Tottenham Hotspur’s capitulation against PSV Eindhoven in the UEFA Champions League recently was a testimony to the soft underbelly that the club has been infamous for over the past few years and decades.
It always happens when it should not. Dominating the game and dominating possession, Spurs saw Hugo Lloris get sent off and Luuk de Jong grab a vital equalizer for Mark van Bommel’s men to dent Spurs’ hopes of making it to the knockout stages of the competition.
🗣️ Mauricio: “We are not going to blame anyone, we need to look at ourselves and try to improve.” pic.twitter.com/wR7mKQa56Q
— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) October 25, 2018
With Mauricio Pochettino in his fifth season in-charge at Spurs, the club has gone immense improvements in almost every level. But their constant struggle has hardly shown any signs of going away. Although it has always been the case for them, it has probably come into the open this season more often than not.
It isn’t because Spurs are a bad team by any means. They have been the most consistent side in England over the last four seasons and have played an attractive brand of football for more consistent period than Liverpool and Manchester City have. They already have played who can be considered one of the best in the world in their positions and for a club like them, which was struggling to make any impact in the top six, that is terrific progress.
— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) October 25, 2018
With the season well and truly underway, Spurs have shown signs of not being as good as they were over the last four seasons. While they are fifth in the league, two points off the top, Spurs have not looked like themselves. Especially because of their performances in the Champions League, where they will now require something special to qualify for the knockout stages.
But they have been a victim of a deadly combination of two factors. Their inability to make any signings and the World Cup hangovers. Having one of the most number of players in the world in the World Cup means a vast majority of the Spurs players were tired at the back of the campaign, especially those who had reached the semi-finals of the World Cup. All of their main players were in the World Cup semi-finals, including Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Hugo Lloris, Mousa Dembele, Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld.
The club and Daniel Levy were unsure about how much the new stadium will cost them and with reports stating that it could cost 500 million pounds more than they estimated, the fears are perhaps coming true. Financially, it seems as the right decision to not spend. But in terms of what is happening on the pitch, it seems otherwise.
The energy that the players had before the World Cup is hardly seen. If it is seen, its been there in bits and pieces. Son played the World Cup and the Asian Games till the very end and the usual zip and pace about him seems dulled out. Spurs have won a vast majority of their Premier League games in a rather pragmatic fashion. While it is good to see that they are digging games out and it is a very nice coping strategy, they haven’t been themselves. And not being themselves has led them to slip up the way they slipped up against PSV.
Another factor that has influenced them is the change in formation. If there’s anyone who has been affected by it the most, that is their main man Harry Kane.
Instead of playing as the sole man up front, Kane has often been playing up front with Lucas Moura, who has been a big influence so far. He did the same thing with England in the World Cup, when it was him and Raheem Sterling who played as the two men up front in a 3-5-2 formation. Kane did win the Golden Boot, but there were times when it seemed as if he was getting acclimatized to playing that role, after about four seasons of being played as the sole man up front.
Friendly reminder: Harry Kane is the best striker in the Premier League and one of the best in the world. Criminally underrated.
— ¹⁰ (@ClinicaIEden) October 15, 2018
He’s having to do sacrifice the part of his play that allows him to be his usual self- drop deep and allow the runners around him to run in behind him. With Lucas around him, Kane doesn’t have to move about too much or drop into areas to make movements that allows the others to run behind.
Kane hasn’t just been dealing with these slight tactical changes, it seems as though having played loads of football over the past three of four years is taking a toll on him. He gives the impression of sometimes not being sharp enough and it isn’t really about being tired, his ankle was seen strapped up during England 2-1 loss to Spain at Wembley. And it was the same ankle as the one he has injured over the last two years.
Although Son did very well playing as second-fiddle to Kane last season, the two players that Spurs have brought in to replace Kane have never worked out. Vincent Janssen could never impose himself and Fernando Llorente has not contributed much. That does no good to Spurs and Pochettino in trying to take some burden off the English skipper.
Since Kane relies on quality service a lot of times, he isn’t getting enough to feed on because the players behind him are suffering from their own World Cup hangovers. And there’s a pattern to it. Son, Alli and Christian Eriksen all played the World Cup, but Erik Lamela and Lucas have been Spurs’ shining lights this season and have come on like new signings. One big reason why that has happened is because they were not involved in the World Cup and were miles more fresh than the others.
Qualifying for the knockout stages seems like a very big ask now, but the season is not too old. With the games set to come thick and fast, Spurs would need their players fit and ready. Things may not be too bad now, but they could get worse very soon.