It’s a cold, lazy Sunday here in the Northeast US and I’m finally calm enough to collect my thoughts from Spurs’ utter embarrassment at league-leaders Manchester City on Saturday. While the 4-1 loss didn’t necessarily surprise me—given the imperious form Pep’s players have shown so far this season—the fact that Spurs were never really in the game was a huge disappointment. On that showing, even a top four finish is going to be a mighty struggle this season.
How have we gone from title contenders to potential top-four dropouts in just half a season? More importantly, how do we reverse our fortunes? I’ve got some ideas.
Problem 1 – messing about in the transfer window
Spurs’ history with the transfer window is one of mixed fortunes; it seems we either overspend on players we don’t need or under-spend when there are obvious gaps in our team. This season’s window was a little bit of both in all honesty. We added young defender, Davinson Sanchez, at center back—a position we didn’t really need to reinforce—while also securing the services of Serge Aurier at right back and Fernando Llorente up front—positions we actually needed cover in. Sanchez has proven himself a key cog in our defense since signing and our current run of poor form is likely due to his recent suspension absence. Aurier has been hot and cold but overall looks like he’ll settle into the team just fine once he learns to play in Poch’s style. Llorente, on the other hand, has had almost no impact and only recently scored his first Spurs goal against the mighty Apoel in a meaningless UCL group stage match (remember, we had already won the group).
The problem with Spurs only signing three players—a third of which provide no tangible benefit to the team—is that other title-chasing clubs do not do this. Chelsea brought in Alvaro Morata from Madrid this summer and the lad has practically carried them through the first half of the season. City spent the last several years acquiring players like De Bruyne, Sane and Jesus and are now reaping the benefits of having an absurdly fit and talented front line. Hell, even Arsenal found the cash to buy a proven goalscorer this past window in Lacazette and if Wenger actually played the guy consistently, they’d probably be closer to Manchester United and Chelsea than they are to us.
Meanwhile, Poch has added hardly any quality to the team over the last two seasons. Sissoko was a dud and, given his price tag, smacks of a consolation panic buy after a main target wasn’t properly pursued. N’Koudou hardly plays and evidently has attitude issues. Llorente is old, slow, and unable to truly push Kane for starts at the striker position. It’s hard not to feel as though Poch is not being backed the way he should in the window given approximately half of our signings over the last few seasons haven’t helped us at all.
The solution? Get behind Poch in the January window and sign some quality players that can push members of the first team for starting positions. Guys like Sanchez are what we should be looking for, not over-the-hill strikers who won’t ever start or make a serious impact.
Problem 2 – poor player form
If you sat through Saturday’s match as a Spurs/City fan—or even a neutral—you’ll have noticed a distinct difference in the form of the players for each side. City’s players were fast, strong, and slick on the ball. Spurs’ were slow, ponderous, and second-best for most of the game (with a few exceptions, like Son). As well as City have played for most of the season, there’s no excuse for Spurs’ players to have looked as disinterested as some of them did on Saturday. I’m looking at you, Dele. Last season, you were one of our most dangerous attacking threats. On Saturday, the only danger you offered was to De Bruyne’s ankle ligaments.
It’s been clear for a while that the likes of Dele and Eriksen have been struggling to find their best form. Yet, instead of resting them so they have a chance to recover and regain that form, Poch is practically forced to start them every week due to his lack of squad depth. Lamela’s recent return from injury is the only reason we have even a single serviceable sub for the attacking midfield positions; outside of him, there is no one realistically capable of pushing either Dele or Eriksen for their position. That lack of true competition is breeding complacency in our starters, which in turn is breeding sloppiness on the pitch.
The solution? Dele needs to take a seat for a game or two. Give Lamela a few starts; not only will it help him get back to fitness, but it will also serve a reminder to Dele that his starting position requires effort and hopefully inspire him to start working hard again.
Problem 3 – tactics, tactics, tactics
In the interest of fairness, I will concede that Poch’s game plan for Saturday’s match wasn’t all that bad. He wanted us to press and make City uncomfortable, and—if not for some poor individual performances—it likely would have worked. But overall this season, his tactics have been suspect. Against the lesser sides especially, he’s developed a bad tendency of approaching games too cautiously and waiting far too long to make substitutions capable of positively affecting outcomes.
Part of this issue is, again, that the man has very few viable options at his disposal at the moment. Injuries and suspension have hit our defense pretty hard and our attackers are unfortunately badly out of form. It’s not like he can turn to Sissoko to solve Dele and Eriksen’s form issue and Lamela has only recently come back into the fold. To touch back on that second problem I identified, though, Poch has to be smarter about who he starts when several normal first-teamers are clearly out of sorts. Dele holding a starting spot as long as he has for the past month or so has been particularly infuriating; doubly so in games where he kept our only in-form attacker, Son, off the team sheet.
The solution? Sit players who are out of form. Go with two strikers when we’re playing teams that just sit back and defend. Make substitutions before 80 minutes in matches where we’re chasing a result. Overall, just manage more intelligently. You’re the best manager we’ve had in decades…don’t be afraid to act like it.