Tottenham have had a difficult start to the Premier League season, after somewhat overachieving last season. The team made it to the Champions League final, without spending a single penny in 12 months, while also managing to cement their place in the top four. But, almost two months into the season and Spurs sit seventh in the Premier League, have been knocked out of the Carabao Cup by Colchester United, and recently drew 2-2 against Olympiakos blowing a two-goal lead. Head coach Mauricio Pochettino might now be faced with tough decisions ahead and should be looking at some key decisions to get his side back to their “form”.
Last season the Tottenham Hotspur coach revealed he’d ‘never been so unhappy’ at the North London club. Then, prior to the Champions League final defeat to Liverpool, he dropped the bombshell that the game could have been his last at the helm.
The Argentine’s mood has not been helped by Tottenham’s start to the season. Having won just two of their first six Premier League fixtures, matters were compounded by an embarrassing Carabao Cup exit at the hands of League Two’s Colchester United on Tuesday evening.
“When you have an unsettled squad always it’s difficult and you lose time, then you need time to recover the time you lose,” Pochettino said after defeat in Essex.
“That’s where we are. Maybe our performances are good but you need this extra, which is mental, connection. It’s energy to be all together, not to have different agendas in the squad.
Asked what the solution was, Pochettino told Sky Sports News: “Only we need time. January is going to be a good opportunity too to fix this situation and the next one. That is the problem when something happens that you cannot control.”
After finally ending their self-imposed transfer ban to sign Tanguy Ndombele for a club-record fee, as well as taking Giovani Lo Celso on loan from Real Betis with the option to buy and signing Fulham wonderkid Ryan Sessegnon for £25m, the feeling was Tottenham had enjoyed a good summer transfer window.
Eight games into the new season and everything is unravelling. Here’s a look at what Spurs and Pochettino might need to do to get their season back on track.
Make a decision at right-back
Given he was not universally popular at Tottenham anyway, it’s remarkable how badly Spurs have missed Kieran Trippier. The England international’s move to Atlético Madrid has left a hole at right-back which has yet to be filled on a full-time basis.
Centre-half Davinson Sánchez has looked uncomfortable on the right while Kyle Walker-Peters has been unable to prove he is Trippier’s long-term heir.
That has opened the door for Serge Aurier. The Ivorian was well down the pecking order last season and made just six Premier League starts.
Now Aurier is enjoying a renaissance at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. He marked his first start of the season by forcing an own goal in the 4-0 demolition of Crystal Palace and recorded an assist for Heung-min Son’s volley.
Pochettino needs to give the former Paris Saint-Germain full-back a run in the side – something he’s not had since arriving in the 2018 January transfer window.
Make peace with want-away stars
Christian Eriksen has made no secret of his desire to embark on a new project. The Dane is out of contract next summer and if Spurs cannot sell him in January, he will walk away for nothing. The same is likely to go for Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen – both their deals expire in June 2020.
Spurs will not pay the kind of salaries that might persuade the trio to stay and it appears a foregone conclusion this is their final season with the club. But they are still of use to Spurs and Pochettino must ensure he utilises them while he can.
Vertonghen was strangely left out of Tottenham’s first three Premier League fixtures before finally returning for the North London derby. While Pochettino has high hopes for the pairing of Sánchez and Juan Foyth, Alderweireld and Vertonghen remain his strongest pairing.
As for Eriksen, the 27-year-old remains one of the Premier League’s finest creators. In the last three seasons (2016/17-2018/19), no midfielder in England’s top-flight racked up more assists (37), more shot assists from open play (170) or set-pieces (73), while he was second for big chances created (43) and third for crosses completed (139) via Premier League.
The Real Madrid and Juventus target underlined his value to Tottenham when he came off the bench on the opening weekend, turning a 1-0 defeat at home to Aston Villa into a 3-1 win with a masterful display. Spurs and Pochettino must enjoy his creative genius while they can.
Get Dele Alli back to his best
At one point in the not-too-distant past, the former MK Dons midfielder was the golden boy of English football. But at just 23 he’s almost been forgotten thanks to a combination of form and fitness, allowing the likes of James Maddison and Mason Mount to supersede him.
Alli’s numerical output has dwindled in recent seasons and his only appearances this term have come in the Champions League and Carabao Cup.
After bagging a career-best 18 Premier League goals in 2016/17, as well as weighing in with seven assists, Alli scored nine times and set up ten more in 2017/18. Yet last term he managed just three and five respectively via Transfermarkt.
If or when Eriksen leaves, Alli would be the most natural replacement. Yes, he’s a different type of player but Pochettino must find a way to help Alli rediscover his best form for Tottenham.
Find a willing and able deputy to Harry Kane
It’s an annual problem for Pochettino and Spurs. Namely, finding a striker good enough to push Kane and occasionally stand in for him who’s happy at being a substitute more often than not.
Fernando Llorente fulfilled that role until this summer and did better than any other incumbent of this “unpleasant” shift. Who could forget his role in Spurs reaching their first Champions League final? But the 34-year-old left North London to try his luck in Serie A with Napoli this summer, leaving Tottenham short.
Lucas Moura and Son can play through the middle, and Moura bagged a respectable eight in 18 playing as a centre-forward in the Premier League, but it’s neither’s preferred or natural position and they both lack the line-leading presence of Kane.
If it wasn’t already a difficult enough task for Tottenham’s recruitment department, having to do so in January when decent strikers are more of a commodity than ever will only serve to complicate matters.