How have Spurs managed to go 'under the radar' again?
The American golfer Steve Stricker was bizarrely awarded the PGA Tour’s ‘Comeback Player of The Year’ award in two consecutive seasons, and it seems as if Spurs are pulling off a similar confidence trick this season. With the exception of Claudio Ranieri’s remarkable Leicester team, Tottenham were the best unit in the Premier League last season. Other sides, notably neighbours Arsenal, possessed greater individual quality but Mauricio Pochettino carved out an athletic, well organised and efficient collective at White Hart Lane.
As the traditional powerhouses faltered, Spurs were able to fly ‘under the radar’ as the cliché goes. Curiously, they seem to be doing this yet again with the public’s attention firmly fixed on Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte elsewhere.
In some respects, this is a telling reflection on our footballing culture and the way in which many now think about the game. The respective health of our top clubs is viewed solely through the prism of the transfer window. Spurs spent some significant money in the summer; £30 million for Moussa Sissoko, £18 million for Vincent Janssen and £11 million for Victor Wanyama. However, these were neither the colossal sums nor glamorous names to fully satiate the transfer window fetishists who are ubiquitous today. Many pundits judged that had a mediocre window and were therefore in for a mediocre season.
However, it is often forgotten that the purpose of buying players is to improve your team, and to add attributes that were previously lacking. It is not a competition or a race in its own right. Too many were quick to forget, as they lauded the ‘ambition’ of Manchester United, Manchester City and to a lesser extent Chelsea, that Spurs finished above all those clubs last season. They were the clubs with work to do as they tried to recover from bad spending in previous windows.
With so much money in the Premier League, especially at the two Manchester clubs, it was surprising that Tottenham kept together the spine of their team without too many vultures circling. Hugo Lloris, Toby Alderweireld, Eric Dier, Moussa Dembélé, Dele Alli and Harry Kane were the core that kept the Spurs juggernaut on track for all but the last few games of the season. That more clubs didn’t try to target this collection of players must have been a big relief for Daniel Levy and the club, and kept in tact a platform to have another solid season.
They have not quite scaled the heights of last season in terms of performance levels, mainly because of the absence of Dembélé following a six-game suspension that carried over from last season. The Belgian was absolutely integral last term, and is a unique player in the Spurs squad. He gives them defensive balance because of his physical presence and tendency to stay behind the ball when Pochettino’s side are attacking.
The former Fulham man is also the technical glue in Tottenham’s midfield; he barley wastes a pass and is almost impossible to knock off the ball. Spurs possess plenty of direct, ‘impact’ players, such as Alli and Kane, and they need the guile and velvety touch of Dembele to get the blend right.
They host high-flying Manchester City this Sunday, having amassed 22 victories against them in the Premier League era; one more win will mean Spurs have beaten them more times than any other club in the division. The game should be a compelling contest, because Pochettino’s teams are inclined to press high and pin teams back in their own half; not many teams have attempted this against Guardiola this season.
If there is a doubt over Spurs, it is their capacity to score goals. They have scored only five goals in their last five league games at White Hart Lane. For all their athleticism and sound organisation, you feel that Spurs lack a little dash of stardust in the last third to win the league. If they can become a bit more free scoring though, they might final start to be judged for the strong and durable side that they are.
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