What Spurs Can Gain From England v Scotland

 As has often been the case in recent times, there are a number of Spurs amongst England’s squad to face Scotland on Friday night. 4 this time in fact, rather than the usual 5 with Dele Alli sidelined through injury. Here we take a look at what Tottenham and these players can gain from the encounter.

Harry Kane
Following seven weeks out, the impact Kane made upon returning to lead the line in the North London Derby was significant. Managing to get through just over 70 minutes in this appearance, it will be interesting to see how he is utilised by Gareth Southgate. Unlike some others within the squad, he could use the game time from a Spurs perspective to build up his match fitness.

Clearly still working hard to get up to speed and resolve the troublesome ankle once and for all, it is a great chance for Kane to showcase his wares at international level. Off the back of an underwhelming Euro 16 campaign, it would be even better if he were to get on the scoresheet. He is favourite to do so with 10Bet, and surely such a feat would provide both Kane and Spurs with renewed confidence for important fixtures to come.

Kyle Walker
This man has played so much football already this season that another appearance for the national team is probably not what Tottenham would prefer. Taken off after 80 minutes against Arsenal, the injury scare was not enough to see him withdrawn from the squad. Walker has been one of Spurs’ best and most consistent players of late, appearing in all eleven Premier League games and 2 of 3 in the Champions League.

Now firmly established as the number one English right back, despite his workload Walker would no doubt be keen to keep it that way. Unwilling to give up his spot for a niggle is a credible and admirable effort, even if it might not suit his club team. Walker would perhaps be best served from a Spurs perspective through being benched and having Nathaniel Clyne start ahead of him. He may not want to give Clyne that opportunity, so his availability could very much be determined by the England medical staff. If Walker does play, he might just need a rest when back at White Hart Lane.

Eric Dier
It’s been a strange few months for Dier. After taking luck a duck to water in his transition from centre half to defensive midfielder this time last year, he’s perhaps fallen slightly short of expectations of late. But in that sense, to some degree he is a victim of his own success and versatility. Having covered all of the central defensive, right back and defensive midfielder posts at various stages this season, the jack of all trades has struggled to nail down one position for Tottenham’s first choice side.

So the World Cup qualifier is an opportunity for Dier. To cast aside doubts over his suitability to the defensive midfield role at Tottenham, and renew his spot there for the national team, for which he has perhaps even been more effective in recent times. There is no guarantee he will start of course, but it seems likely as he has been favoured by both Southgate and previously Roy Hodgson. Especially with Danny Drinkwater’s withdrawal from the squad, Dier faces less competition and more of a chance to return to the form of a year ago.

Danny Rose
Much like fellow fullback Walker, when fit Rose is first choice for both club and nation. But along with many of his teammates, it’s been stop-start on that front due to untimely injuries. An outstanding contributor to Spurs, defensively and especially in transition to attack. Having now returned to regular game time, and with Ben Davies an adequate rotation option for Tottenham, Rose should be able to get through 90 minutes without too many concerns for either club or country.

That is, as long as he is able to do just that without picking up another injury. Where a concern for Walker may be around weariness and his minor niggle, Rose has often been susceptible to injuries. And in what is sure to be a fiery encounter, all concerned must be hopeful he can get through unscathed.

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.

Kane And Tottenham Show Renewed Threat

 Tottenham are a different side with Harry Kane leading the line and were good value for their point at The Emirates. The Englishman looked more likely to score from open play in his 73 minutes of playing time than Vincent Janssen has for the past 7 weeks. Despite lacking match fitness, and looking exhausted by early in the second half, his combination with Heung-Min Son up front gave Arsenal serious food for thought.

A header on 21 minutes from a Christian Eriksen cross was the best chance for either side in the opening stages. Whilst Kane placed it just centimetres wide of the net, it is these sort of opportunities that have gone begging in recent weeks. Kane gets into goal scoring positions, and the goals will come for him. And should do so for Spurs now that he is back in action. Where Janssen connects teammates and relies on their creativity to find a way through, Kane is clearly the more complete and dangerous player.

It was a risky move from Mauricio Pochettino to implement a completely new system for a contest of such epic importance. And it very nearly worked. It’s hard to see how Spurs could have come away with anything had they persisted with tried and tested tactics. A change-up was needed for their own psyche and as a surprise method it also appeared to make Arsenal more cautious than at any other stage during their run of terrific League form.

While Kevin Wimmer was the culprit for Spurs’ own goal before half time, it was certainly not a fault of the system. The threat Tottenham offered going forward was far greater than anything seen since the victory of Manchester City. That they had been creating less and less, week by week, meant Pochettino simply had to come up with something new. And that he did.

Spurs previously deployed three central defenders in December last year, with Eric Dier dropping back in between Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld. But that had been to combat the dual threat posed by Watford’s powerful strike combination of Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo. The difference here was the additional striker that Pochettino added too.

It would be interesting to know what (if any) changes Pochettino would have made to this system had Dele Alli been fit. Perhaps Alli could have slotted in to his regular advanced midfield role, with Wanyama dropping deeper and Wimmer reverting to the bench. Whilst it may have looked a defensive-minded approach by the manager at first glance, it appears that with Alderweireld still sidelined, it did in fact have a positive attacking benefit on two fronts.

Firstly, that Spurs’ midfielders were more inclined to get forward in the knowledge of having greater support at the back. Christian Eriksen in particular made a series of threatening runs into the box; this has been missing completely from his game of late. Mousa Demebele too was able to get forward, as he demonstrated to perfection in his run that awarded he and his team a penalty for the equaliser.

Secondly, it freed up both full backs in Danny Rose and Kyle Walker. As they so often like to do as attack-minded players, starting slightly higher up the pitch they were able to commit to these runs forward on a more consistent basis. Add that to the addition of Kane to the side, which was the most significant difference along with Dembele’s all-action display, and it is easy to see why Arsenal suddenly had more to worry about.

It wasn’t perfect for Tottenham, far from it in fact. But there is hope that this slump in which they have found themselves could finally be on the wane. Still no goals from open play, but the threat was there. And that was the most worrying aspect of recent displays; it was hard to see where a Spurs goal was even coming from. That they could and should have scored two or three on Sunday (though Arsenal may well have done the same) certainly bodes well for fixtures to come.

Conte and Hazard make difference for Chelsea

What a difference a season makes. What a difference a month makes. Chelsea’s 5-0 demolition of Everton is comfortably the best performance of any team this season. The complete performance. They are top of the league and in this sort of form will stay there. Their sheer brilliance was frightening. The ruthless skill and finishing of Liverpool combined with the miserly defence of Tottenham, and the midfield brilliance and creativity of Arsenal. They have all bases covered. At this moment they are the team to beat for the Premier League title. And that is going to take some doing.

What a difference a world class player makes. Eden Hazard is back to the player of two years ago, if not an upgraded version of himself. In combination with the (almost) equally impressive Pedro, the magic of his passing and the brilliance of his trickery is poetry in motion. The Belgian in this form is one of the best in the world, let alone the Premier League. So damaging and influential, the second coming of his desire to play football and of his impact on the game is breathtaking. And great for the game, to see such quality returned.

What a difference a manager makes. The contrast between Antonio Conte and Jose Mourinho is staggering. The Chelsea players have bought in to the method and game plan that Conte is selling. While Mourinho continues to seemingly persecute and distance himself from his own team, Conte shows the benefit of having belief in your side, giving them the confidence to play and a plan that makes sense. The trust between manager and players is so important, and Conte has both restored that aspect and renewed Chelsea to such a point that is faster than could possibly have been expected.

What a difference a Spanish maestro makes. Pedro is back to the threat of the halcyon Barcelona days, and looks very much a Barcelona-quality player. His teammates too seem more in tune with him in a role further forward than last season. Such a clever player that can both score and set up (most assists in the Premier League along with Kevin de Bruyne) in equal measure. A bit part player in his first season and now a crucial component to Chelsea’s run of success. Remember Willian? The only shining light from 2015/16 is now kept out of the starting line up. It seems harsh on the Brazilian, but this alone is a measure of the influence of Pedro and how far Chelsea have progressed.

What a difference a quality defender makes. Yes, David Luiz is that defender. His passing out of the back third outstanding, and he too shows a hunger and desire to prove the doubters wrong. And prove his love for the club. In a team of such brilliance, he is the ideal player to have feeding the midfield in amongst a back three. A shaky start he may have made in his return to the club, but now firmly established as a shrewd signing.

What a difference a dominant striker makes. Diego Costa is the ultimate finisher, and could finish his way to over 30 goals in the league. He is the epitome of the change in mindset and style under Conte. No longer appearing angry, and on the brink of a sending-off. Instead he looks feisty, which is Costa at his best, but negotiates his way through opponents with such artistic dribbling ability. Rather than fighting them off. And he just puts away goals so effortlessly.

Chelsea will no doubt be tested more than they were by Everton. Yet if they continue to play with such authority and brilliance, it’s unlikely that anyone else will get near them. What a turn around in fortune from an entire squad, led by Conte and with Hazard, Pedro, Luiz and Costa at the forefront from a playing perspective. It’s looking more and more likely that this, almost identical line-up, will prove last term as nothing but a Mourinho-inspired aberration.