I’ll let you in a little secret, guys. I hate being wrong. I hate being wrong about things at work. I hate being wrong about current events and politics. I even hate losing trivial arguments with my friends, like who ate the last pizza bagel. But I especially hate being wrong about soccer/football, even more-so when the point of contention involves Spurs.
Those of you who read our “mid-season” Premier League review will recall I was bold enough to suggest Spurs would pip both Liverpool and Arsenal to the final Champions League position this season. If you haven’t read that piece, hop on that. I’ll wait.
Oh, you’re back. Now where were we? Oh yeah, I said Spurs would make top 4, and I hate being wrong. On we go.
Well, ever-eager to knock me down a few pegs, the footballing Gods served up a real stinker for me this past weekend. As I watched Spurs first score on themselves, then labor to earn more than a draw with a Southampton side bereft of anyone fit to share the pitch with my lord and savior Sir Harold of House Kane, I realized something. Deep down in my currently gas-ridden stomach (seriously doc, what’s up with that?), I felt a familiar pang that wasn’t caused by indigestion. It was the twinge of fear at being wrong. And it was strong.
Put simply, based on Sunday’s performance it’s almost laughable for anyone to conclude Spurs are the favorites for a top 4 spot in the league. Yet a mere week ago, I did just that. Am I losing my mind? Have my powers of Premier League prediction abandoned me? Should you stop reading my column for your own sanity?
Fear not, dear reader. I don’t believe it’s all that bad. Rather than losing my powers of clairvoyance, I’ve merely been sabotaged by an outside force. That force, as it turns out, is Spurs’ own manager Mauricio Pochettino.
Is Moussa Sissoko good at football? Am I missing something?
Honest question. I watch a lot of Spurs games…just about every one they play really. Not an easy feat in the States, but through the powers of NBC Sports and the magic of the internet, I get by. I’ve seen Sissoko play many times. On maybe one occasion, I’ve been mildly pleased with him. But every other time, he is legitimately one of the least technical footballers I’ve ever seen—and I lived through the Pavlyuchenko years. At least that mad Russian could smack the ever living shite out of the ball on occasion. All Sissoko can do is run.
That the much-maligned Frenchman made the starting XI on Sunday was proof enough Spurs would struggle. Now granted, Eriksen was forced to miss the game through illness, and he almost certainly would have started in Sissoko’s place. That said, why not play Lamela from the off? The kid could use a good run-out as he returns to full match pace and is useful at unlocking defenses. It’s not like we were playing United, or City, or Chelsea—sides where I could at least see the logic of employing a strong, willing runner like Sissoko. We were playing Southampton, and we should have absolutely smashed them.
Are substitutions really that difficult?
Asking for a friend. Seriously though, for as brilliant of a manager as he is, Poch’s apparent knowledge gap concerning how and when to use his substitutions is baffling. While perusing the Tottenham subreddit this morning, I saw an article that opined on Poch’s subbing stats. In 33 games this season, we’ve made 99 substitutions—and those substitutions have yielded just 1 goal and 1 assist all year. A statistical improbability, it would seem. But there’s more to it than that if you pay attention.
Pochettino rarely subs early in games. I can likely count on one hand the amount of times I’ve seen a pre-60th minute substitute from him that wasn’t forced by injury. Not only does he wait excessively long before making subs, he often throws on players that make little sense for the situation. Case in point, Sunday. After watching us struggle to score against Southampton for 50-odd minutes, his first sub was to withdraw Son for Lamela. Not terrible on its own; Son had struggled to make an impact and Lamela is an offensive player.
But the next two subs were awful decisions. Aurier got hurt and needed replacing shortly after Lamela came on. This provided a perfect chance for Poch to throw on Llorente as an extra striker and drop us into the familiar 3-at-the-back that we’ve used successfully in the past. Instead, he opted for a straight swap and put Trippier in Aurier’s place. You can make the argument that Trippier could influence the game with his positive runs and crossing, sure. But without Llorente on the field, who is he crossing to? Just Kane.
Not one to rest on his laurels, Poch blew another substitution with less than 10 minutes remaining. Dembele’s race was run, again offering an ample chance to bring on our extra striker and push for the last period of play. So what does Poch do? Why, he brings on Victor Wanyama…because he’s evidently worried Southampton might beat us and we need a defensive midfielder to prevent that. It was a small-club move; going for a point against a team we should be beating is embarrassing for a club that claims to want to win trophies and play in Champions League every year.
If we can’t beat Southampton…we are in big trouble for top 4
United at Wembley. Liverpool at Anfield. Arsenal at Wembley. Our next 3 games in the league are no joke. Any dropped points in these 3 games directly strengthens a rival and makes the path to top 4 more perilous. At the very least, we’ve got to beat one of Liverpool or Arsenal to give ourselves a real shot at Champions League football come season’s end. Preferably, we beat both.
Does any Spurs fan see us winning even one of these games on current form? Even with Eriksen back in the team, the chances are slim. Kane and Son are the only two players who ever look like scoring—and our reliance on them was exposed for the folly it truly is as both had poorer than average games against the Saints. Son was anonymous for large portions of the match, and despite scoring our leveler Kane missed a golden chance to win the game late on. If either of them, or both, are also poor against those better caliber teams we won’t stand a chance.
I want to be optimistic about Spurs’ chances this year. I want to believe the side that eviscerated Real Madrid will eventually show itself in the league. But right now, I can’t. We’ve dropped far too many points already against lesser sides for me to think we’ve got a chance of keeping up if Liverpool stay hot in the second half of the season. Given that the Merseysiders handed Pep’s Man City their first league defeat not too long ago, hoping for their demise seems like a waste of time. And if that’s the case, we’ll be on the outside looking in at 4th place come May.