than the North Pole, which is 2,664 miles from London — and will probably feel warmer than Azerbaijan on a late November evening.

This weekend, Liverpool slumped to their worst performance under Jurgen Klopp, which came after their longest Europa League trip, a 4,000 mile round trip to Kazan. Klopp’s refusal to blame tiredness was admirable, but long-distance travel, despite all the comforts provided by rich Premier League clubs with nice planes, has a myriad of impacts that can be detrimental to performance beyond what we may conventionally call tiredness.

Having to play in Baku on a Thursday evening, fly back 2,460 miles, then play Chelsea on Sunday at midday is insane. Of course, neither the Premier League or Uefa wants to compromise their schedules, but if ever there was a contender for a Europa game to be shifted to a Wednesday, or to have an extra Premier League game on a Monday night (especially as both teams are out of the League Cup), this is it. Chelsea are playing away in Tel Aviv the same week, which is almost as far away at 2,210 miles, but they are playing on Tuesday, which means a precious and perhaps decisive two extra days of recovery,

Pochettino has insisted that he is prioritizing both the Premier League and Europa League, and has played strong line-ups throughout. The sloppy performance at Anderlecht means Spurs qualification isn’t yet assured, which they must have hoped at this stage. But, even though the group remains in the balance, I hope a number of key players are left at home. None of Kane, Alli, Dier, Eriksen and Lamela should make the trip. Qarabag aren’t the muppets we thought they might be — the team can play. They beat Anderlecht at home, and drew with Monaco. Thursday night in Baku — maybe it’s the new wet Tuesday night in Stoke. If Spurs beat Monaco they are almost guaranteed to top the group (there are a few other variables that go to goal difference and head-to-head). If Spurs can’t beat Monaco at home, then we don’t have much chance once we get into the knockout stages.

For what it is worth, SkyBet has us at 2/1 to finish in the Top Four — we are now shorter money than Liverpool and Chelsea, as well as Southampton. For the Europa League, SkyBet has us at 18/1, with Dortmund the favourites at 6/1. And this is before the Champions League teams join. It just feels a no-brainer at this point to rotate more on Thursdays to ensure we are fresh for the weekend.

Future schedule — opportunity knocks

After a gruelling first week back, Spurs schedule then softens up and presents a huge opportunity to push hard for a Top Four place. The unbeaten run can’t last — as discussed earlier, I fear it will come to an end against Chelsea due to the tough scheduling. Unless Chelsea have completely imploded by that point.

After that, the fixtures are West Brom (away), Monaco (home), Newcastle (home) and Southampton (away).

The Christmas period is Norwich home on Boxing Day, then Watford away on the 28th. We then have a nice break until we play Everton at Goodison Park on January 3rd.

Southampton and Everton are both challengers for the European places, so facing them without having played in the Europa beforehand is fantastic. They are both good teams, but are they to be feared? Not really. The only thing that worries me is that in Graziano Pelle and Romelu Lukaku they have big physical strikers of the sort our ball-playing Belgians most struggle to contain. Some high-ball training, and maybe a sharp aperitif to ensure Hugo is awake and charging off his line, would be the order of the day.

Thanks for reading. If you enjoy this blog, please follow me on Twitter, my handle is @spurs_report.

For first time in Wenger era, Spurs have something that Arsenal lack

kanearsenal

Via Google Images

Spurs head to the Emptyrates on Sunday in buoyant mood after wins over Aston Villa and Anderlecht, and are hopeful of making it a hat-trick of victories in a week against teams beginning with the letter “A”.

It has been a rare old start to the season for Spurs, unbeaten in the league since the narrow opening-day defeat against Manchzzzzzzzzzzzzz United and with Mauricio Pochettino finally getting his young team playing like a Pochettino team should. There is a sense of calm and direction enveloping the club and fanbase, which is producing weird side effects such as a belief that we may actually beat the Gooners on Sunday.

Adding to the sense of giddiness, Arsenal are embarking on their annual injury crisis a touch earlier than normal, and endured an absolute walloping by Bayern Munich in midweek.

However, one look at the Premier League table can restore the equilibrium — Arsenal are joint top with Manchester City, and aside from a silly defeat by West Ham and Wenger’s annual debagging by Jose Mourinho, they are looking very good indeed. They may have been embarrassed by Sheffield Wednesday in the League Cup, but, typically, they got there by beating us.

This is the way with Wenger. Regardless of what he achieved with the Invincibles, the sustained Champions League football, and whatever success he brings to the club in the final few years of his tenure, he will be ultimately be credited by Gooners fans with one thing above all: He has always ensured Arsenal finish above Tottenham.

It is now 19 seasons and counting, which is an awfully long time. It is longer than Joshua Onomah has been alive, for instance. Pochettino is the 10th Spurs manager to try and find a way to get ahead of Wenger, and despite us being on our longest unbeaten run since Gareth Bale and Luka Modric were running riot in the Harry Redknapp era, we are still below bloody Arsenal in the table.

This sustained success has added piquancy to the rivalry, making those (rare) wins against the Gooners even sweeter for Spurs fans. But if there is one thing worse than accepting that your fiercest rivals are better than you, it’s admitting that a small (and reptilian) part of you admires them for it.

It feels deeply illicit, dirty even, to say it out loud, but admit it: What Wenger has achieved has been incredible.

Just look at how hard it has been for Spurs to crack the Top Four, especially since Manchester City struck oil, yet every bloomin’ season Arsenal have found a way to do it. On top of that, they play highly attractive and technically excellent football. I need a shower, but I’ve said it. If Spurs had somehow appointed Wenger, rather than nobodies like Christian Gross, Jacques Santini and Andre Villas-Boas, would we be talking about St Woolwich’s Day, rather than St Totteringham’s Day? Like most Spurs fans, I’m firmly in the #WengerOut club — sacking him would be the craziest thing Arsenal could possibly do.

To add one further heretical thought to this: I’ve long felt Arsenal’s success has helped Spurs. While clubs like Villa, Newcastle and Leeds have stumbled, Spurs have doggedly hung in there and remained a strong Premier League club. The need to at least compete with Arsenal, even if we’ve never found a way to best them in the Wenger era, has helped drive Spurs on. We’ve repeatedly bounced back from terrible managerial appointments, constant shifts in strategy and huge transfer mistakes, desperate to make sure that Arsenal, while sometime out of reach, were never out of sight. We’ve almost always given them a hell of a game, even if we’ve lost more than we’ve won, which is why the North London derby is the fiercest derby in the Premier League.

A similar dynamic exists between Liverpool and Everton, with the blue half clinging on to the red half’s coat tails, just about. But Everton’s performances against Liverpool in derbies have always betrayed a sense of inferiority and disparity that has never existed in North London.

And so here’s the weird thing, which I think is at the heart of the buoyancy gripping Spurs fans at the moment, far more than merely the good league form. For the first time since Wenger took over, the dirty and heretical feelings of admiration may actually be flowing in the other direction.

Yes, Arsenal may have more money, a bigger stadium and Champions League football. But Spurs, with local boys coming through and the crowd singing “he’s one of our own” while Harry Kane bangs in the goals, have discovered an identity that Arsenal fans crave.

Over at The Fighting Cock, Bardi wrote wonderfully about how, while he hates Jack Wilshere, at least he understands who Wilshere is. I completely agree with his views on the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil — big, expensive names but with no connection to Arsenal aside from the turns of events at bigger European clubs that forced them there. These stars are as lacking in identity as the stadium they play in — the Emirates may be a giant, revenue-generating machine, but are the fans any happier there than they were at Highbury? It is an identikit stadium, watching an identikit team. No wonder it is so bloody quiet.

Meanwhile, Arsenal’s production line of talent has ground to halt. For years, they have sought out exciting foreign teenagers as a workaround for homegrown registration rules. It looked smart with the likes of Fabregas coming through. I watched, chortling gently throughout, the shambles at Hillsborough when Sheffield Wednesday turned them over. Wenger even had the temerity to blame his young players for not being ready. But who where they? Of the four, only one, Alex Iwobi, could be considered homegrown. The other three, Glen Kamara, Ismael Bennacer and Krystian Bielik, were all talented teens snapped up from overseas.

Where is the emotional connection going to come from? It’s the same with Adnan Januzaj at Manchester United — these young imports never get the same patience and support as a truly local lad. Football is an emotional game, being a fan isn’t logical — most of us start young, hero-worshipping players while kicking a ball around in the garden, and never properly grow out of it. So when you see someone out there who, sorta kinda possibly, could have been you — a Harry Kane, a Ryan Mason — it fulfils something that is deep inside.

Arsenal are still better than us, on the field. I suspect they will win on Sunday, and I’m almost certain they will finish above us in the table. The bookies certainly think so. It will hurt like hell, as it always does.

But this derby comes at a fascinating moment. For the first time in a very long time, Arsenal fans are having to, grudgingly, admit to themselves that maybe Spurs fans have something that they don’t. It’s a weird feeling.

Please follow me on Twitter for more random musings on Spurs. My handle is @spurs_report.