A lot can be said for this current Tottenham Hotspur team, but perhaps the most remarkable thing is that they managed their best ever Premier League finish last season coming off the back of a rather disastrous summer transfer window.
Comparing names in their squad to the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City puts their achievements under Mauricio Pochettino since he took charge in 2014 into further perspective. Spurs do not have the money of their immediate rivals and therefore shouldn’t be able to compete with them at all, let alone as regularly as they do. But, it seems, even when they do spend, they don’t use their wealth wisely.
Last summer, Spurs had a right to feel frustrated and positive in equal measure. Like all the other supposed Premier League big boys, they were left in Leicester City’s wake as the Foxes went onto win the title in arguably sport’s greatest ever underdog story. Pochettino’s men were their closest challengers for much of the campaign, but still finished third, eleven points off the pace.
For such a young squad, though, much was promised for the future; but the signings of Vincent Janssen and, particularly the £30million capture of Moussa Sissoko from newly- relegated Newcastle United, a club-record deal, left plenty to be desired ahead of their bid to go one better.
And yet, despite the monumental failure of that pair, not to mention the heavy expenditure of the likes of City and Chelsea, Spurs managed to go one better, and although Antonio Conte’s Blues were a runaway success, finishing as runner-up was the next stage in the team’s development.
Spurs have a strong core
Provided 45-goal pair Harry Kane and Dele Alli, as well as the likes of Danny Rose, Hugo Lloris and the plethora of other quality players Spurs have stay at the club, there is real hope of going even further.
More crucial, though, is the need to get the right players into the club. It became painfully obvious very early on last season that there were real problems with the recruitment at the club, whether Pochettino, the scouting network or a combination of the two were to blame.
Whilst transfer failings didn’t hinder their ability to challenge in the Premier League, they flattered to deceive immensely in the Champions League and could have closed the gap on Chelsea beyond the eventual seven points with more planning.
Label as ‘chokers’ needs to be broken
Lessons need to be learnt, because this Spurs side is one of the most exciting in Europe and certainly in their own history. But their reputation as ‘chokers’ on the big occasion needs to be put to bed; they are in danger of not fulfilling their huge potential.
For years, Champions League qualification was craved at White Hart Lane, but as they move away from their old ground and into their newly refurbished one, via a short stay at Wembley, they need to be targeting trophies.
Pochettino has a tough job on his hands in finding the right players to compliment the structure already in place; perhaps that is where he failed last year, not knowing who would fit or where to look. The fast-paced, intense and high-pressure style the Argentine has trademarked and put in place mean only a certain few are both suitable and good enough to add anything to the team.
There can be few fingers pointed in terms of what they are doing wrong tactically, all of their critics seem to hone in on the mental side of their game.
Formation wise, Pochettino has found the right answer, opting for a 3-4- 2-1 for most of last season. Kane led the line superbly, proving he is at least on the road to becoming the complete forward; he was able to play on the shoulder, link-up the play and, of course, finish with immaculate precision.
But that way of playing allowed both Christian Eriksen and Alli freer roles, they were able to roam closer to Kane and deeper too, concerned less about holding a wider shape. Their wingbacks, which were Danny Rose and Kyle Walker injury permitting, took care of that.
A quick glance at the statistics will tell the story of how well that worked; Spurs did not lose a single league match in their final campaign at the Lane. Whenever they were caught out, it was mainly because they were too narrow and easy to contain, especially after an injury to Rose and Walker’s loss of form and place in the team.
Numerous players, including Son-Heung Min and Sissoko, have been played in a wide position higher up the pitch, but more often than not they would look to cut inside. Georges-Kevin Nkoudou and Clinton N’jie are two pacey players who have failed to make any sort of impact.
Options for this summers window
If Pochettino is going to get this transfer window right, that is an area in need of reinforcements. There aren’t many out there, and that is the biggest hindrance to progress.
Inter’s Ivan Perisic, a man heavily linked with Manchester United, could fit that bill. Not only does the Croatian have pace to burn, his technique is excellent and, at over six foot, he would provide a different option for feeding Kane.
Riyad Mahrez of Leicester City may well be a more obvious and realistic choice. Tottenham Hotspur are a hot commodity right now, and rivals at home and abroad must take them seriously.
But Mauricio Pochettino must ensure this transfer window is conducted much better than the last, or they may never reach the heights many expect them to.