Category: Tottenham

How Spurs Achieved Best Defence In Europe

Having conceded just 6 goals from their first eleven Premier League games, Tottenham officially have the best defence in not just England, but also the whole of Europe. This has been achieved despite the absence of arguably their best defender Toby Alderweireld, and with several other key components of the defensive unit missing games. It’s an improvement on their strong form in this respect from 2015/16, when they were the equal most miserly side along with Manchester United.

Whilst the goals have dried up for Spurs, they’ve continued to put the squeeze on opponents at the other end. Mauricio Pochettino has built this squad from the back; it’s been the foundation of the change in mindset and performances at White Hart Lane during his tenure. It’s fair to say the defence is the area that has kept Tottenham in touching distance with the top 4 despite the troubles up front.

Pochettino inherited a back half of the pitch that was nothing short of a shambles. Fairly quickly, he was able to to replace the liabilities that were the likes of Vlad Chiriches and the injury-prone Younes Kaboul, bringing in the brilliant Toby Alderweireld and versatile Eric Dier. And in strengthening the fullback areas too, with Kieran Trippier and Ben Davies providing ample cover. Out with the dross and in with both quality and depth.

That depth has been needed of late too. Tottenham have used 24 players in the Premier League through the first eleven games, with many changes needed at the back in particular to cover for injuries. Jan Vertonghen is the only Spurs player to play every minute, while his Belgian countryman Alderweireld has missed 300 minutes of Premier League football. As the graph below details, Spurs have used a total of 10 defensive-oriented players across the 11 games. And apart from Vertonghen and Kyle Walker, the rest have chopped and changed significantly.

It is in fact despite the alterations to their defensive unit on a weekly basis that Spurs find themselves  without peer from a goal-conceding standpoint. The individual players are all capable of stepping up and filling in either off the bench or by coming in to the starting line up. They have been prepared and so well-drilled by Pochettino and his team that they simply know their role and can come in and perform at the level required.

This has certainly been evidenced by Michel Vorm and Ben Davies in particular. When Hugo Lloris missed two and a half Premier League games, Vorm was able to instantly come in and step up to the mark, pulling off several impressive saves. Likewise, there is no drop off at all from a defensive perspective when Davies appears at left full back in place of Danny Rose. Whilst appearances for Kevin Wimmer and Kieran Trippier are rare, even Wimmer has shown (despite giving up an unfortunate own goal in the North London derby) that he is a more than adequate fill-in at centre half.

The acquisition of Victor Wanyama too cannot be dismissed as a relevant factor in Spurs’ further improved displays at the back. Whilst not strictly a member of the back 4, his bustling displays in defensive midfield have cut off supply to attacking threats and played a key role in cutting down chances for the opposition. Surely one of the most astute purchases of the summer.

Whilst Eric Dier has not been at his best for periods this season, he too plays an important role. His versatility, able to fill in at right back and centre back whilst predominantly (now) a defensive midfielder makes him a hugely valuable commodity for both club and country.

Spurs can go into games safe in the knowledge that they can keep teams from scoring. With full confidence that it is going to take something out of the ordinary for their opponent to find the back of the net. Apart from set pieces and the rare defensive lapse (that has in fact seen a goal conceded in each of the past two Premier League games) they have ten players, plus Wanyama, that can be trusted to keep clean sheets. And despite the problems at the other end, which ironically have perhaps been more affected by Alderweireld’s absence, the defence still looks incredibly solid.

Contracts and Harry Kane and Hugo Lloris


There are facts and there is speculation, the latter of which applies to the claim that Harry Kane has placed talks on hold over a new contract with Spurs. The fact is that Kane signed a new contract 18 months ago, that still has 3 and a half years to run. The fact is that Kane is already one of Tottenham’s highest paid players. The facts are that Kane has repeatedly stated his desire to stay at his boyhood club for the duration of his career. The facts are that it is going to be very difficult for any rival to prise Harry Kane away.

Tottenham have shown in recent times that they are willing to reward players who deserve to have their contracts upgraded. Impressive performances on the pitch will see this happen. 6 first team players in fact were signed to new deals in September. So given Kane has only just returned from a significant injury lay off, perhaps this aspect plays a role in the club’s reluctance to open talks over an improved deal. Yet at the same time, it was incredibly evident during his absence as to just how valuable a commodity he really is.

There is no doubt that Kane could effectively write his own ticket should the likes of Manchester United and Real Madrid come calling. If they haven’t already. And this is where Daniel Levy does indeed need to be careful when it comes to the wage structure. There is surely only so many tens of thousands of dollars per week that someone needs, but also only so many one can turn down. It is said that every man has his price, and the loyalty and love Kane shows for the club will only go so far.

This is a different Tottenham though than of years gone by. The overwhelming evidence suggests that there is no need for alarm for Spurs fans right now; that Kane isn’t going anywhere any time soon. There is really no factual information to suggest that the striker is either unhappy with his current wage, pushing hard for a massive increase, or unhappy with any aspect of the club’s dealings. There is every chance that he will indeed be rewarded with a new deal, once both he and the club are ready.

Whilst the focus seems to be mostly on Kane, of greater concern perhaps should be the situation regarding Hugo Lloris. Lloris and Kane are the bookends of this team. They are clearly the club’s two most important and possibly also their best players. Whilst Lloris is the captain and highest paid at Spurs, he has in the past made no secret of his desire to be challenging for titles and playing in the Champions League. So if Spurs are unable to resolve their goal scoring troubles and are unable to make their way back into the Premier League top 4, it could very well be he who is more likely on the move. And there would surely be no shortage of suitors for one of the few truly world-class goal keepers in Europe. Lloris’ current deal runs until 2019, so Spurs would surely want to have his situation resolved by the end of this season.

We’ve seen that Levy is loathe to let contracts run down below two years, and there is still so much time before Lloris and particularly Kane reach that point. Thus, both the players and club still have significant security, and the club have leverage and options should the unthinkable happen and either player wishes to depart. The facts are that Kane loves Tottenham and Lloris is the captain of a side that is fulfilling his hopes, and Kane’s boyhood dreams. Let’s hope things stay that way.

football@dailyfootballblog.com

Tottenham Injuries: Appreciating Kane and Alderweireld

 The international break has struck Tottenham again, this time claiming the scalps of Vincent Janssen and Christian Eriksen. Potentially Mousa Dembele too has been affected in training, with both he and Harry Kane returning to White Hart Lane as they attempt to get back to full fitness. It’s a reminder of just how badly Spurs have been affected by injuries and key players missing games this season. And also a reminder of just how lucky they were the season prior.

A look at the players that have been absent for Tottenham this season is rather startling. Kane, Alli, Eriksen, Lloris, Alderweireld in particular, Lamela, Walker and Dier. They missed just 18 games for the duration of 2015/16, and have already been unavailable for a combined 15 this term; just a quarter of the way into the season. That is the core of the team, all of the most important and influential components. The ones that form the backbone, the spine and both the creative and defensive forces that help Spurs to be the team they are at their best.

You could not realistically expect the amazing run of injuries from last year to carry through. But you could also not expect to be so badly affected. Where last season Spurs had a set 11 or 12 players that could be relied upon in the Premier League to back up wee after week and perform. This time around it’s been a different story; a new starting eleven every week, combined with the pressure of Champions League mid-week. The injuries have taken their toll, and it’s shown in the performances.

Alderweireld and Kane at the back and front of proceedings have been the most telling absentees. Without Alderweireld’s direction and leadership, his composed nature and pinpoint passing in particular have been missed. That his creativity is perhaps the aspect that has been missed most of all says a lot about both he and the limitations of the rest of the Tottenham side from a creative point of view. Those long balls across the pitch to pick out a teammate with precision and bring about a chance at goal. The ball before the goal, or the one that leads to an assist. The number of them that he provides is astonishing for a centre back. He simply can’t be replaced, as we’ve seen, and this creative element is in the same class and style as Chelsea have seen with the renewed David Luiz. As a centre half, having that component to your game is a luxury but so very much an important one.

Much like Alderweireld, Kane cannot be replaced either. Certainly not by a player finding his feet at the level in Janssen. Quite simply, players who score 46 goals in two seasons of Premier League football are not easily replaced. There just are not many of them, and is the missing of Kane an undervalued aspect simply because he is English? In the same period of time that Kane scored his 46 goals, England teammates Jamie Vardy (one excellent season) and Daniel Sturridge (eternally injured) managed 41 between them. And yet there remain question marks over Kane and his influence or suitability to starting for England. Okay, the Euros weren’t great…but why?

Sometimes the raw data doesn’t lie, and in Kane’s case it’s quite obvious how important he is to Spurs. Can you imagine a Tottenham side going 700 minutes without scoring from open play with a fit Harry Kane leading the line? I’m happy to put my neck on the line in saying it simply wouldn’t happen. The evidence is there. It’s why Pochettino has tried, mostly in vain, to change things up and come up with alternatives to the goal scoring malaise, brought on almost entirely by Kane’s absence.

It could be argued that Kane and Alderweireld are the two most important pieces to the Spurs puzzle. With them missing, the whole thing falls apart. The puzzle simply cannot be finished, literally and figuratively. That Gareth Southgate has sent Kane back to Hotspur Way probably resulted in Pohcettino doing star jumps. Get Kane and Alderweireld fit, and even with the injuries to the latterly ineffective Eriksen (though very effective for Denmark) and arguably their best player in recent times (Dembele), there is suddenly a way through and back into contention.

Parallels of Tottenham and England


Friday night football at Wembley, an international between England and Scotland. A World Cup qualifier no less. It’s a huge game for both nations, so much so that it’s hard to determine for whom it is more important. Especially given the deep apathy brought on by the English national side in recent times; a team of Premier League stars unable to influence on the world stage. Stars at least in name, if not so much in terms of consistent output domestically. And this is perhaps how they become tripped up at international level. Valuable squad components to their club sides, but in the current absence of any truly world-class English players, lacking the influence, experience and point of difference or brilliance to truly threaten the best countries. And leaving them exposed to occasional slip-ups against the less-than-best (Iceland).

There are parallels between the English national team and the recent decline of Tottenham’s form, and most certainly goal scoring output. Spurs’ past 8 weeks are a little reminiscent of England during Euro 16. Dominating possession, looking solid enough without being spectacular, doing enough to avoid losing and staying in the Premier League race and alive in the Champions League. Or in England’s case, doing likewise to get through their group in second place. Tottenham’s nadir, the abysmal performance in the Champions League to Leverkusen. Like England’s crashing out of the Euros. That Spurs’ depreciating returns are not (yet) terminal to their competitive seasonal hopes are the overwhelming difference.

Of course the similarities between Tottenham and England have more than a little to do with the playing personnel of both sides. Each have high quality, dedicated and effective players. Danny Rose, Kyle Walker, Eric Dier, Dele Alli and Harry Kane form the core of Tottenham’s home-grown English talent, and have also become key components of their national side. Yet none of these players are world-class. That is not to say that they may not be; all five are undoubtedly of international quality and in Rose and Walker, they have two outstanding fullbacks who are currently at the top of their own game. There is also every chance that the other three, particularly Alli and Kane, will eventually reach world class status. But they are not there yet, and herein lies the problem.

Without the level above these players (and in Spurs’ case, without Kane on the field), England and Tottenham are unable to be trusted. They lack the game changer to create that special moment or even complete performance to overcome an opposition. Like Gareth Bale and Christiano Ronaldo at the Euros, or Eden Hazard, Sergio Aguero and Alexis Sanchez in the Premier League. Both Alli and Kane are capable of reaching that level or at least close to it, but they’re yet to show it on the international stage, and yet to show it this season in the league.

In a sport where the margins between defeat and victory can be so narrow, it has never looked more important to have your best players firing and performing. The difference this has made recently to Chelsea is the most overwhelming evidence one could ask for in such regard. The difference it made to Tottenham too, not having Toby Alderweireld at the back and Kane at the front. And the difference to England, not having that game breaker. The one that Daniel Sturridge should have been, the one that Raheem Sterling still could be and the one that Wayne Rooney almost was once. That there are no players for England that would frighten the opposition seems obvious, and this too has recently been the case for Spurs.

At such an elite level, be it the Premier League or the international game, the lack of cutting edge can prove fatal. As Spurs went game after game without scoring from open play, so too their willingness to create diminished and eventually even the chances dried up. And for England, you could almost see the confidence seeping from them during that Iceland match, as the ideas dried up and frustration grew. Failure to take chances spreads across the pitch, and that is what the gutsy teams of lesser talent, albeit marginal, rely on. That they can hang in for a draw, or make the most of their one or two clear cut chances to knick a win.

The full flow and majesty of Liverpool and Chelsea in their current state must seem a world away for both Gareth Southgate and Mauricio Pochettino right now. They don’t have that X factor player, at least not consistently, so must design another way to win games of football regularly. In the most important fixtures, draws and narrow defeats will not do. And until they both create and develop this player from within (Spurs are unlikely able to afford to buy one), the issue will remain. The challenge is on for both England and Tottenham.

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