While we were all distracted by events in Russia, Spurs were being transformed from fresh, potential title hopefuls to a regressive entity that will struggle to nab a top-four spot.
A half-bothered Liverpool side turned up to Wembley Stadium on Saturday afternoon and ripped apart a Mauricio Pochettino experiment. This time – a diamond in midfield – to prevent the Reds from operating in central areas. Except, they never do.
This was yet another attempt by dear Poch to make ends meet. He shouldn’t have to. In previous years, he’s built sides to operate the way he wants and all of a sudden, he’s tinkering with shape and personnel because he’s been backed into a corner.
Is this some sort of message to the board? There is no way any football manager in their right mind would think a diamond could nullify Liverpool’s threat.
Apart from Zinedine Zidane, actually – but he got dear Sergio to ensure they couldn’t let Mohamed Salah operate in the spaces behind Kroos and Modric. And that’s speaking about two of the best midfielders in the world. This isn’t Madrid – it’s grubby north London.
I saw a terrific tweet that perfectly described Harry Winks. It’s also applicable to his midfield partner Eric Dier – they look like they’re playing football underwater.
So, to allow combinations of Salah, Mane, Alexander-Arnold and Robertson to overlap their fullbacks isn’t just a tactical blip, it’s embarrassing.
Tottenham Hotspur have a squad of 26 players. One of them is third-choice goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga. Three of them are Vincent Janssen, Juan Foyth and Georges-Kevin N’Koudou. That’s a squad of 22, whatever way you want to look at it.
In most seasons, that could work. It’s not league-winning depth unless you benefit from an act of God injury-wise. In this particular campaign, though, it might not even be top four depth.
The drop-off from Lloris to Vorm was notable. Should that be in an outfield position, Spurs will struggle even more. Even away from potential issues off the bench, Harry Kane has played too much football over the last few years. Gary Neville was right to point this out when he did.
The Winks/Dier combination is the ultimate ‘because they’re English’ overestimation. Lucas Moura isn’t a striker – please stop trying to force him into that role. Kieran Trippier looks leggy after the World Cup. As does Toby Alderweireld and Jan Verthongen.
Son probably won’t be at the peak of his powers until December given his workload.
The failure of the club to see these issues coming is unforgivable.
The funny thing is – Pochettino once had the advantage of consistency over his rivals, even if no trophies manifested. He landed at White Hart Lane in 2014, while Klopp (2015), Mourinho (2016), Guardiola (2016) and Emery (2018) are all newer to their respective roles than the Argentinian.
But that advantage was taken out of his hands and the most enjoyable season Spurs fans have had in the last two decades is still under the stewardship of one Harry Redknapp.
With the move to their new ground lingering over the club, it seems difficult to balance both expectations on the field and expectations off it. At least at board level, which would explain the lack of willingness to hand over funds for transfer activity.
You see, this comes back to bite – and hard. If you lose a Champions League place, you lose revenue. You, in turn, lose your appeal when you eventually do recruit.
Unless Spurs spend heavily in January, at inflated prices, they’re not finishing in the top four.
Arsenal are just finding their feet under their new manager and yet they’re level on points with their fierce rivals.
Manchester United will overachieve as Jose Mourinho perennially frustrates his doubters. Man City and Liverpool are on a different stratosphere.
Whatever was being built at Tottenham is now being deconstructed due to bad planning and the dismantling process is going to be a slow burner – constantly seeing Spurs rely on reserves they simply don’t possess.
A fully physically-fit, mentally-right Tottenham XI currently resembles the following:
Michel Vorm; Kyle Walker-Peters, Davinson Sanchez, Juan Foyth, Ben Davies; Victor Wanyama, Moussa Sissoko, Harry Winks; Lucas Moura, Fernando Llorente, Eric Lamela.
Mr. Levy, you best enjoy Christmas – January could be traumatic.