Tag Archives: Christian Eriksen

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.

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Spurs do it on a mild Monday evening in Stoke

Paul Wells  FOX HUNT

Image: Twitter…

I have watched the highlights of Stoke v Spurs on Spurs TV twice, and on The Times once for good measure, and it is fair to say I am going to watch them a few more times before the week is out.

Monday night was pure footballing heaven for a Spurs fan. I can’t recall our attacking movement being quite so fluid, and our intent so lethal. It wasn’t just the result, but the manner of the performance. The hunt is on.

Some micro-thoughts, in no particular order:

1) What must it have felt like as a Leicester player watching that? If they didn’t know they were in a race, they will now. They will be feeling pressure on Sunday, without question.

2) Mousa Dembele was outstanding. He’s had a couple of tricky games of late, reverting to sideways and backwards movement and passing. Against Stoke, everything was forward. It makes all the difference to this team.

3) Legend has it that Nicola Cortese took an interest in Mauricio Pochettino because of his touchline demeanour. It was in full evidence at the Britannia, as a pumped-up Pochettino prowled the touchline and transmitted his hunger to the team. This guy WANTS it. Admittedly, it all got a bit Basil Fawlty after the Dele Alli miss — but that’s the price you pay for passion.

4) Harry Kane never lets a missed chance get him down, such as when he made a mess of an opportunity in the early stages after a poor first touch. Within minutes, he’d made amends. This ability to “forget” misses and treat every chance the same is invaluable. Who does it remind me of? Jermain Defoe. You wonder if Jermain’s mentality rubbed off on a young Kane.

5) Why were Stoke fans booing Danny Rose? As far as I’m aware, he’s never had his leg broken by Ryan Shawcross, or nearly broken by Charlie Adam. Rose responded with a marauding fullback performance, that would thrill Roy Hodgson as much as Pochettino.

6) The narrative around Erik Lamela has finally reached tipping point — his workrate and toughness is widely acknowledged, as is knack of performing in “big” matches. He was an attacking menace last night, and Stoke had no answer to him.

7) Christian Eriksen had a blip in mid-season, but he is on top form now. His assists against Man Utd and Stoke were things of beauty — he had a picture of the play in his head, and the technical skill to execute the passes to perfection.

8) Toby Alderweireld responded to his PFA “snub” with another rock-solid performance. We’ve not seen decision-making of this calibre from a Spurs defender since Ledley King in his prime. It was summed up when Stoke attacked in the first half and Jan Vertonghen drifted slightly out of position as a cross came in, leaving Toby with a 2 on 1 situation at the back post. He wasn’t distracted by the potential overload, and instead made sure he did the simple thing — reach the ball first and get it to safety. This doesn’t win you PFA awards, but it does win you football matches.

9) Before the match, Pochettino revealed that he’d spent Sunday with Daniel Levy watching the Leicester match with a bottle of red wine. This is a club in harmony — a far cry from the House of Cards style political snakepit it has reportedly been under previous regimes. Long may it continue.

10) Sky Sports had Cesc Fabregas as its guest on Monday Night Football, and it is fair to say it didn’t work. He was eloquent, but had little of relevance to say on the title race, beyond his honest admission that he’d hate Spurs to win. Jamie Carragher, on the other hand, was outstanding. His defence of Jon Moss was passioned and backed with strong evidence. After the match he hit on the truth of this Spurs team — this isn’t a “fluke” title challenge as some thought, Spurs could be good for many years to come.

Thanks for reading. Please follow me on Twitter for more Spurs chat. Note, I’ve changed the credit for the image to a more generic “Twitter”.

Exhilarating, if excruciating, Etihad triumph takes Spurs into uncharted Premier League waters

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If the rest of the season is going to be like those final few minutes against Manchester City, I’m not sure I’m going to cope.

I couldn’t watch as the match inched into injury time. I’m not kidding — I went and started peeling some potatoes, I was finding it that excruciating. I’m not good with tension.

It was probably just we well, given the need for Hugo Lloris to don his Superman cape once again and fly to the rescue, and how close David Silva came to turning home the rebound.

Spurs have stalked up the league, not unnoticed, but at least with Leicester City for cover. But going to the Etihad, looking a strong and motivated Manchester City team in the eye and not blinking, means any pretence that Spurs aren’t in with a serious shout of the winning the league is out of the window.

It can’t be stressed how unusual this is for Spurs fans.

As Martin Tyler said on commentary, Spurs have the led the league, in the Premier League era, for 33 days. In total. Manchester City have led for 100 days, this season alone.

My Spurs fandom began at around the same time as the Premier League kicked off in 1992/93. One of my earliest footballing memories as a little boy was reading the inaugural Sky Sports Premier League preview publication, which broke down each team’s chances and promoted Sky’s broadcasting revolution. I was young, but I remember the Spurs section mentioned how the fans would miss the “twinkling Geordie toes” of a certain Paul Gascoigne, but highlighted the signing of Darren Anderton as a reason for optimism in what could be a tricky season.

That was nearly a quarter of a century ago, and we’ve led the league for 33 days since. Yes, there have been moments when we have shone, and moments when we’ve been close, but I can’t recall ever feeling that it is “on” like it is now.

It has been 55 years since Spurs last won the league, so it isn’t just my generation and younger who may struggle to recall success. As Daniel Storey noted in an excellent piece last week, there is a long list of clubs that have won the league since Spurs:  Ipswich Town, Everton, Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, Leeds, Arsenal, Derby County, Nottingham Forest, Aston Villa, Blackburn Rovers and Chelsea.

We have a proud history, particularly as a Premier League ever-present, but this, right now, is on a different level.

It’s not technically in our hands, with Leicester two points clear. And how big is the North London derby going to be on March 5th? But we are way beyond the “daring to dream” stage, and we’re no longer looking down at 5th place. Spurs can win the league. Maybe we will, maybe we won’t. But it’s there for the taking.

We have had some impressive performances under Mauricio Pochettino, and to me this was right up there alongside the home wins against Arsenal and Chelsea. This wasn’t the Manchester City that failed to show up against Leicester. These guys wanted it.

Manuel Pellegrini changed his tactics to strengthen a porous midfield, Vincent Kompany returned to shore up the defence, and Sergio Aguero buzzed around like a wasp. Even Yaya Toure looked strong and imposing, not the shuffling old man he has been for stretches this campaign.

The teams went toe-to-toe, Manchester City playing with commitment and purpose. They looked like they believed they would win, like it was logical that, as the most star-studded team in England, if they played well no-one could stop them. But Spurs were obdurate and efficient, and City struggled to create.

There was luck — it wasn’t a penalty — but Man City hit back hard. It was our right flank that buckled — Walker was exposed, but more than any other player, the right-back’s passing, touch and composure deserted him as as City cranked up the pressure. With Walker you sense the huge mental effort being made to understand and execute his role in the system. Once Manchester City levelled, you thought there would only be one winner. What joy there is in being wrong.

The reactions at the end summed up where the two teams are. Spurs, once again, looked a picture of harmony in their celebrations. Man City looked stunned, as though they had no idea that they could play well and still lose. Dark thoughts must be swirling in some heads at the Etihad. Pellegrini looked and sounded furious — none of the famed “dignity” in his post-match comments.

After five wins in a row, it is frustrating that the Premier League must take a break, but so be it.

There will be calls for large-scale rotation in the Europa League, but we should know by now that this isn’t the Pochettino way. He believes in the recuperative powers of winning and training. He’ll do his full-back shuffle, and maybe switch an attacking midfielder. Same again in the FA Cup, where a replay is to be avoided.

If any player has proved the mastery that Pochettino has achieved in terms of creating a cohesive unit capable of fulfilling his tactical instructions, it is Kevin Wimmer. Wimmer barely had a kick in the first half of the season, but since Jan Vertonghen suffered a knee injury against Palace, Wimmer has slotted into the defence seamlessly.

Credit is of course due to Paul Mitchell and Rob MacKenzie for identifying the player, but it speaks to the tactical clarity of the Pochettino system that Wimmer can step in at such a crucial juncture.

On Sky, Jamie Carragher said that a Spurs title would be the biggest shock in Premier League history, and would go down as the greatest managerial achievement. It is hard to argue — Carragher doesn’t dish out praise to Spurs lightly.

After 24 years of failing to seriously challenge in the Premier League era, it’s understandable that we are all struggling to process what is happening at Spurs.

The first thing I need to do is figure out how to enjoy it, or at least endure it, because there are going to be a few more nail-biters to come this season.

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Christian Eriksen: Tottenham’s chief creator goes off the boil

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Sky Sports via Google Images

 

While most fans, myself included, accepted that a point was ultimately a decent outcome for a match against Everton at Goodison Park at the fag end of the Christmas period, during the game the divergence of opinion was quite marked.

On the one hand, many fans on social media were thrilled by the intense pressing, quick movement and the attacking intent of Spurs, until the final 20 minutes when the team tired. On Sky Sports, Graeme Souness and Jamie Carragher — hardly Spurs cheerleaders — waxed lyrical about the exciting young team they were seeing.

On the other hand, a few grumpy pants, myself included, were moaning that, for all the promise, Spurs weren’t actually creating many good chances. In Tim Howard and Ramiro Funes Mori, Everton have a clear weakness at the back, relative to the strength of the rest of their team. Despite some pretty play, and hitting the woodwork twice, Spurs only had four shots on target all game.

Michael Caley’s XG map summed up this lack of dangerzone creativity well, even if this map doesn’t quite do justice to what was a hugely entertaining game of football.

This isn’t the first time in recent matches that we’ve struggled to create “good” chances — the same occurred against Watford, Newcastle, West Brom and Chelsea. Only against Norwich and, to a lesser extent, Southampton did we cut loose.

This period (in which, it should be noted, we’ve kept the points coming in) has coincided with a dip in form by Tottenham’s chief creator, Christian Eriksen.

Aside from taking the corner that Eric Dier nodded home against Newcastle, Eriksen hasn’t had an assist since we played West Ham on November 22. He was dropped for the visit to Watford, but regained his place against Everton.

I’ve pulled together some pass maps from some of the games in which Spurs struggled to create.

First, using the online tools from @footballfactman, it is clear that Eriksen struggled to make key passes against Chelsea, WBA, Newcastle and Watford (he played 45 minutes). That is a very modest contribution from our “number 10” — even if he has generally played from wide due to the strength of the Alli-Dembele combination.

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The basic passing information from Squawka shows Eriksen’s struggles quite starkly. Against Chelsea and Newcastle, he barely attempted any passes into the area at all and his passes were coming from relatively deep. Against West Brom and Everton, he made several passes into dangerous areas, and generally from more advanced positions, but none of them came off.

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Despite the apparent recent struggles, Eriksen would appear to be having a strong Premier League season statistically. Per Whoscored, he is averaging 3.3 key passes per 90 minutes, up from 2.4 per 90 last season and 3.1 per 90 in his first season with us. He is notching up assists at the same rate as in his first season, 0.4 per 90 minutes — last season was a bit of a statistical fluke as he only managed two all season. He is passing the ball marginally less this season — 52.6 passes per 90 compared with 56.6 per 90 last season.

Eriksen is a classy player. He may not be on the level of Ozil or Silva, in my opinion, but he’s on the second tier in Premier League terms. I’m sure what we are seeing now is just a dip. As I said earlier, Eriksen has predominantly played from the left this season — understandably he may feel he can influence a game less from the left than when he is pulling the strings centrally.

I’d also note that Eriksen’s dip has appeared to coincide with Mousa Dembele’s best form. Perhaps there isn’t enough time on the ball in Poch’s system for both of them to get the touches they need? Eriksen’s performance against Everton, with Dembele out, was his most promising in a while.

But the fact Eriksen was dropped for Watford shows that Mauricio Pochettino is aware the Dane is not firing on all cylinders. Knowing what we know about the head coach, the answer to this problem is going to be even more training rather than a rest — enjoy it, Christian.

Class is permanent, form is temporary. But I’m sure Harry Kane would love to have his primary creator back in a central role and sliding in pass after pass, sooner rather than later.

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Sunderland 0-1 Tottenham: Five Monday thoughts

Spurs ground out a 1-0 win against Sunderland on Sunday, thanks to a late Ryan Mason winner and beautiful assist from Erik Lamela. It wasn’t pretty, and for large parts Spurs looked average at best. But, three points was the order of the day, and that at least was achieved. Amusingly, we’re now above Chelsea. Here are five random thoughts:

SOLDIERING ON WITHOUT CHRISTIAN: I thought we missed Christian Eriksen sorely against Everton, but it was even more acute against Sunderland. The heat map for Spurs sums it up — large blobs in deeper midfield areas, and despite a small spot in the central attacking midfield area, almost nothing to the left and right of it. This is where Eriksen operates, in his constant search for space.

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Watching the game, you could see a large Eriksen-shaped hole throughout. This was exacerbated by the choice of Deli Alli and his instruction to get beyond Harry Kane, and the no-show by Nacer Chadli, which I will get to. Aside from the direct consequence of a lack of chances being created for Kane, which I’ll also get to, the loss of Eriksen severely stymied Spurs build-up play and ball retention in the first half. The possession and domination of play improved as Sunderland tired and Mauricio Pochettino’s fitness regime paid dividends. Mason had huge swathes of ground to cover, and he did as well as could have been expected. His goal summed up his performance — a lot of effort, but more painful than it needed to have been. We need Eriksen back as soon as possible, because Spurs are a blunt instrument without him.

A BAD DAY FOR CHADLI TO HAVE A BAD DAY: This was Nacer Chadli’s worst performance for a long time, and he couldn’t have chosen a worse time. He barely touched the ball in the first half, and only came into the game late on when Sunderland tired and spaces opened up. I’m not sure on the reliability of the stats from Yahoo, but 10 passes seems about right. That isn’t enough and he didn’t create anything noteworthy. Spurs need players to want to dominate, not ones who just sit back and wait for things to happen. Chadli needed to perform today — once Eriksen and Mousa Dembele are fit, his place will be under threat. I feel Spurs can only play two of Chadli, Son Heung-min and Alli — they are too similar. Son showed one or two flashes of much-needed directness on debut, and surely will win a battle with Chadli once the squad settles down. Alli looks comfortable on the right side. Worse for Chadli, both Townsend and Lamela came on and made an impact. I hope he’s got some blank pages in his passport, because Chadli’s abject performance was a ticket to the Europa League squad.

FOX OUTSIDE THE BOX: Related to the two points above, the Great Harry Kane Premier League Goal Drought of 2015 continues. The heatmap pretty much shows you why — he is hardly ever touching the ball in the box.

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He is suffering most in Eriksen’s absence, as he is being forced into wide and deep positions to find the ball. He wasn’t helped by playing alongside a Premier League debutant in Son, and Premier League first-time starter in Alli, and a missing person in Nacer Chadli. Poch’s instructions against Palace should be simple — you stay in the danger zone, leave it to the midfield to feed you. He will take the chances if they are created, because that is what he does — you can’t fluke 31-goal seasons.

JAN AND TOBY SHAKY: Jan Vertonghen received some credit from the TV commentators for a couple of stylish pieces of defending, but overall I’m concerned by the Belgian centre-back pairing. My concern is aggression and physicality, which I noticed against Everton. In that match, Romelu Lukaku won almost every aerial duel or contested long-range ball, with Spurs defenders seemingly willing to let him have it and focus on the second pass. I presumed this was a tactic — it’s an old one and can be a good one, if you know a striker is extremely physical.

Lukaku fits into that category. Jermain Defoe, however, most certainly does not.

On several occasions, Defoe won aerial duels with Toby Alderweireld or managed to secure possession from long-balls out of the back. This is unacceptable — I’m sure every Premier League analyst noticed it and will make sure balls out of defence head down Spurs right side, with a runner in behind. Meanwhile Jan presents the opposite problem — he dives in too much when balls are played through low to the opposition striker, and seems a constant risk of picking up bookings or letting a ball through. It is early days in the partnership, but I’m far from convinced. It may not be the Belgian style per se, but how about something old fashioned from balls out from the opposition keeper: One defender attacks the ball, the other covers?

At full back, I’m getting impatient to see Kieran Trippier which may be clouding my judgement on Kyle Walker’s performances. I thought Ben Davies was ultra solid and should be in the team next weekend against Palace and their dangerous wingers.

PUZZLE FOR POCH: On paper, I thought Poch got his selection right. Then the match started, and it looked horrible. Son, Chadli and Alli are just too similar, and there was no-one to take control of the attacking midfield. As stated, Eriksen was sorely missed, and while I’m not his biggest fan, Mousa Dembele would have been useful in this match. But if Poch thought the performances from his starters were puzzling, the mystery only deepened with the performances of his subs. Townsend came on and beat Patrick van Aanholt twice in succession. Meanwhile, Lamela drifted effectively into the attacking midfield space that had been vacant throughout the match, and provided the incision with a superb assist for Mason.

The Europa League may sometimes be a curse, but right now the idea of a couple of extra games to give certain players — Lamela, Townsend, Pritchard — minutes to gain fitness and prove their worth, feels a positive. I eagerly await Poch’s selection on Thursday — my guess is Lamela and Townsend both start.