Premier League: Spurs continue struggle against top 6

It’s been a mixed few weeks for Spurs’ fans like myself. A tough loss to Chelsea a fortnight ago was quickly forgotten following a 5-0 thrashing of Swansea last weekend. Then came a bittersweet Champions League victory against Moscow on the final day of the group stages; a result that did nothing more than suggest that we should have managed much better than finishing third in our quartet and dropping into the Europa League. Finally, this Sunday morning provided an opportunity to shake off those feelings of disappointment with a positive result against Man United, but the chance was spurned with a 1-0 defeat. As has often been the case this season, the last month or so has really just been one step forward, two steps back for Pochettino’s squad.

More worrying than our inconsistency of late is the rising trend that we simply cannot find a way past the top 6 teams in our division. The exception of course is Man City, but I take little comfort from that given they were eviscerated within 20 minutes on Saturday by a Leicester team that’s been flirting with the relegation zone for most of the season. However, at just about the halfway point of the season, we’ve now drawn with Liverpool and Arsenal and lost to Chelsea and United. The most frustrating thing about each of those results is that we didn’t really play poorly in any of them, but we’ve lacked the ability to put these better teams away when the chances present themselves.

The Chelsea game a few weeks back is a great example. We created significantly more chances than the Blues, but failed to convert them; the hosts, meanwhile, were ruthless in capitalizing on the half-chances that came their way. This Sunday’s game against United was more of the same. Mkhitaryan took advantage of Kane’s carelessness in possession to score on one of the hosts’ few real chances of the first half. Fast forward to the second half, and Wanyama blew the best chance of the game for either side by failing to hit the target on a free header 6 yards from David de Gea’s goal. Our lack of sharpness in front of goal, and our opponents’ ability to make chances of a similar nature count, is what’s currently separating us from the rest of the top 6.

Mkhitaryan made the most of his chance on Sunday, something Spurs have failed to do against the top teams. PHOTO CREDIT: Peter Powell/EPA

Mkhitaryan made the most of his chance on Sunday, something Spurs have failed to do against the top teams. PHOTO CREDIT: Peter Powell/EPA

So how does Pochettino fix it? Tough to say, as finishing is one of those things that you can work on exhaustively in training only to see it not translate in a tense, game-deciding scenario. The issue to me, though, seems to be one of mentality. When I see us go behind to these big teams, or miss chances we know we should be taking, there’s a palpable sense of nervousness among the players. It’s an “oh here we go again” attitude that turns our play frantic and frustrates the hell out of everyone on the pitch. I saw things today that I haven’t seen in weeks (no, Toby Alderweireld doesn’t count), and most of them weren’t positive. Players were arguing with one another quite often; Walker and Alderweireld in particular had words over several challenges and miscues. Impatience and frustration were very apparent in the game of players like Dele and Sissoko, neither of whom performed well at all. Worse still was that our normally calm influences, guys like Kane, Vertonghen, and Hugo, looked just as lost and disjointed.

Pochettino had some interesting comments in midweek, particularly around the efforts of Sissoko, that were telling to me in that they seem to demonstrate a distinct lack of the group spirit that took us so far last season. We haven’t looked like the Spurs of last season for quite some time now, and you can tell that several of our players are picking up on it and allowing it to affect their play. Whatever the real issue is…be it poor finishing, poor attitudes in training, or a lack of belief…Pochettino needs to sort it out quickly. A couple more weeks of “almost there” is going to have us sitting quite far outside the Champions League positions, as Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, and a resurgent United are only getting better as time goes on.  

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