“It’s Spurs, lads”, was Sir Alex’s typical team talk before a fixture against Tottenham. His words epitomise Spurs’ enigmatic existence in the Premier League, where they could be brilliant one week and shambolic the next. With the appointment of Mauricio Pochettino, things have changed, albeit, slowly. That soft underbelly is fading, with a renewed South American grit and tenacity coming to the fore. Despite their underwhelming performances over the decades, Spurs are one of England’s biggest clubs. They are not far behind Chelsea in terms of major honours won, with 17 compared to the Blues’ 21. They were the first English side to win a European Trophy, in 1963 and the first to win the famous League and Cup double. With Pochettino, Levy and a new stadium in the works, things are looking up. Add to it, a strong squad, mixed with experience and young talent, Spurs are a good bet for top 4.
Why They Will Finish in the Top 4
Mauricio Pochettino- In Pochettino, Spurs have one of the best managers in the Premier League. When you look at his record with Southampton and now Tottenham, you can’t help but admire what he’s done. He took the Saints to unprecedented heights, finishing 8th in their first season back in the top flight. He has brought his high pressing, high-energy football to the Lane and has slowly worked his magic there too. His teams are built around youth and pace, which Spurs have in abundance. The biggest impact he’s had at Spurs is changing the mentality at the club. He doesn’t believe in excuses. With some of the injuries they’ve sustained, added with having one of the youngest squads in the league, you’d understand if he was pleading for time. He believes in this squad, and his attitude in the big games, especially away, is testament to this. Last week away to the ‘enemy’, I was taken aback by what I saw. A Spurs team away to Arsenal, in complete control of the game, creating numerous chances. They should have won at a canter, although the ‘same old Spurs’ accusations could be brought up after conceding such a soft goal. The resilience he has brought to this side should hold them in good stead in their quest for Champions League football. Their only loss came somewhat unluckily to Manchester United on the opening day, and although there are harder times to come, you can bet on Pochettino standing firm and guiding his charges through.
Players– The manager has assembled a very interesting squad. One that was heavily underestimated at the start of the season, especially by me. I remember watching the friendly against Real Madrid in the summer, when Spurs played a midfield two of Eric Dier and Dele Alli and I laughed. How wrong I was. They have given Spurs a solid foundation to build from, and Dier especially has protected his defence manfully. Along with these wonderkids, they have a group of players like Lloris, Vertonghen, Eriksen, Son and Kane that would enhance most sides. Then you mix this with the likes of the ever improving Lamela, Dembele, Bentaleb, Aldeweireld and Rose, and you can then see the makings of a very balanced side. On the surface, you might feel there are more talented squads out there; you’re probably right, but football isn’t played on paper. This Spurs team is a cohesive unit, where everyone knows their role to a tee. With Harry Kane upfront and Eriksen dictating play in behind, I expect Spurs to go from strength to strength.
Luck– Chelsea’s struggles created a vacuum at the top, which numerous teams are vying to enter. It has made for an even more interesting Premier League, with teams like Leicester, Liverpool, Everton, Southampton, as well as Spurs all aiming for the top 4. I believe Spurs have the edge over these teams. Despite the initial bounce Klopp has brought to Liverpool, it is still very evident that they are a team in transition, a team mentally scarred, that feels a very heavy burden of expectation, especially at Anfield. Spurs, in their second season with Pochettino, are a lot more tranquil. He has implemented his ideas and you can tell the players, fans and the board trust him completely. A Chelsea team on song would have made it extremely difficult for Spurs to break in, and I wouldn’t rule them out yet.
Why they won’t make the top 4
Although Pochettino has made them harder to beat, he still has a long way to go to show they can maintain this for a whole season. We still need to see how Tottenham react when Chelsea inevitably wake up. How will the much-heralded Dele Alli react for instance? Despite Chelsea’s woes, you can still sense that all the top clubs are wary of a backlash. Tottenham especially, who have been burnt so many times by Chelsea that it has become almost psychological. White Hart Lane used to be referred to as ‘3 point Lane’ by the Chelsea fans. In 2012, when Spurs finished 4th ahead of Chelsea, they still failed to qualify due to their rivals’ first Champions League win. After their demolition of Chelsea on New Year’s Day, they ended up losing tamely to the Blues in the Cup final a month later. So I think it’s fair to say Chelsea has Tottenham’s number, and it’ll be interesting to see how they react as the season progresses.
Another thing that worries me when looking at Spurs’ chances of making the top 4 is the depth of the squad. Pochettino was right in removing the deadwood, but with a few injuries to key players, they could really struggle. Depth at center back for example is minimal. An injury to one of their Belgian stoppers leaves them with the untested Kevin Wimmer as the only alternative. An injury to Eric Dier leaves them with almost no other credible option in defensive midfield, and most worrying is if anything happens to their number 10. Despite the doubters, Harry Kane has shown he is a top class player. Not the quickest, but he has unrivalled shot technique and power and will inevitably score goals. A long-term injury to him almost completely diminishes Tottenham’s chances of finishing in the top 4. Clinton N’jie and Son-Heung-Min, although able, will not be able to replace the quality in that role.
As you can tell, I have massive admiration for Tottenham, and what Pochettino is trying to do. Finishing 5th last year, 6 points off the top 4 will stand them in good stead for this season’s battle. With an ever-improving squad and mentality, I believe this Spurs side is more capable than ever to maintain their push for Champions League football. However, they still have to prove the ‘same old Spurs’ tag to be a thing of the past.
Will Spurs finally break their Champions League Hoodoo or will they revert to type and fall at the final hurdle?