Saturday’s friendly victory over Juventus at Wembley marked the end of Spurs’ preseason preparations. The new Premier League season is set to begin Friday evening with Arsenal v. Leicester, while Spurs will kick off their campaign this Sunday with an away trip to newly-promoted Newcastle. Spurs’ summer matches were a mixed bag, really. Some good results against foreign opposition were tempered by less-than-impressive outings against league rivals Manchester City and Italian outfit Roma. I break down the notable preseason clashes below in terms of the strengths and weaknesses that shone through during each.
Spurs 4-2 PSG
Spurs took care of business relatively comfortably in their first preseason match. After going behind early to a Cavani strike, Spurs equalized through an Eriksen stunner and then took the lead after PSG goalkeeper Trapp fluffed a clearance. Though Cavani equalized before halftime, strikes from Alderweireld and Kane sealed a win for Spurs.
While the attack looked comfortable in this match, it was a tough outing defensively for Pochettino’s men. Walker’s absence was clearly felt and this game proved it’ll take time for the back four to develop the same understanding that the great wall of Toby, Jan, Danny, and Kyle had last season. Still, for a first tune-up match it delivered great goals and positive play, so not much to complain about from a Spurs fan’s perspective.
Spurs 2-3 Roma
I had the pleasure (or rather, displeasure) of catching this one live at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, NJ. The word “displeasure” is being used here because frankly, it was an awful game. The officiating was an absolute mess, though fairly typical by CONCACAF’s impossibly low standards for competence. Roma were awarded a dubious penalty to get themselves the lead, while a clear-cut foul on Kane in their penalty area was later waved off. The Italians eventually went up 2-0 before Spurs fought back heroically with a handful of quick stoppage time strikes to equalize.
Great, right? Well it would have been, had they not let Roma march down the field immediately from kickoff to steal all 3 points with the last kick of the game. So spursy.
I have to say, there were some very disappointing individual performances from Spurs players in this one. Kevin Wimmer, who only came on as a substitute, was at fault for Roma’s second and third goals. In his defense though, he was fouled in the buildup to the final goal and the referee blatantly ignored it. Trippier again didn’t have his best game, while the midfield really struggled to find a way through Roma’s defense. There were a lot of misplaced passes and poor link-up attempts, some of which can be attributed to preseason rust, but not all. This would have been the worst game of the summer’s warm-up period had the City game not been played.
Spurs 0-3 City
Not much to say on this one. The absolute stinker of the bunch. If anything, I think it really served to highlight the differences between a side that does their transfer business early and a side that doesn’t. City’s bench had more depth and it showed over the course of the 90 minutes. Both their starters and their substitutes outplayed ours and they racked up 3 laughably simple goals.
Defense was again an issue as Poch tried to work out the kinks of a Rose and Walker-less back four. Our youth players were serviceable but nothing special, and got exposed in one-on-one scenarios all too often. Kane had little-to-no service up front and Pep’s men out-pressed us, leading to a ton of dangerous possession for City. Spurs online fan forums were heated after this one, with a lot of people singling out Levy’s transfer stinginess as a reason we looked so far off City’s level. I tend to agree; our first XI is as good as anyone’s but the bench looked really bare throughout the summer.
Spurs 2-0 Juventus
A great result in the last warm-up match would have put a smile on many gloomy Spurs fans’ faces after the City debacle. Our defense looked much better against last season’s Italian champions, though it should be said that Juve don’t necessarily press that high themselves. Trippier had his best game of the summer before needing to leave the game due to injury (not good) after setting up Kane’s opener with a perfect cross. Hugo Lloris had an outstanding game in goal, denying both Dybala and Cuadrado with world class saves. Even Moussa Sissoko played relatively well, which is something I certainly wasn’t expecting to ever put in writing.
Our preseason period wasn’t all that bad, though a couple worrying results shone a rather harsh light on our lack of depth in certain positions. Our bench is very light when it comes to defense and midfield, an issue further exacerbated by Trippier’s injury against Juve. We simply don’t have the same level of quality coming off the sideline as our main Premier League rivals do, and it’s the result of a very casual transfer policy this summer. In my last post (which seems ages ago, so boring has Spurs’ summer been), I advocated for Pochettino’s measured approach to the transfer market. That said, even he has to be worried at the fact that Walker was sold without a replacement, Trippier is now hurt, and we still have quite a few big players (Son, Rose, Lamela) fighting to come back from injury.
While I trust Poch’s ability to develop young talent, we now find ourselves in a situation where a largely untested youth player (Walker-Peters) may have to start against Newcastle. It’s either that, or play Dier out of position. Neither option is ideal, nor should we even be in such a dilemma given our status in the league and financial clout. Walker should never have been sold without a replacement already lined up, and the fact that we didn’t plan ahead for an injury is worrying. Right back is just one of many positions on the field where if our starter goes down injured, we’re in pretty serious trouble. So I think Levy and Poch need to put their heads together and get us a bit of depth before the window shuts at the end of the month.
Overall, I was pleased with the summer’s preseason action, but there are some notable areas for improvement if Spurs are truly going to push on from last season’s second place finish and genuinely challenge for the title again.