Do Tottenham Have the Depth To Compete in Every Competiton?

Filed under Champions League, England, Europe, Premier League

It was a case of two 2-2 draws for Tottenham Hotspur last week, results which although seem identical in scoreline, contrast wildly in their significance. While the week started off with a gutsy and spirited performance away at last year’s Champions League runners-up Juventus, in which Spurs battled back from a disappointing start to secure two away goals, it was bookended by a poor performance away at League 1’s bottom team Rochdale in the FA Cup. Although the Lillywhites will be kicking themselves for conceding in the 94th minute, in truth, they lacked the fluidity they showed midweek and ultimately didn’t deserve to win. So, what do these two results tell us about this Tottenham team?

Tottenham were frustrated by Rochdale on Sunday

Tottenham were frustrated by Rochdale on Sunday

Firstly, when Tottenham’s first team are playing at their best, they are a joy to watch, and a nightmare to play against. They’ve come out of a tough run of fixtures with wins against Manchester United and Arsenal, and draws away at Liverpool and Juventus. While winning is the goal of any team, it was perhaps the draws at Anfield and the Allianz Stadium which were more noteworthy. Against Liverpool last season, Tottenham were a shadow of the team we were used to: weak, lacking in energy, and bullied off the park. This time around it was totally different. Just like last year, they conceded early, but continued fighting, pressing high up the pitch, dominating the ball, and deservedly got the goals their play warranted. It was the same story against Juventus. A Mousa Dembele inspired Tottenham dominated proceedings, with the Belgian comprehensively winning the midfield battle against Miralem Pjanic and Sami Khedira. In a match they most likely would’ve lost last year, they came out of a rough first 10 minute admirably and now have the advantage in this tie.

Harry Kane scored against both Juventus and Rochdale

Harry Kane scored against both Juventus and Rochdale

Unfortunately for Tottenham, their strength in depth, especially in midfield, is worrying. While the timely returns of Toby Alderweireld, and Danny Rose from injury will bolster Spurs’ defensive strength, and Lucas Moura’s strong performance in the FA Cup presents a new dilemma for Pochettino, Tottenham do look lost without Dembele and Christian Eriksen in the middle of the park. Against Rochdale, Victor Wanyama and Harry Winks struggled to bring the ball out from the back and bring the front four players into the game. Wanyama in particular was dispossessed several times, as Spurs’ attempts to play out from the back either ended in a hopeful long ball, or a turnover in possession. Ever since Luka Modric left in 2012, Spurs have failed to adequately replace him, and still miss that deep lying playmaker in the middle of the park. Harry Winks-who admittedly was returning from injury on Sunday- is a neat player with good technique, but needs to be more ambitious in his passing if he is to become that type of player. Further up the pitch, Fernando Llorente endured another goalless match, with comparisons to former Spurs strikers Roberto Soldado and Vincent Janssen (currently on loan), increasing. While his hold up play was good, he didn’t look like a goal threat, which is concerning: his strength is impressive, but a striker’s job is to score goals, and right now it just isn’t happening for the Spaniard.

Tottenham have failed to replace Luka Modric since he left in 2012

Tottenham have failed to replace Luka Modric since he left in 2012

Tottenham remain in three competitions, and the question now becomes which ones do they prioritise. Pochettino in October said it would be a mistake to prioritise either the FA Cup or Carabao Cup over the Premier League or Champions League, but in the quest to end Spurs’ 10 year trophy drought, it might be the case that he is forced to eat his own words. If Spurs beat Rochdale at home, which they should do, a favourable draw against either Sheffield Wednensday or Swansea stands between them and two matches at Wembley, a ground they are getting more and more comfortable with. As we approach the business end of the Premier League season, Tottenham have arguably the most comfortable run-in of the teams competing for the top 4, with just three of their eleven remaining matches coming against top 10 opposition.

However, it is inconceivable that Pochettino plays anything less than a full strength team in the Champions League, and as long as he does that, it will most likely be the FA Cup that is left on the back burner. The Spurs manager should expect his second string team to take Tottenham to at least the semis, but if they don’t, don’t expect too much disappointment from the Argentinian. While many fans would choose the FA Cup over a place in the top 4 of the Premier League, it’s clear that Pochettino doesn’t share the same connection with the world’s oldest cup competition that the fans do.

My prediction is that while Spurs will go trophyless for another season, a quarter final exit in the Champions League will free them up to launch a successful assault on a top 4 spot. Although Spurs have performed admirably against the likes of Dortmund, Madrid and Juventus thus far, meeting clubs like Barcelona, Manchester City, and a rejuvenated Bayern Munich in the next round (if they make it) might be a step too far for this young team. However, with a straightforward fixture list and momentum on their side, they are well positioned to go on a run similar to last season and qualify for Europe’s premier competition next season.

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About Nikhil Agarwal

I am an avid football fan, and have been following the game for close to 10 years. Although I try to keep track of football around the world, the league that is closest to my heart is definitely the Barclays Premier League. For more pieces check out my blog. http://nikhil111199.blogspot.sg

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