This season has ranked as one of the worst in recent memory for Tottenham, with almost no performances of note and some lucky results keeping them from being outside the bottom three through eleven games. To figure out why we are just so bad, I decided to deconstruct the squad, position by position.
Hugo Lloris is actually one of the few members of the team whose performances have been beyond reproach. He is a safe pair of hands, dominates his area well, and call pull off spectacular saves – something that has been crucial to keeping Spurs in matches this year when they have been playing poorly. His replacement, Michel Vorm, has only made three appearances so far, but has shown himself to competent.
With Kyle Walker injured, the job of right back has fallen to the other Kyle, Naughton, and when he has been injured or playing badly, the youngster Eric Dier. Neither has performed particularly well, though Dier looks strong going forward he has been caught out in defense several times with people running behind him, most notably at the start of the second half against Newcastle United. Not too much blame can be placed on Dier, whose natural position is in the center of defense, but there are very few options outside of him and Naughton until Walker is back to fitness, which is supposed to be in December.
Perhaps nowhere typifies Tottenham’s failings in 2014/15 more than the center of defense – with the possible exception of the inept strike force – but it is hard to find anyone who has performed particularly well. Younes Kaboul not only makes the team every week, but has also been made club captain by Mauricio Pochettino, both of which are inexplicable decisions given the Frenchman’s poor positioning sense, terrible decision-making and frequent rash challenges. There are moments where Kaboul can give the illusion of being a strong presence in the air, or a marauding central defender going forward. However, on a weekly basis, he is far more likely to get beaten on a counter-attack, or commit a foul in the area, than he is to be a dominating force. Alongside him has been a combination of: Federico Fazio, who has managed to get himself sent off in the course of giving away two penalties in just 8 appearances; Vlad Chiriches, who is far too casual in possession; and Jan Vertonghen, the best center back at the club but a player who looks ready to move on from White Hart Lane.
I only have one question for Spurs at left-back: how does Danny Rose keep getting into the team? Defensively he is terrible; he gets into spats with opponents often and could have been sent off last season against Stoke and today versus the same team; and going forward his crossing is often wayward, matched only by his awful shooting. Rose is renowned for a goal he scored on his debut against Arsenal, but that has become such a joke among Tottenham fans that we await the mention of that strike in the commentary, every time he skies another ball into the crowd. Is Ben Davies really worse than this?
A whole lot of nothing for Tottenham in the holding midfield role so far this season: Etienne Capoue and Ryan Mason have been the preferred pairing in recent weeks, both of whom work hard, but they do not have a strong array of passes at their disposal and are each guilty of giving the ball away too frequently. There is not much difference between Capoue/Mason or Mousa Dembélé – who looks like a shadow of the player he was when he first joined the club – and Nabil Bentaleb, none of them tend to be the weakest link in any given line-up, but they certainly have not been adding any real positives. Benjamin Stambouli escapes any criticism merely because I have not yet seen enough of him to get frustrated as yet.
On the rare occasions where Spurs have played well this season, the trio of Nacer Chadli, Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela have been the ones pulling the strings, linking up nicely behind the striker and – in the case of the first two – getting on the scoresheet. However, when the team in not performing, none of them have the ability to put them on their back and drive them onwards – in the style that Gareth Bale did so well in his final two years at the Lane. Eriksen is undoubtedly the best of the three and offers the most potent scoring threat (even though Chadli has more this season), yet he is often the player that is substituted when Pochettino wants to make a change. Lamela has a nice touch and quick feet, but outside of two goals against Asteras Tripoli, there has been nothing worthy of the £30m he cost Tottenham from Roma.
Andros Townsend just runs at defenders, rarely passes and regularly loses possession – the only change to that pattern is when he takes one of his many shots, which is invariably blocked on the edge of the box. Aaron Lennon does not look anything like the player he once was, perhaps suggesting his pace is going as he gets older and he does not have the skills to compensate for losing that half-a-yard. And then there’s Paulinho, who was last seen playing well a year ago at home against Stoke, but since an injury in that match he has failed to perform well for club or country.
Probably a misnomer that I even used that word, given that between Emmanuel Adebayor, Roberto Soldado and Harry Kane, they have managed a total of three Premier League goals in the 11 matches so far. Kane is another player I will give a pass too – he does not look like the most amazing prospect, but he works hard and he has regularly found the net in the cup competitions, so he should be given more of a chance in the league, especially with a lack of any competent alternatives. As for Soldado, if I was looking for something positive to say about him I could point to his link up play, which is better than either Kane’s or Adebayor’s, but in front of goal he looks as bad as any striker I’ve ever watched at Tottenham. If there is any hope for him to be salvaged, Soldado should be told that he will be playing for the next five games regardless of what happens, just try to score and get his confidence back. There may be hidden talent in there still that has not been seen since he transferred from Valencia, but it is really hard to see it right now.
Despite Soldado’s ineptitude, my biggest criticism for the forward line goes to Emmanuel Adebayor, who has started ten of Tottenham’s eleven Premier League fixtures so far and mustered just two goals. The Togolese striker appeared to be rejuvenated in the early days of Tim Sherwood last year, but since then he has not worked hard enough leading the line and fails to find the net often enough to be an automatic selection. On his day, Adebayor can be a devastating player, it just is so rarely his day my patience has completely worn off with him.
And herein lies the biggest problem for Tottenham Hotspur’s 2014/15 season: Mauricio Pochettino. Before he was appointed, I was hoping for Frank de Boer to take over from Sherwood, thinking that he would get the team playing well and attractive football. When Pochettino got the job, I was disappointed because I did not think he had a good enough track record – much as Southampton did quite well last year, their development under Ronald Koeman has shown that to be the case too – and I was particularly annoyed that he had not taken the F.A. Cup seriously while at the Saints. Pochettino’s main issues are:
- He keeps faith with players who regularly under-perform: see Rose, Kaboul and Adebayor; then substitutes the biggest goal scoring threat we have (Eriksen) when we are trying to get back into a game. If you cannot even select the strongest team (as seen by me, admittedly) then you’re never going to be able to achieve your potential.
- He has no way of changing the game – the fortuitous comeback against Aston Villa last week is the only time that Spurs have come from behind to get any points in 2014/15, compared with getting 17 points from losing positions under Andre Villas-Boas and Sherwood last year.
- The team does not seem to have a particular playing style – there was talk of a high-pressing game, but I have seen no evidence of that outside of the first two matches of the campaign. When Tottenham have the ball, there seems to be no real plan of what to do with it, hoping that Eriksen or Lamela will come up with a moment of brilliance is not a plan.
- The players do not appear to be motivated and their effort levels are as low as I can remember seeing at the Lane. Losses to Stoke, Newcastle and West Brom at home all came without much resistance from Spurs, no sense of playing for pride or for the shirt, just lackluster running around and then mild disappointment at the final whistle. It is being noticed too, there was no point in any of those games where I expected us to grab a late equalizer and I actually turned off all three before the end. While those on the pitch have to shoulder some of the blame for that, it is also up to the manager to motivate his team. Pochettino just does not do that.
I hate to be one of those reactionary supporters who calls for the manager to be sacked, especially at such an early stage in Pochettino’s tenure (actually, he’s probably at least half way through already), but there is no evidence that this is going to change. The only mistake I made with the Argentinian manager was thinking that my not wanting him at the club might actually be a good sign, given that I had been happy with the appointments of both Martin Jol and Villas-Boas, but never was a fan of Harry Redknapp (who did better than anyone else in the last 20 years at Spurs). My folly of predicting Tottenham to win the league is a distant (painful) memory, now I am concerned they will end up in a relegation battle and do not have the players or manager who will fight for survival and give their all for the cause. A change has to be made and with the international break, I think they should do it right now, regardless of how reactionary it might seem. Jürgen Klinsmann was in the crowd today, my advice would be to convince him to leave his life in California and as manager of the US national team and get him to move to North London. Okay, so maybe De Boer could still be an option…