It’s been a while since you’ve heard from me, so let’s recap all that we’ve not dissected together in the world of Spurs’ Premier League campaign over the past few weeks:
2-0 vs Manchester City. Good.
1-1 at West Brom. Bad.
0-0 at Bournemouth. Worse.
“But hold up, Mike. That’s 5 points from a possible 9 in the league, including a big win over one of the title favorites and no losses across 2 away games. There are teams in the Premier League right now that would kill for this kind of form and solidity!”
Correct, imaginary fan created for the purposes of giving my article an intro. But here’s the problem. We aren’t Swansea City, or Hull, or Sunderland. Picking up a solitary point does little for us. Why? Because we’re chasing Champions League football, not a top ten finish or mere survival in the league.
When you’ve been a Spurs fan as long as I have, you come to expect dropping points at critical moments. Thing is, it used to be against the traditional “big” clubs that we had the most trouble. Arsenal, Liverpool, the Manchester clubs, and Chelsea gave us major problems as recently as a few seasons ago. However, under Pochettino we’ve vastly improved our record against the clubs near or above our own stature. It’s the smaller clubs who now haunt us the most, as they have a nasty habit of holding us to draws (or worse, beating us) in games we should handily be winning.
Take last season for example. We capitulated against Newcastle on the last day, getting shelled 5-1 by a team already doomed to relegation and with nothing to play for. The result meant we finished behind Arsenal by a single point. If we hadn’t lost that match, or had managed to win one more of our league-leading 13 draws over the course of the season, we would’ve clinched second and avoided the embarrassment of St. Totteringham’s Day for once in my life. And who were among these illustrious opponents we drew against last season? Swansea, who finished 12th, and West Brom (twice!), who finished 14th. The 6 points dropped from those games alone would have comfortably pushed us beyond Arsenal, and given us more of a shot at catching Leicester.
When are Spurs going to realize that you can’t go through a season drawing teams whose entire starting XI costs less than Heung-Min Son and expect to win anything? Granted, we’ve got some injury concerns right now. Alderweireld is a miss at the back and Kane is a huge loss up front. Neither of these should be costing us games, though. There’s still more than enough quality in our team to overcome these absentees, and we should have won at least 1 of our last two games given the opposition. West Brom are bang average and Bournemouth, despite being in admittedly good form, played such an open game against us that it’s surprising we hardly mustered any dangerous efforts at goal.
Who’s to blame for our inability to finish off matches? It’s tough to single out individual players, so team-dependent is Poch’s approach. But if I had to pick a few, I’d say I’ve been very disappointed with the form of Janssen, Eriksen, and Lamela recently. Son and Alli have done most of the scoring, so no more can reasonably be expected of them, and the defense has remained strong even without Toby back there. But Janssen has so far failed to deputize properly for Kane up front, and a lot of the blame falls on his chief suppliers in Eriksen and Lamela for failing to put him in positions to score.
To be clear, I’m a huge personal fan of Lamela’s; I think he works his arse off every time he steps on the pitch. Eriksen is certainly not a bad player either, but his inconsistency and inability to get into games at times are costing us. Fact is, it’s far too easy for teams to set up deep and defend against us, because we lack the pace and creativity in the final third to break that down at the moment. Janssen, for all his hustle, doesn’t have Kane’s ability to conjure chances from thin air either. He’s also much more dependent on service than the Englishman, and so far seems incapable of blasting shots in from range or driving past defenders with pace and power.
Whatever the solution is, Pochettino needs to figure it out quickly. It only takes a couple poor results over the course of a year to derail a campaign, and with several other teams looking very strong (Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea), we’ve got to consistently perform at a high level to remain in the hunt for a Champions League place.