Tag Archives: 2016/2017 season

How do Spurs get better?

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By Charles Richards / @spurs_report

The Premier League is a show that never ends, and with the 2016/17 campaign done and dusted, attention moves immediately to 2017/18.

While players enjoy a well-earned summer holiday (after the dreaded post-season tour), planning for the next campaign will intensify: the transfer market waits for no-one.

For Spurs, after a magnificent season in which only the sustained excellence of Chelsea denied the club some much-wanted silverware, the question that will be asked by the likes of Mauricio Pochettino and Daniel Levy is a simple one: “How do we get better”?

Unlike the Manchester clubs, Spurs have few gaping holes to fill in the transfer market; unlike Chelsea and Liverpool, there is less need for an extensive deepening of the squad to cope with enhanced demands of European football.

But does that mean Spurs can stand still? Absolutely not. The club only needs to look at Arsenal to see the dangers that complacency can bring.

Speaking before the White Hart Lane finale, Pochettino made clear that he wasn’t going to let the summer drift by: “We are so ambitious and always want to improve. We are building step by step for our future. We are preparing for the next season in all the areas we need to improve, and we believe we can improve and be stronger.”

By way of perspective, Spurs got a LOT better from 2015/16 to 2016/17.

  • Spurs gained 16 extra points — increasing from 70 to 86
  • Spurs cut down the number of draws from 13 to 8
  • Spurs scored 17 more goals, increasing the total from 69 to 86
  • Spurs increased goal difference by +26, from +34 to +60
  • Spurs were unbeaten at home, and won all home matches against top six rivals bar Liverpool

This is impressive for a variety of reasons. For starters, Spurs were improving from an already strong base — a 3rd place finish, not an artificially low mid-table position. Also, Spurs didn’t have the same luck with injuries as in Pochettino’s first two campaigns. Harry Kane, Toby Alderweireld, Mousa Dembele and Jan Vertonghen all missed more than a month worth of games; while Harry Winks, Danny Rose and Erik Lamela missed substantially more.

By nature of how good Spurs were in 2016/17, improvements in 2017/18 are likely to be more incremental in nature: we’re highly unlikely to improve by 16 points again. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t clear areas for improvement:

  • Spurs won just 9 away games, joint lowest among the top six
  • Spurs won just two points in away games against other top six sides
  • Spurs won only 10 points out of a possible 21 in October and November, during the Champions League group stages
  • Spurs failed to advance from their Champions League group, and embarrassed themselves in the Europa League

There was also the issue of the lack of silverware — it is nine seasons and counting since the last trophy, which is far too long.

But winning silverware is harder to plan for: Spurs reached the FA Cup semi-final, played well, and somehow conceded four to an utterly ruthless Chelsea. This is now seven FA Cup semi-final defeats in a row — which is a record, and a freakish level of futility. The aim must be to continue to build a squad for which reaching the latter stages of the FA Cup is an expectation, rather than a hope. The hope comes later — namely hoping that Nemanja Matic doesn’t wonderblast it into the top corner from 30 yards, and that whatever other agonies we have endured over the years don’t repeat themselves.

The areas the Tottenham hierarchy will identify as having scope for improvement will be away performance, especially in “big” games, and better balancing of domestic and European schedules.

In particular, you suspect improved away form is essential: going unbeaten at home is unusual and unlikely to be repeated. It’s going to be tedious, next season, when every home setback gets put down to Spurs not adjusting to Wembley: Spurs won 53 out of 57 points at home in 2016/17, a level accumulation that we wouldn’t repeat if we were still at White Hart Lane. It’s as freakish as the run of FA Cup semi-final defeats.

The goal will be to pick up more additional points in away games than we drop in home games.

All sounds simple, no? But here’s the hard part: how exactly are Spurs going to do this?

Here are some ideas.

Sort out the mess on the right flank

Let’s be frank: the right wing position (or whatever the correct term is for the roaming/backtracking/creative equivalent in Pochball) was a garbage fire in 2016/17. Moussa Sissoko started just eight Premier League games, and totalled 901 minutes, contributing zero goals and three assists. Erik Lamela appeared in nine league games, scoring once and assisting once, before missing the rest of the season with a hip injury. GK Nkoudou played 47 minutes of league action in total, and his sole contribution was to not look quite as appalling as Clinton N’Jie.

After the 6-1 demolition of Leicester, Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher offered a well-measured diagnosis of Tottenham’s needs — or rather need — this summer, identifying the difference a quality and pacey wideman, such as Sadio Mane, could make. The signing of Sissoko, and gambles on N’Jie and Nkoudou, suggest Pochettino agrees. These three all failed in their first campaigns to show they are the answer, and all may be sold rather than be given more time to prove their worth. They’ve been so bad it’s not clear they’ve earned another shot, unlike, say, Vincent Janssen, who has at least hinted at some modest footballing ability. It is unclear if OM have already activated their option to make N’Jie’s loan move permanent.

However, there are questions of whether this need for pace and ball-carrying ability is really required. Simply put, if Spurs signed a player such as Wilfried Zaha (who is likely staying with Palace anyway, but he’s just an example), would he be used? In big away games, sure, it would be nice to have a player like this — but you rather suspect, when push comes to shove, this player is likely to be benched in favour of an additional midfielder such as Harry Winks as Pochettino seeks to assert control. There is also the question of Son Heung-min — he may not be a ball-carrier like Zaha, but he’s fast, direct and scores loads.

You rather suspect, the decision on what to do in this position will be made at the same time as the decision on what to do with Lamela. If Lamela moves on, this opens the door for a more creative type of player; if Lamela stays and returns to fitness, expect Spurs to look for pace and dribbling ability.  Either way, Spurs are pretty much upgrading from nothing in this position — the only way is up.

Deepen the philosophy

After the Leicester game, Pochettino spoke about his philosophy and how, after three years, it was now deeply ingrained. The 2016/17 campaign saw significant development with the addition of a back three as a tactical alternative to the back four used in his first two seasons. However, this new tactical approach came after the mediocre early October form that saw consecutive draws against West Brom, Bournemouth and Leicester.

As James Yorke noted in his round-up of the season, Spurs continued to play the same basic Pochball as the previous season: dominating the ball, conceding few and taking a ton of shots. There are questions, though, about whether Spurs ran “hot”.

This year they shaved a couple of shots per game off their defensive end, got the breaks at both ends and happily rode the positive variance all the way up to second place. That’s maybe frustrating, and Pochettino knows it, judging by his reluctant acceptance of praise that has come his way.

It certainly sounds like there is some scope for improvement here, in terms of creating better shots, not just taking even more of them: a bit more nuance in the passing and movement, so that every match isn’t just a case of trying to batter the opposition into submission. Some of the football in 2016/17 was sensational — the first half at home against West Brom was perhaps the purest example of Pochball, utterly breathtaking. The goal will be to find that level of performance more often. It won’t happen every game, but it doesn’t need to: it just needs to happen a little more often.

The other thing Spurs should do, in addition to fine-tuning the tactical approach, is to deepen the culture.

Pochettino has assembled a tremendous team in terms of talent, but there is a togetherness to the camp, and a connection between players and fans, that can’t be matched. It’s hard to put a number on the value of homegrown players, but we can all feel that it exists.

With top six rivals all likely to spend between £100m and £200m this summer, Spurs may feel the pressure to also “show their ambition” in the transfer market — whatever the hell the pundits mean by that. Are the current Spurs players really going to walk away if Spurs don’t sign people to replace them? Whatever it means, Spurs should resist and keep the pathways to the first team open, as both Levy and Pochettino have stressed they will continue to to.

The emergence of Harry Winks was the latest example of this process working. After biding his time and learning to play the Pochettino way, Winks’ opportunity finally came this season — and he seized it with both hands. He proved a calm midfield presence, trusted to provide control in key games. Before injury struck, Winks was moving into England senior contention and appears set to be a mainstay in the Spurs midfield for years to come. He is a boyhood Spurs fan who is now living his dream: you simply can’t buy that. It helps Spurs achieve a unity of purpose that all the money in the world can’t match.

So who is the next cab off the rank? Many fans will say Marcus Edwards, or hope that Josh Onomah kicks on after appearing to stall somewhat, but most likely it is Cameron Carter-Vickers. Spurs shouldn’t bother replacing Kevin Wimmer: between Ben Davies and CCV, his minutes are more than covered plus absences for Alderweireld too. If CCV does emerge, this could also have the knock-on effect of allowing Eric Dier to play more games in midfield, or just fewer games overall given the huge workload he shoulders.

While Spurs are integrating young players who’ve had a year or more learning the system in training, other top clubs will continue to introduce three or four major new signings each season and hope they work out. Spurs don’t need to do that: if we can add one homegrown player to the mix each year, that’s the sort of incremental, organic improvement to an already-strong squad that will lead to titles. We’re already good! We just need to keep getting even better.

Throw off the shackles in Europe

Pochettino has done very little wrong in his time at Spurs, but the one area he has consistently struggled to find improvement is in European competition. In three years, there has hardly been a single European performance of note, and crashing out to Gent — or was it Genk? — in February summed up the malaise.

There’s something off about the performances in Europe. Spurs look tense, constrained, unnatural — the press is mechanical, there is a lack of movement, we barely create good chances and look shaky at the back. Spurs look like a team that fears failure, rather than sees Europe as an opportunity to shine.

Instead of amping up the pressure to perform better, you wonder if Pochettino may be better reducing it: more rotation, more attacking line-ups, and unashamedly offensive tactics. Just go for it — dare I say it, like ‘Arry did in that excellent European campaign — and get the opposition out of the players’ heads.

There was something about the performance against Leicester — Spurs revelled in the freedom of playing without pressure, and the movement was a joy. Can Pochettino and his team capture that spirit? It may have consequences for the league, too. Less inhibition in Europe may make that gruelling October/November period less of an ordeal, and maybe turn one or two draws into wins. Remember, it’s just incremental improvement we need.

Avoiding key injuries and better scheduling that ends the draining clustering of London derbies would also help, but that’s beyond Spurs’ control.

Improve the options off the bench

There were a number of occasions this season — Sunderland and Manchester United away jump out — when Pochettino looked to his bench for help in vain.

Quite simply, Spurs got virtually nothing in direct production from substitutes all season long. Spurs substitutes scored four times, and created six assists in total. Of those, three of the goals were by Son, who also assisted twice.

Some caveats: Spurs have had a long injury list, meaning the bench was often weaker than it should have been. Think back to the Autumn when Kane, Dembele and Alderweireld all missed time — take Costa, Kante and David Luiz out of the Chelsea team, and you can bet they would have dropped a few points as well. Furthermore, given the strong performances, particularly at home, Spurs didn’t “need” to go to the bench all that often. Spurs subs played an average of 42.5 minutes, well below the average of 51.6 minutes in the Premier League. The two teams with the lowest average number of substitute minutes? Chelsea (34.7) and Liverpool (37.6) — not being in Europe helps.

But, there were still moments, without doubt, when a stronger bench may have helped Spurs. Again, we’re looking for incremental improvement. In 2017, when you are a Spurs fan and you’re still thinking “I wish Jermain Defoe was on the bench and not playing for Sunderland”, it’s fair to suggest we lacked a bit of punch.

Transfer blueprint

I was going to write a separate piece on transfer strategy, but time is limited. It’s all a crapshoot anyway — who knows what will happen over the next two months. Here’s what I would do, if I was in charge and was being (almost) sensible about who is leaving and potentially coming in:

OUT

Kyle Walker (£40m), Kevin Wimmer (£15m), Moussa Sissoko (£20m), GK Nkoudou (£5m); plus loanees Clinton N’Jie (£5m), Nabil Bentaleb (£18m) and Fede Fazio (£2.5m)
Total: £105.5m

IN

Ryan Sessegnon (£15m), Dani Alves (£0), Gylfi Sigurdsson (£28m), Christian Pulisic (£40m)
Total: £83m

By the time you factor in the £20m we’ll lose on Sissoko, Nkoudou and N’Jie, that’s about breaking even: Net spend is for wimps.

Good thing I’m not in charge, huh?

Thanks for reading. Comments welcome. Please follow me on Twitter for more Spurs chat.

Half-full, or half-empty? Nine games gone and Tottenham’s performance is however you want to see it

There’s a glass half-full, glass half-empty feel to the start of the season for Spurs.

It’s been good, but it could have been better. It’s not been brilliant, but it could have been worse.

We’re fifth, but we’re only a point off the top; we’re unbeaten, but we’ve drawn four out of nine. The four teams above us have all conceded at least five more goals, but they’ve also scored at least six more.

After the Bournemouth draw there were some rumblings of dissatisfaction among the fanbase for the first time this season, and then, as surely as night follows day, came the “backlash-against-the-backlash”.

It gets pretty tedious, in particular given how open to interpretation the quality of the current performance is.

I think it’s fair to have some concerns about the way Spurs have started, but also to be pleased with certain aspects.

I’ve had a few conflicting thoughts bubbling away since Saturday, but can’t quite decide where I fall on the glass half-empty, glass half-full side of the debate, particularly now the initial frustration of Saturday has faded.

So what are you — half-empty, or half-full? Or just kinda half, like me?

Half-full: We’re a point off the top with nearly a quarter of the season gone. We have the best defence, again, and we gave Pep’s City an absolute kicking in our biggest game of the season so far.

Half-empty: We should be top, but have drawn two winnable games and haven’t capitalised on City’s poor run. We should have beaten both Boro and Sunderland by more than a solitary goal.

Half-full: We’ve coped without Mousa Dembele for large stretches, far better than we did last season. In two games without another linchpin, Toby Alderweireld, we’ve not conceded a goal.

Half-empty: We’re missing Harry Kane badly, despite the best efforts by Son Heung-min. Vincent Janssen looks like he has the potential to grow into a solid Premier League striker, but he’s not there yet, in particular in terms of poise in front of goal.

Half-full: It’s going to be so hard to beat Spurs. The defensive shape and intensity of the press is outstanding, and is a testament to Mauricio Pochettino’s coaching and motivational skills. With a bit of luck of the draw in third and fourth rounds, the FA Cup could be on in a big way for Spurs.

Half-empty: While Pochettino’s side are hard to beat, I’m not sure it’s particularly hard to avoid defeat against Spurs. Both West Brom and Bournemouth put in a huge physical effort, but mentally or tactically it hardly looked exhausting. This is worrying as, for most teams, a point against Spurs is OK.

Half-full: Victor Wanyama looks like one of signings of the season at £12.5 million. What an outrageous bargain in the summer’s inflationary market. Georges-Kevin N’Koudou has shown flashes in very limited minutes in a way Clinton never really did.

Half-empty: Moussa Sissoko has started poorly, and he doesn’t have the luxury of time like a young signing. He looks awfully expensive at £30m, and a poor fit tactically. Surely better players were available for the price?

Half-full: A deeper and more balanced squad has enabled Pochettino to show more tactical flexibility, such as the 4-3-3 formation and playing Christian Eriksen in a deeper role that has me thinking “Modric” and being very happy indeed.

Half-empty: City was the only really good 90-minute performance. Too many “bad halves” have undermined the season, and shown Poch struggling to adapt to opposition switches. He still seems too slow to react at times.

Half-full: Son has added the goal threat from the inside-left that Poch has craved, like Rodriguez at Southampton. This is a whole new dynamic, and will be even more valuable when Kane returns.

Half-empty: We’re still struggling to create good chances, and lack a secondary creative passer after Eriksen. Erik Lamela hasn’t started the season in great form, although his appetite for work is outstanding. There’s a fine line between purposeful asymmetry & unbalanced predictability. The right-flank is an issue.

Thanks for reading. Comments welcome as always. Please follow me on Twitter for more chat.

 

Curtain raiser: The case for Spurs in 2016/17

By Charles Richards / @spurs_report

Tottenham v Arsenal 2015

A new season means a blank slate, and a chance to forget about what happened last time around. For the five wealthiest clubs in the Premier League, there is plenty to forget.

Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool experienced varying degrees of misery in 2015/16. Three of them missed out on Champions League football, and two on European football altogether. Four of the five clubs have changed managers in the past 12 months, while a large section of the fifth’s fan base wishes they had too.

Leicester’s title was so unexpected, and so out of keeping with the status quo in the Premier League since Manchester City struck oil, that it can be shrugged off. The big boys will return to their position at the top of the table, while Leicester will slip back down to their rightful place in the pyramid with a pat on the head. “Doing a Leicester” is something for lesser clubs to dream of, but now dominance will be reasserted.

If last season was “Jamie Vardy: The Movie”, the 2016/17 campaign is shaping up to be “The Empire Strikes Back.”

Inconveniently, however, it wasn’t just Leicester who gatecrashed the party.

Mauricio Pochettino’s vibrant Spurs side defied expectations to emerge as Leicester’s closest challengers, keeping up the pressure until the 36th game of the campaign, long after everyone else had given up and expected Spurs — of “Spursy”, “Lads It’s Tottenham” fame — to give up too.

Judging by the early raft of previews and general tone of the conversation, this awkward turn of events is just another thing to be forgotten. You won’t see Spurs in a “Who Will Qualify for the Champions League” prediction by any self-respecting journalist or pundit. The bookmakers and punters agree, listing Spurs as fifth or sixth favourites. The UK broadcasters have little belief that Spurs will be involved in any early top-of-the-table clashes, having selected just two of Tottenham’s opening six games for live coverage.

The narrative ahead of the 2016/17 Premier League season goes as follows:

  • New managers and blank cheques at Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea mean a return to the top.
  • Arsenal’s Champions League place is guaranteed as long as Arsene Wenger remains in charge.
  • Liverpool, reinvigorated under Jurgen Klopp and not afraid to spend, are the most likely challengers if anyone falters.

As for Spurs, the failure to win in the final four games of last season, plus unconvincing performances by Harry Kane and Dele Alli at the European Championships, are unarguable precursors to a year-long drop in form that will return Spurs to their signature, revenue-linked sixth position. Any success for Spurs in the previous season was in direct correlation to the lack of success by bigger clubs. Leicester winning the league was a fluke and will never happen again, ergo Spurs finishing third. Enjoy the Champions League nights at Wembley, Spurs fans, because it’s back to the Europa League in 2017/18 and beyond.

I mean, why do we even bother?

Here’s the thing though: rival teams never look stronger than they do before you’ve actually seen them play. Pep Guardiola’s tactical wizardry, Jose Mourinho’s psychological magic sponge and Antonio Conte’s manic energy are at their most impressive when they exist solely in your imagination. These dreams fuel football, and justify the billions ploughed into the game, not just by oligarchs but also fans.

The problem, once the season starts, is that reality intrudes on these dreams. Injuries, luck, form, inspired opponents, sulking strikers, fallings out, defensive errors and greedy agents can all conspire to make Pep’s tactics look naive, Conte’s energy wasted or Mourinho’s mind games misdirection rather than magic.

Don’t forget that Spurs are good

As James Yorke, a Spurs fan and therefore not one to succumb to a bout of the 2015/16 forgetsies, wrote in his excellent curtain raiser on Statsbomb, there is a six-into-four dynamic this season that means something has to give. But reading and watching the early previews, a curious logic appears to be emerging: the teams that most “need” to finish in the top four are identified as the teams that are most likely to do so. Klopp and Pochettino are less likely to lose their jobs if they fail to secure a top four finish, therefore Liverpool and Spurs are less likely to secure one.

I can understand how this conclusion is reached. But if we learned one lesson from last season, just one, it’s that you don’t get what you need, want or deserve in the Premier League. You just get what you get.

Watching the Manchester clubs spend hundreds of millions on flashy new players, and Roman Abramovich underwrite yet another mammoth Chelsea rebuilding, is intimidating to other teams and fans. And it is supposed to be that way. We’re still David standing there with our slingshot, but Goliath is back on his feet and he’s even bigger.

However Spurs fans (and Liverpool fans after watching their club repeatedly “do a Spurs”) know better than anyone that spending isn’t anything. While it makes you look strong, normally the need to spend is born out of a weakness. You can look at the history of transfers and see that 50 percent work out, 50 percent don’t. Smarter clubs do slightly better, stupid clubs do slightly worse. Not every weakness that dragged the Premier League elite below expectations last season is going to be fixed, and even fewer are going to be fixed immediately.

No club has needed to spend less than Spurs this summer. Sure, we had to buy a second striker and increase the midfield options, but the same starting XI that finished third last season is in place and ready to go. There is no need to adapt to new tactics, understand a new philosophy, or learn how to play together. Spurs walk out at Goodison Park on August 13th knowing exactly what they are meant to be doing.

Last season, Spurs conceded the joint fewest goals along with Manchester United, and five of those 35 goals came in the shitshow at Newcastle. We had the best goal difference (+34) and second best expected goals difference (+29.3, behind Arsenal’s +34.4, per Michael Caley). A bunch of other metrics looked good, if that is your thing. Mauricio Pochettino’s side equalled the club’s highest Premier League points haul, and in six of the ten prior seasons, 70 points would have secured a top four place. Spurs didn’t ride a hot streak, a single superstar or a freak set of results. Spurs were just plain, old-fashioned good, and had the youngest starting XI in the league to boot.

The “Spurs are good” genie is out of the bottle, and it would take an extreme set of circumstances to blow Spurs off course. Do you think Spurs are going to forget how to press? Are Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen going to forget how to play together? Are Erik Lamela and Mousa Dembele going to wake up one morning as the ineffective players they were two years ago? Is Christian Eriksen going to stop making smart passes, and Harry Kane stop finishing them off? As I have stated repeatedly in the past six months, the success Pochettino has created at Spurs has been built on extremely solid foundations. There is a plan, and it is working.

Instead of taking the dismissal of Spurs’ chances as a slight, or as a precursor to a return to the Europa League, we should embrace it.

Spurs are dipping back below the radar, ready to surprise the league by once again not being the Spurs everyone expects us to be. There is a chance to quietly build momentum while the talking heads fawn over Pep and Conte, and the press covers every waking move by Zlatan and Mourinho, the Premier League’s Kanye and Kim. Less pressure means more space for young players like Dele Alli and Eric Dier to grow, for emerging talents like Josh Onomah to find their feet, for new signings like Victor Wanyama and Vincent Janssen to bed in.

Fueling the fire

What seemed so egregious last season was the relish that greeted every Spurs mistake in the run-in from fanbases who’ve forgotten what it is like to see local boys wearing the shirt, or whose teams had never seriously challenged Leicester for the title. This was only compounded when the same Spurs players formed the core of the England team that flopped at the Euros.

Because we have to explain everything, and connect everything, these two storylines merged into one. Spurs were mentally and physically exhausted, the subtext of which was weakness.

But Spurs didn’t “lose” the title to Leicester; we were only ahead of Leicester for 13 minutes last season and couldn’t chase them down. England didn’t flop because the Spurs players were shattered; England flopped because Roy Hodgson and Gary Neville, in a gross act of footballing negligence, sent the players into battle devoid of tactics and a game plan.

If others want to interpret this confluence of negativity as a precursor to doom, so be it. But do you think, for one second, that Pochettino will let the players dwell on what happened at the end of last season and over the summer, and indulge a hangover? Do you think, for one second, that the anger at falling short last season and the outbreak of schadenfreude will do anything other than drive this team on?

Make no mistake, Spurs are aiming for the title this season.

“We want to win it, and we will go for it,” Alderweireld said towards the end of last season. “I think we now have a different mindset from the one we had at the beginning of this season. Then we were thinking the top four would be brilliant, now we are thinking more than that, we want to go one better.”

Over the past 12 months, Spurs fans have been slower than the players in believing what can be achieved, a caution born out of bitter experience. We are still looking at possible scenarios and bargaining with ourselves as to what is possible, trying to find the balance between hope and realism, mentally hedging against disappointment by lowering expectations.

A sliding scale of acceptability emerges: If not second, then third; if not third, then fourth; if not fourth, then at least win a cup; if no cup win, at least reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League; if we don’t finish above Arsenal, let’s at least finish above Liverpool or Chelsea or West Ham or someone.

But for Spurs, it is no longer about trying to define success in this way: this is the old way of thinking. For Pochettino, the only target is to win the title, and his whole ethos is about continually improving his team until that happens. Finishing in the top four accelerates the building process because Champions League football helps recruitment, increases the budget, and aids player retention. But it isn’t the goal in itself for Pochettino, no matter what the bean counters say. There’s a world of difference between something that is good enough, and something that you really want.

What does progress look like?

Measuring progress is difficult, because it can be counterintuitive. It is possible to improve as a team but still finish lower down the league. We only have control over our opponents’ results twice a season.

So how will Pochettino measure progress, and how should we?

There will be statistical measures that we may or may not see, assessing the quality of things like the press, attacking build-up, set-pieces and fitness, as well as the increase in mental strength that Pochettino considers so crucial yet is so hard to define.

But more visibly, Pochettino will be looking to fix the areas where Spurs fell short.

That means more single-goal wins, whether they be late winners, rearguard actions to protect an early lead, or simply greater control when we’re not playing well. That means fewer dropped points at White Hart Lane, particular against teams such as West Brom who come and sit deep. That means better performances in Europe, because our Europa League displays have been consistently mediocre and we need to raise our game in the Champions League.

Crucially, that also means better results against the other “big” clubs. Spurs improved results in these matches last season, taking 15 points from 30 compared with just seven from 30 in 2014/15, but there is still room for improvement. We’ve not beaten Liverpool yet under Pochettino, and we still need to overcome our Stamford Bridge hoodoo.

These are all yardsticks to measure Tottenham’s progress against. We may solve all the problems, or we may not. The extent to which Spurs manage to do this will determine the strength of the title challenge. But the problems are clear, and they are fixable, and Pochettino has consistently shown the intelligence and ambition required for the task at hand.

If I have one concern, it is a lack of an alternative or supplementary midfield creator to Christian Eriksen. But there is nearly a month left in the transfer window, and plenty of money in the kitty after the relatively light investment since Pochettino took charge. Every other club has a weakness that is just as glaring — in central defensive for Manchester City and Chelsea, the right flank for Manchester United, in most defensive positions for Liverpool and up front for Arsenal. We’re just as likely to find our missing link, if not more.

We’ll know if Spurs are making progress because suddenly our games will be on TV, the players will be in the papers, Mourinho will start his mind games and Chelsea will begin baiting us. Articles describing Spurs as the “surprise package” will be written, glossing over the fact that Spurs being good again really shouldn’t have been that much of a shock if you’d only paid attention.

I’m not going to predict that Spurs are going to win the league — as anyone who follows me on Twitter or has read this blog for a while will attest, my predictions are beyond hopeless.

But make no mistake, Spurs are aiming for the title. Just a shame you had to read it here first.

Thanks for reading. Please follow me on Twitter for more Spurs chat.

How Spurs can take it to the next level: A blueprint for the summer of 2016

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If Mauricio Pochettino’s first year as Spurs manager was about knocking down a house that had become rotten, in the second year the Argentine had to relay the foundations. A leaky defence was fixed, a team culture was established, and an exciting and effective style of play emerged.

The late collapse into third place behind Arsenal was hugely disappointing and added a sour note to what was in many ways a spectacular season. We challenged for the title, something we haven’t done in the Premier League era, and secured our highest finishing position since the 1989/90 campaign. What was it that BIll Nicholson said about aiming high?

If the stumble to the finishing line showed how much of the Pochettino project remains unfinished, the season as a whole showed just how strong the foundations are that he has laid.

With only one out-and-out striker and a dearth of central midfield options, it was a miracle that Spurs managed to secure Champions League football while also coping with the gruelling Europa League schedule. It is a testament to Pochettino’s managerial ability, his fitness regime, the spirit of the team he has assembled, and improving recruitment.

The goal for Pochettino has always been to have a world-class team in place for when the new stadium opens for the 2018/19 campaign. Spurs are ahead of schedule.

The next two summers are about taking the club to “the next level”. The goal will be to identify talent, either within the academy or elsewhere, that can enable the club to challenge for titles at home and in Europe in the years to come.

Pochettino has warned that getting stronger is about more than just buying players. But being able to offer Champions League football this summer presents a huge opportunity to attract the sort of elite talent that may not previously have been interested, if Spurs so wish.

There is a need to balance the present and the future. Clearly, better first-team rotation and bench options are needed for Pochettino. But also, Spurs will continue to identify young talents and turn them into stars — Harry Kane and Dele Alli are the latest in a long line of players to hit superstar status while wearing lilywhite. It is something the club does better than any other, and the academy contains a number of extremely promising prospects.

As always, Spurs will look to find value in the transfer market. The club veered off this path under Franco Baldini, and paid a heavy price. Ultimately, it is just where the club is more comfortable, and the stadium will limit how much can be spent anyway. So, Spurs will identify players at distressed clubs, those on expiring contracts, or those they feel have the potential to hit the top level with time and training.

I would expect Spurs to look to sell to other Premier League clubs — the new TV deal means that there is more money than can possibly be spent in a sensible way. Also worth watching is the pound versus the euro — it is performing a faceplant that Spurs would be proud of amid the Brexit uncertainty.

I am going to sketch out a possible summer blueprint, in terms of contracts, sales and purchases.

It is all deeply hypothetical. Player availability is far from certain at this early stage, and only Pochettino knows who he wants to move on and who he wants to keep. This isn’t a prediction — I’m not an ITK peddler and have no insight beyond what is widely available.

What I want to do is illustrate the type of deals that may be possible, the type of players that may fit, and how far Spurs may be able to stretch the budget. It is tremendous fun trying to game it out, and please feel free to join in below the comment line. Disagreement is guaranteed.

Contracts

First order of business will be contract negotiations. The surge in Premier League TV money and Champions League lucre will mean every agent will be demanding significant wage bumps for their clients. For Spurs, it will be about balancing squad harmony and ensuring the total wage bill remains in line with what is required through stadium construction.

Both Christian Eriksen and Jan Vertonghen have been engaged in lengthy discussions, but contracts remain unsigned as of the date of this article. These are key players that Spurs will want to keep over the next four to five years (I imagine, now 29, Jan gets a four-year deal, while Eriksen wants five).

For other players, the demand for a pay rise gives the club a chance to add years to contracts (and remove unhelpful exit clauses if any exist). This may be the case for Hugo Lloris, Toby Alderweireld, Erik Lamela and Danny Rose.

Meanwhile, the club must continue to increase wages of young stars. Priority number one will be Harry Kane. Having started 66 consecutive league games, and secured the Premier League Golden Boot, he will become one of the club’s top earners. New deals will no doubt be needed for Dele Alli and Eric Dier.

If this all sounds a bit much, it is just the reality of the game. With a huge TV deal kicking in, player salaries will soar in line with it. Spurs have done an excellent job controlling the wage bill since the Bale money splurge, but with revenue about to soar, now is the appropriate time to increase it.

Players out

Pochettino looked appropriately livid after the dismal defeat at Newcastle. It is fair to say it will have crystallized one or two thoughts about which players will be leaving Hotspur Way this summer. Here is a list of players who I think are on the way out, with a guess of a potential destination and guide price.

Nacer Chadli, Sunderland, £15m

I’ve written about the conundrum that Chadli poses — a productive player who rarely pushes for a place. The fact that Pochettino called for Josh Onomah over Chadli against Newcastle spoke volumes, as did the fact that Chadli barely factored in previous matches in the final stretch. There have long been whispers that Chadli lacks the intensity that Poch demands. My guess, having lost his place in the Belgian squad, Chadli will be seeking a new start regardless — this could be a mutual parting of ways. Chadli’s departure opens the door for Onomah, while more striking options (see below) will mean more chances for Son Heung-min from his preferred wide role. With his goal-scoring ability and the fact that he is just entering his prime, Spurs should get a good fee for Chadli. I think he’d be a great fit for a Sunderland side needing goals from midfield.

Ryan Mason, Bournemouth, £7.5m

Mason has been hugely important to Spurs in the Pochettino era, as much for what he has symbolised as what he has been capable of from a technical perspective. He has been a walking, talking lesson in perseverance to academy youngsters, and testament to the Pochettino ethos that workrate and character (I know that term freaks some people out as it isn’t quantifiable) are valued as highly as pure footballing talent. Mason has learned to play a different role under Pochettino, and the midfield partnership with Nabil Bentaleb was just about sufficient to keep the project on track in its first year. The “one of our own” spirit has reconnected fans to club after years of disconnect and mercenaries, and Mason, with his evident love of the club and pride in appearing in the shirt, was a key part of this. However, in 2015/16 he suffered from injury — gained while scoring a pivotal goal against Sunderland — and never rediscovered the form he had shown previously. Appearances in the Europa League knockout rounds and in place of the suspended Dembele showed his limits. As a player in a rebuilding Premier League team, he is fine; in the Champions League and a title challenger? Not quite. A rumoured move to Bournemouth may suit all parties, and his England cap last year should help Spurs achieve a premium for his services. I’d be more than happy if he stayed another year, and of all the players on this list, I think he is the least likely to leave.

Tom Carroll, Stoke, £4m

Another late bloomer, Tom Carroll was finally given his chance to make his mark at Spurs after years on loan. Did he take it? In my view, no. While he has a beautiful left foot, his passing can be too “safe”, and he lacks the physicality and defensive instinct to play a deeper role. He still has the opportunity to develop, but will be 24 when next season starts. You imagine a Premier League club looking to add a little bit of “culture” to its midfield mix will be interested. With Stephen Ireland and Ibrahim Afellay suffering long-term injuries at the end of the season, and Charlie Adam fat, old and never that good, Stoke could have an interest.

Michel Vorm, Crystal Palace, £3.5m

The world of the back-up goalkeeper is a strange one. When he signed, unless he believed Hugo Lloris was set for an exit, Michel Vorm must have known his game time would be very limited. I don’t begrudge him looking for a big contract to secure his financial future, but there must come a time, with the ongoing expectation that you won’t see meaningful action, when you lose your edge mentally and physically. You wonder, if a two-year spell as a back-up is “about right”. If he still considers himself a Premier League keeper, and not some Richard Wright-style hanger on, now may be the time for Vorm to move on. In his limited appearances, Vorm has looked predictably rusty. Clubs that may be interested in his services? Middlesbrough, whoever goes up through the playoffs (Hull or Sheffield Wednesday), and Crystal Palace. My guess: Vorm heads to Palace as an upgrade on Wayne Hennessey and Alex McCarthy, both of whom are distinctly Championship calibre.

Federico Fazio, China, £5m

I’d almost forgotten about him. If no Spanish clubs are interested, poor old Fazio will be seeking pastures new as he looks ill-suited to the English game. Look for Spurs to cash in on China’s boom, or failing that Russia or the Middle East. Fazio to Spurs was a terrible move for all parties. He is richer financially, but in every other way poorer for the experience.

DeAndre Yedlin, West Brom, £7.5m

Yedlin confounded doubters and established himself as the first-choice right back in Sunderland’s latest great escape. He won the contest against Billy Jones, and Sunderland (botched move for Emmanuel Eboue aside) felt other areas of the squad needed strengthening more in January. Having watched a number of Sunderland matches, it is clear Yedlin made huge progress defensively under the guidance of Big Sam. However, he still looks well short of what is required at Spurs to knock out Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier, in particular offensively. Adding to Yedlin’s logjam at Spurs is Kyle Walker-Peters, one of the brightest talents coming through the academy. Having proven his Premier League mettle at Sunderland, and still just 22, this may be the optimum time to cash in. Spurs paid just £2.5m for Yedlin — they should secure a handsome profit with a host of Premier League clubs potentially looking to strengthen at right back. I reckon Spurs would look to triple their money. Swansea, Sunderland, a de-Pulised West Brom, Bournemouth and Watford may all be interested.

Total incoming: £42.5m

 

Players In

Spurs have two clear “needs” this summer — in central midfield and up front. Longer term, there may be a desire to find better options on the right flank, with both Kyle Walker and Erik Lamela showing limitations. But there is only so much to spend this summer, so that can wait. Budget-wise, even with Champions League money coming in, I wouldn’t expect net spend to be any more than £30m with a stadium to build and Daniel Levy in charge. I’d say, with money recouped from sales, we are looking at a pot of about £72.5m. Given the amount of money that will be sprayed around this summer, this amount, shockingly, may be at the lower end in the Premier League. Finding value will be key, and I reckon it is possible. How far could this money go?

Mateo Kovacic, 22, Real Madrid, £25m

Spurs sorely need to add a midfielder who can offer a new dimension in terms of playmaking, as none of Dier, Dembele or Alli are particularly “creative” passers. Too much reliance on Christian Eriksen can make Spurs predictable, and easy to play against. Another playmaker, operating from deep, would appear to fit the bill. Furthermore, as Dembele struggles to play twice in a week, another first-choice calibre central midfielder is absolutely essential regardless. I’ve had a crush on Mateo Kovacic since reading this article, and having failed to establish himself since joining Real Madrid, he may be available. This piece explains why he may not make the grade at the Bernabeu. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, especially when that trash is 22 and stuck behind Luka Modric and Toni Kroos. Rather than heading meekly back to Italy on loan, Spurs can offer Kovacic Champions League football and the chance to join an emerging footballing force. I’m sure Luka and Gareth would put in a good word. Meanwhile, I bet Daniel Levy would relish the opportunity to negotiate with Real Madrid again. Spurs could make a signature signing, without breaking the bank. There are of course other options here — various suggestion I’ve seen in recent Twitter conversations include Tielemans, Pjanic and Kampl.

Victor Wanyama, 24, Southampton, £17m

Failure to hold leads in pivotal matches against physical opposition like West Brom and Chelsea highlighted the need for Spurs to add another defensive midfield option, in particular one with some height and physicality. It would also enable Spurs to move Eric Dier back into defence if Toby Alderweireld was unavailable, so would kill two birds with one stone. Wanyama is entering the final year of his contract, and has previously spoken of his desire to join Spurs. Relations between Spurs and Southampton are far from great, though, honestly, it is a long list of clubs who hate dealing with Spurs. Southampton are an extremely sensible club who, if Wanyama is set on leaving, may see the benefit of accepting a fair price that they can reinvest in someone who wants to be there. This is a deal that can surely be done, if Spurs don’t behave like absolute idiots by lowballing Southampton.

Michy Batshuayi, 22, Marseille, £25m

West Ham are trying their hardest to inflate the price of Batshuayi with public bids beyond what Spurs may feel is required to secure him from a financially-troubled Marseille. But Spurs can offer Champions League football, so it may be immaterial — Batshuayi is one of many players West Ham are publicly talking up. The Belgian fits a clear need for Spurs — someone able both to cover for Kane as an out-and-out striker, but also with the versatility to play with him. At the age of 22, he is in that “sweet spot” for Spurs — experienced enough for there to be meaningful data for Paul Mitchell and Co to analyse, young enough to still have room to improve.

Moussa Dembele, 19, Fulham, £5m

I expect Spurs to add two strikers this summer. Son Heung-min proved limited when covering up front, and Clinton N’Jie was a non-factor due to injury. Dembele agreed a move to Spurs in January, only for it to collapse as a dismal Fulham team couldn’t risk letting him go with relegation to League One a possibility. Could Spurs resuscitate this move, and strike a compensation deal with Fulham to avoid the uncertainty of a tribunal? It sounds like a cheap way to add a talented young striker with a promising Championship goalscoring record (15 goals in 43 appearances in his first full season). It may be that Dembele is lured away elsewhere, in which case, I’d not entirely rule out Spurs taking one final spin at Saido Berahino roulette. Timo Werner, who we have also been linked with in the past, ticks the “value” box in a number of ways after Stuttgart’s relegation. Spurs may have a talent in the academy in Kaziah Sterling, who has been mentioned in dispatches, but a three-pronged strike force is surely required immediately for the Champions League and another title tilt.

Brad Guzan, 31, Aston Villa, £500K

I wrote about how the time may have come for Vorm to move on. This represents a chance for Spurs to make a couple of million quid by essentially shuffling back-up keepers, and pocketing the difference. The key will be identifying an experienced keeper of Premier League quality who is available for free, or a cut-price amount. Do any exist? Here is one suggestion: Brad Guzan. Like everyone connected to Aston Villa, he had a horrible season in 2015/16, but in the two years previously he was quite competent, in my view. He is entering the final year of his contract, and Villa will be looking to slash their wage bill after being relegated. Spurs may be able to pick him up for free, or very cheap. Guzan gets to sign another lucrative Premier League contract, and he can follow in the footsteps of Kasey Keller and Brad Friedel as a bald, American goalkeeper for Spurs — a fine tradition. My little Vorm-for-Guzan swap may seem a bit random — but it is an illustration of how Spurs could boost the transfer kitty without getting much weaker. With a stadium to finance, we need to find smart ways to increase our spending power. I’m sure there are other keepers out there who may be better than Guzan, I’d welcome suggestions.

Total outgoing: £72.5m

 

Loans

If you haven’t already seen it, Chris Miller’s crowd-sourced loan round-up was an excellent piece of blogging and offered some hints to future loan moves.

I wrote a few months back about how loan numbers were down this year — we shall see in due course of this was a change in approach, or just an outlier.

A couple of thoughts on possible loan moves.

Josh Onomah will stay and benefit from Chadli’s departure, while new arrivals in midfield surely mean Harry Winks heads out on a season-long arrangement to the Championship.

I have always thought loans were particularly useful for young defenders. Even the best defensive talents make a bunch of mistakes, and it is far better for Spurs that they make them elsewhere. I’d like to see both Kyle Walker-Peters and Cameron Carter-Vickers head to League One and find their sea legs. It would surely benefit their development more than the occasional minutes they’d pick up in the Capital One Cup.

There is a lot of chatter about Dominic Ball, who impressed for Rangers and played a very similar role to Dier. I’d be cautious about pencilling him in, given the dire state of the Scottish second tier. Surely the Championship is a logical next step.

One final thought: I wouldn’t be surprised if Spurs sent Clinton N’Jie to another Premier League team. He had his debut season ruined by injury, and we barely saw him in meaningful action (386 minutes in total). When he did play, he looked raw. My concern for Clinton is that he is going to need a lot more playing time to fulfill the potential identified by the scouting team than Spurs will be able to offer him without the Europa League, which was useful in this regard. Therefore, a loan would be a logical next step. It doesn’t mean Spurs would be writing him off, it is about doing what is in the best interest of the club as it seeks to maximise the return on its investment in a young player.

Thanks for reading. Please follow me on Twitter for more Spurs chat through the summer.

Good problems: Five questions facing Spurs this summer

nabil

Nabil Bentaleb is a problem — but a good one.

A full-blooded draw at Stamford Bridge ended Tottenham’s slim title hopes, but the point ensured that Spurs will finish in the top three for the first time in the Premier League era.

Various mathematical possibilities remain, but at the very least Spurs have secured qualification for the Champions League qualifying round. A win on Sunday against Southampton and we will wrap up second place given our unassailable goal difference.

It has been an extraordinary season, and once the disappointment of being pipped to the post by Leicester fades, I’m sure we will look back on the campaign as one of the finest in the history of the club.

While us fans drink it in, and mull over what might have been, there is no time for Premier League clubs to rest.

The combination of the new TV deal and new eras at some of the richest clubs threaten an arms race the likes of which we haven’t seen in the Premier League era. Spurs and Leicester have usurped the elite, and they will be gunning for both clubs. At Spurs, we are used to it, but you sense Leicester are going to be in for an almighty shock next time around.

Champions League was the hope for Spurs in the 2016/17 season, but not the expectation. The potential to now compete for higher calibre players adds both potential, and pressure, to the business ahead. Meanwhile, Champions League football may necessitate new contracts, wage bumps or bonuses to ensure the players and their representatives are happy and focused for the campaign ahead.

As far as problems go, these are brilliant ones to have.

Put yourself in Daniel Levy’s shoes. What would you rather be doing this summer — fending off calls from Ed Woodward and Florentino Perez, or topping up a few contracts and shopping for a couple of new stars?

The wage issue is just one of a number of “good problems” facing Tottenham’s key decision makers. With such a young team, the scope for natural progression is evident. The strong team identity — the philosophy, if you will — provides a framework for strengthening that certain other teams lack.

This summer offers an opportunity to make a number of smart moves that can push us to the next level. In most cases, the choice will between something good, and something potentially even better. We are in a strong, and happy, place right now — that perspective is important in the months ahead.

I am going to sketch out a number of these “good problems” below. One thing that isn’t a “good problem” is the striker situation — we’ve walked the Harry Kane hamstring high wire once, but there is no way we can risk it again. Our forward options are just a problem, pure and simple.

Do Spurs stick or twist with Nacer Chadli?

Of the “Bale money” signings, if there is one who continues to defy judgement, it is Nacer Chadli. What is he? Is he a productive player who contributes when given the chance — seven goals and five assists this season in limited minutes? Or is he a player with tremendous physical and technical gifts who has never quite found the intensity to reach his potential?

After showing little promise in his first season at White Hart Lane, Chadli was widely accepted as having a fine campaign in 2014/15. He played just under 3,000 minutes overall — the amount a first-choice player would play — and contributed 13 goals and five assists in total, one every 163 minutes.

This season, he started the first five games — in which Spurs secured five points out of a possible 15 — and played 90 minutes in each (against Everton he was subbed off just before the end). But since then Chadli hasn’t played the full 90 minutes in a league game.

In all competitions, Chadli has played just 1,650 minutes — although an ankle injury in the autumn meant he was unavailable for two months. When he has played, he has often appeared off the pace and even listless. And yet, he has been extremely productive — with seven goals and five assists in total, one every 137 minutes.

Chadli is a walking, talking “good problem”. On the one hand, he is a squad player who has proven that he can produce goals and chances when called upon. On the other hand, he has done nothing in the past six months to put pressure on Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela for a place in Pochettino’s strongest XI.

With his scoring record and the fact that, at 26, he is in his prime, Chadli is sure to have suitors. Spurs paid £7 million for him from FC Twente — given Andros Townsend, a far less productive player, went for £12 million, Spurs should comfortably command something in the £15-20 million range for him. This is money that Spurs could re-invest in, say, a young talent with a far higher ceiling.

On the other hand though, Spurs need productive squad players. The Europa League campaign highlighted the shortage of quality options in the squad, but Spurs did not need to prioritize the competition. There is no such room for easing off in the Champions League, and certainly not if the club is trying to sell out Wembley. A player like Chadli — who seemingly is happy to be part of a squad and playing limited minutes, yet contributing when he does — may be far more useful for Spurs next season.

It is a “good problem” if ever there was one.

How to add a new dimension to the central midfield?

Against Bournemouth and Liverpool, Spurs fans watched every Eric Dier tackle with trepidation knowing that he was one yellow card away from a two-game ban.

Dier’s transformation from makeshift to mainstay has been extraordinary, and is a testament to both Pochettino’s coaching and Dier’s intelligence and technical ability.

His adaption to the role is illustrated by the yellow card issue. In his first seven games as a Premier League central midfielder, he was booked five times, ruling him out of the home match against Liverpool. He has been booked five times In the 28 games since.

Dier has played 35 out of 36 games in the league this season, racking up 3,088 minutes. Along with Toby Alderweireld and Hugo Lloris, he has been the rock this miserly Spurs team has been built on.

In Dortmund, a Spurs midfield anchored by (and I still can’t believe Pochettino tried this) Ryan Mason and Tom Carroll was brutally and predictably taken apart. It showed that we sorely need at least one other strong midfield option in case of injury, suspension or need for rotation.

This isn’t a straightforward task though. The midfield trio of Dier, Mousa Dembele and Dele Alli offer a wonderful balance, and whoever comes in is likely to see limited minutes as a starter. In particular, both Dier and Alli have proven themselves durable in their early careers. More likely, the minutes will be in place of Dembele, who is never at his best playing back-to-back games.

While someone like Victor Wanyama is frequently linked, and would appear to offer value entering the final year of his contract at Southampton, Spurs would still be spending a lot in transfer fees and wages on a player who may see strictly limited action as a Dier replacement, or someone brought on alongside him to stiffen up the midfield and preserve a lead in certain games.

Likewise, Spurs may not want to sign a midfielder who primarily plays “forward” as this player may not offer quality cover for Dier when needed. Spurs already have Ryan Mason in the squad offering cover in that sort of box-to-box role.

You may be thinking, just buy two. But we have been down the road of expensive squad players, and it wasn’t pretty. Pochettino spent most of his first 12 months clearing out the likes of Etienne Capoue, Paulinho and Benji Stambouli.

Pochettino doesn’t want depth for depth’s sake, judging by his statements on wanting a smaller squad than he inherited. He wants first-team quality options, and if there are minutes going spare, he would rather give them to youngsters. The days of the “Mourinho mantra” of two experienced players in every position may be over — Spurs have tried it, and not only did it fail but it was expensive. Spurs will be looking at highly-targeted versatility, rather than a Redknappian “we need to get a few more bodies in”.

Spurs ideally would be looking for someone who can play in the deep role, but also provide some of the attacking thrust of Dembele (there won’t be anyone exactly like Dembele, he is a one of a kind). This isn’t an easy piece of recruitment by any means.

But if I was Paul Mitchell, this is exactly the sort of recruitment puzzle I’d get out of bed for. There will be quality players out there who can do both. It’s just a case of finding them.

Why is this a good problem? We already have a midfield that works, and there are all sorts of interesting ways Spurs can approach the task of making it even better without breaking the bank.

What do Spurs do with Nabil Bentaleb?

Of course, it may be that Spurs already have the central midfielder they need to cover Dier and Dembele in the squad. Step forward…Nabil Bentaleb.

In his first 18 months at Spurs, Bentaleb showed serious potential. While far from the finished article, he showed tenacity and looked like he may in time develop the tactical nous to be a quality defensive midfielder in the league. With that beautiful left foot and athleticism, he also offers something going forward.

However, something has gone seriously awry in the past 12 months. Do we even know what? Public demands for a new contract? Concerns over his representation? A falling out over an injury? None of them, in isolation, seem anything more than run-of-the-mill issues and far from enough to discard a young talent. Along with facts, what has also been noticeable in its absence is any significant leaking from Bentaleb’s camp about his unhappiness and desire to move on.

It is all highly curious. It makes me wonder, perhaps, if an olive branch, or promise of a blank slate, has been quietly offered. Maybe, it has all been some jedi-style mind training from Pochettino, a deliberate crushing of Bentaleb’s soul in order to harden him for the dreary defensive work that lies ahead as a deep-lying midfielder.

Honestly, I have no idea, like everyone else. But either way, Spurs are winning. They’ve either got a quality midfield prospect hungry to get his career back on track, or they have a midfield prospect with huge potential who will fetch millions in the transfer market. That’s a “good problem” alright.

Where should Spurs look to find an understudy for Eriksen?

If Eric Dier has been irreplaceable at the base of the Spurs midfield this season, so has Christian Eriksen at the pointy end. After a mid-season dip, Eriksen has hit top form in recent months.

Eriksen has played 33 out of 36 league games this season, notching 2,762 minutes. He has also played seven Europa League games. Last season, Eriksen played in all 38 Premier League games.

Spurs are a physical and intense team capable of blowing the doors off an opposition defence. But when more subtlety is required, Eriksen is the man to pick the lock.

He is comfortably the most creative player, averaging 3.7 key passes per 90 minutes, according to WhoScored. The next closest is Erik Lamela with 2.7 per 90. Chadli in limited minutes has 2.3 per 90.

We don’t really know what would happen to Spurs if Eriksen was out for an extended time, or needed to be rested in a big match. This season, the three games he missed came during Spurs’ slow start to the season — against Leicester (a), Everton (h) and Sunderland (a). But the team was in the early stages of its evolution then, and there were myriad reasons for the underperformance.

As previously mentioned, the Champions League won’t offer the same chance of rotation as the Europa League. Eriksen, surely, will not be able to play every Premier League and European game season after season. We will need another creative midfield option. The question: Do Spurs look to the academy, or do they use Champions League qualification to attract a world-class talent?

The three most likely contenders to fill Eriksen’s shoes as creator-in-chief in the current squad are all homegrown — Tom Carroll, Josh Onomah and Alex Pritchard. Onomah would appear to have the most “upside”, but has yet to provide any real end product. Pritchard was surely the understudy-designate before walking under a ladder and enduring a year from hell that last saw him lumping it about in the West Brom U21 squad.

A driving principle of the Pochettino philosophy has been about giving homegrown talent the same chance as expensive imports. But let’s not be naive: with Champions League football on offer and money to spend, Spurs could have some serious fun shopping for an attacking midfielder.

Go and Google “best young attacking midfielders in Europe” — you’ll land on a bunch of clickbaity galleries full of future superstars. Now, because of what’s been achieved, Spurs may be able to buy some of them — we’d be crazy to rule it out.

Do we need to talk about Kevin?

One of the many benefits of a strong season like Spurs have had is that it makes retaining key players that much easier. Of course, if Real or Barca coming knocking, that’s one thing, but the entitled talk coming from Old Trafford sounds frankly delusional.

http://www.espnfc.co.uk/club/manchester-united/360/blog/post/2853621/man-united-face-critical-summer-as-supporters-grow-impatient

If there is one player that I am concerned about keeping hold of, it is Kevin Wimmer. I should probably explain why.

When Jan Vertonghen went down against Crystal Palace, Wimmer didn’t so much as blink upon stepping in as his replacement. In the 10 Premier League games Wimmer played, Spurs conceded seven goals (0.70 goals per game). With Vertonghen at the back, we conceded 18 in 24 (0.75 goals per game).

Is Wimmer better than Vertonghen? I don’t even begin to know how to judge it — defensive stats such as tackles and interceptions seem pretty meaningless, especially in context of a high press.

Vertonghen’s ability to carry the ball and his distribution may give him an edge, but in pure defensive terms, Wimmer perhaps is better in dealing with aerial balls and physical strikers.

Paul Mitchell obviously had Wimmer up his sleeve from the moment he arrived at Spurs, black box in tow. While the club was cautious in doing business early on, presumably waiting for as much data as possible to be gathered before making decisions, Spurs were always moving for Wimmer.

So why am I concerned about keeping Wimmer? It is a combination of the fact that he has proven his quality, the fact that he is unlikely to unseat Vertonghen as first choice, and the fact that there is a shortage of ball-playing, left-sided centre backs in the Premier League.

If you are wondering why Spurs are where we are, Wimmer is a pretty good illustration. He is our back-up left CB, yet would be first choice in that position at Man City, Man Utd, Chelsea and Liverpool.

The way Spurs split the CBs is oh-so trendy, and works a treat, and every Premier League side is going to be trying to do it next season if they aren’t already doing so. Wimmer has proven he can play out that way, while keeping things tight coming the other way. This makes him an extremely valuable commodity in the Premier League in 2016/17.

Why is this a good problem? Because if you are worried about losing a player, it is way better that it is your back-up centre back than, say, your only striker. And this whole potential scenario arises from the fact that Wimmer has been such a successful signing,

I hope Spurs keep hold of him, and use him more. The last thing we want to be doing is messing around with a settled and solid defence. But if that is not possible, we will at least get a massive wodge of cash — far more than the £4 million we spent.

Thanks for reading. Please follow me on Twitter for more articles. This article was first published on Spurs Stat Man.