Tottenham Hotspur have undergone a transformation this season with Mauricio Pochettino as their manager. However, can they go on to be a consistent title contender in the future?
Tottenham Hotspur have often been referred to as the team that throws away opportunities. Year after year, Spurs fans have lined up to boast of their performance only to be left disappointed in the end. This season however, the young team with Mauricio Pochettino at its helm have grown increasingly confident with every passing game. With crucial changes made to the side and a few tweaks to the tactics employed, Pochettino and Tottenham have skyrocketed to the top with a distinct possibility of challenging for the title.
Good Defenders are key to greatness
Although Tottenham finished an expected fifth last season, one of the most noticeable flaws was that they finished with a poor goal difference. Although they scored the fifth highest number of goals (58), they unfortunately conceded 53 which was the fifth highest in the league once again.This season however, they boast of having the best goal difference almost by a mile. Having scored 47 goals, a record bettered only by Manchester City and Leicester City by one goal, Tottenham have only conceded 20 goals so far this season. With such a healthy goal difference, it is no wonder that the ‘lilywhites’ have looked so dangerous this season.
This drastic change has come due to two main reasons. One, the inclusion of Toby Alderweireld. Alderweireld is no doubt an excellent defender. Plying his trade at Southampton on loan from Atletico Madrid, the young Belgian had already had a taste of Mauricio Pochettino’s management at his previous club. Reunited with his Ajax compatriot and Belgian defender Jan Vertonghen, Alderweireld not only brought about a sense of solidity to the Spurs defence, but also forged a much needed central defensive partnership with his teammate. This yielded a confident performance from Vertonghen too, who seemed to have been losing faith in Spurs of late. If the words of Sir Alex Ferguson are to be believed “attack wins games, defence wins titles”. Given their current defensive form, it would be safe to say that Spurs have a very strong chance of leapfrogging Leicester and leaving behind the other two to win the title.
Tottenham have often been labelled as the fittest team in the Premier League. Having covered a run of over 3000 kilometres in all games by their players, only Bournemouth FC can boast of numbers better than that of Spurs. The fact that this team is able to clock these distances after a midweek fixture only goes to show how fit the squad actually is. A total of 13,937 high intensity sprints this season further proves the point that Spurs indeed have the fittest players in the Premier League this season.
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Pressing and oppressing
Mauricio has instilled the ability to play a high intensity pressing game in every player. In the Europa League fixture against Fiorentina, it was evident that at least two players were always at the heels of the opposition when the other team had possession of the ball. This has been the case in almost all of Tottenham’s games this season. Granting as little time to the opposition on the ball as possible, Spurs have been able to rush and win the ball back in a matter of seconds. With respect to Jurgen Klopp’s style of ‘gegenpressing’, Pochettino had opined earlier that the two managers have totally different styles of pressing, and that they differ in many ways. Through a tactic called goalkeeper pressing, Spurs are have emerged as a dangerous side to face, as they can be equally threatening both with or without the ball.
Competition for every role
The Tottenham squad benefits from having at least two players for every position. Danny Rose, Ben Davies for left-back and Kyle Walker, Kieran Trippier for right-back are the best examples. These two sets of players have been in and out of the squad the most, with Pochettino almost alternating the players every game. This intense competition within the team has not only increased the quality of the players, but also brought about a level of consistency in their game.
A comparison between Danny Rose and Ben Davies further illustrates this point. The duo have played 16 and 18 games respectively and have averaged around the same number of tackles and blocks per game. The two even have a similar pass percentage of around 80%. Davies betters Rose in terms of crosses per games but the latter compensates for it with an extra assist. Similarly, players in other positions have all been forced to perform to the best of their abilities to maintain their spot in the starting eleven.
Double pivot works well
Mauricio Pochettino is well known for using a standard 4-2-3-1 formation. This formation, like any other, has its flaws along with its advantages. However, Pochettino has tweaked this formation to suit his tactics. Deploying a central defender, Eric Dier, as a defensive midfielder has worked wonders for the Argentine. Dier acts as a shield and the first line of defence ahead of the back four. While moving forward, Dier falls deep and fits in snugly between the two central defenders, allowing Spurs to have a 3-man central defence. This permits the wing-backs to advance and provide the team with much needed width. When the wing-backs are higher up the pitch, the three attacking midfielders are close to the box, while the 5th midfielder waits outside in case the wing-back wishes to cut back or the ball is defensively headed out of the box. This has had a lethal impact leading to some spectacular goals from Tottenham.
Possession, Possession, Possession
Common sense states that in order to score you must first have the ball at your feet. The longer you have the ball as compared to your opponent, the greater are your chances of scoring. Tottenham, on this front, are the fifth highest in the league in terms of keeping possession of the ball (55%). However, fans and pundits would be tempted to argue that not much can come from unproductive possession of the ball. Teams such as Arsenal and Manchester United are often criticised for pointlessly passing the ball around the box when unable to find a way in. Spurs on the other hand, have proved that such an allegation cannot be levied against them, as statistics show that they average a good 16 shots per game, just one short of Manchester City who top this table.
While Tottenham enjoyed a higher percentage of possession last season, they have managed to improve their shots-per-game rate under Pochettino this season. Hence, Tottenham’s improvement in fruitful possession has worked well for them.
One striker isn’t enough
A lesson that Pochettino is likely to have learnt is that it is difficult to meet the team’s attacking requirements with just one striker. Although the goal difference seems to be a healthy one, Tottenham’s attacking prowess isn’t what you would call the best. Harry Kane has not disappointed Spurs fans with his ever ready attitude and tireless work rate. From defending within his own 16 yard box to chasing down even the most pointless of passes, Kane has worked tirelessly to ensure that Tottenham have eleven players behind the ball when the opponent is in possession. However, unlike the previous season, Kane has scored 16 goals of which 5 have come off penalties. And when injured or given a rest, the team has no other striking option forcing the manager to play a false nine striker. Although the likes of Chadli, N’jie and Son can fill the boots of a striker sufficiently well, Tottenham require another world class striking option to compete in the Champions League.
Spurs would probably heave a sigh of relief next season due to the arrival of former Fulham FC striker, Moussa Dembele (the 19 year old Frenchman). If this youngster manages to perform as expected, Spurs can consider their problems partially resolved.
Much to the excitement of many Tottenham fans, this campaign is proving to be a memorable one for the club and it just might be the start of a new era for the North London side.