After another season of just coming up short, it’s clear that Tottenham are one of the best teams in the country.
If this season, coming second to Chelsea, was tougher than last year when Leicester beat Mauricio Pochettino’s side to the title, then Spurs have clearly progressed with the rate of Premier League inflation. You get the feeling that next year will be even harder, though, given the certainty that others will strengthen and the difficulties associated with moving stadium and having to play at Wembley.
That’s not to say that Tottenham aren’t a force to be reckoned with already. But it’s clear that they’ll need something extra if they’re to consolidate their position in the top four and even go on to actually win the title next season.
For one thing, the first half of the season yielded too many draws for the north London side. Finding themselves unable to break down their opponents and nick the goal to unlock the game – especially between August and December – was really their only downfall this year. Far from ‘bottling’ the league title at West Ham late in the season, they’d already left themselves too much to do with that start to the season. And it was a similar story the previous season, too.
The summer gives Pochettino the chance to remedy that problem, though.
At the end of last year’s summer transfer window, it was Moussa Sissoko who Spurs turned to in order to fill that role. Clearly the Frenchman turned out to be one of the flops of the season, but that doesn’t mean they chose the wrong strategy. Just the wrong player.
Since January, Wilfried Zaha of Crystal Palace had been a name associated with Spurs and who would have been the different kind of player to fit the bill. Instead, though, reports at the start of May suggested that Spurs’ interest in the Ivory Coast international had ‘cooled’. He might still be a target, but it does look like Tottenham will have to look elsewhere.
What was interesting about Zaha, from a Spurs point of view, though, is the kind of player he is. He’s a direct player, which means he will fit in with the feel of forward momentum present in the side, but he’s also pacey and likes to take players on, and there really isn’t a player like him at the club.
This season, Mousa Dembele made the most dribbles for Spurs. The problem here isn’t so much that no-one completes more dribbles than Dembele for Tottenham, but the areas in which he makes those runs. His ability to bring the ball forward from deep is an incredibly important thing, but they all come from deep. Next on the list is Erik Lamela, and then Victor Wanyama. It’s perhaps no coincidence that Tottenham sometimes fail to break down stubborn defences when two of their three most effective dribblers are defensive midfielders.
That might explain the interest in Zaha, and it feels like the right kind of signing. But there’s only one player in the Premier League this season who has completed more dribbles than the Palace winger: Middlesbrough’s Adama Traore, valued by Transfermarkt.com at £6.8m.
That might not sound like the most obviously Pochettino signing. Traore is fairly inconsistent and wasn’t always even a starter for the relegated North East club this season, but he’s nothing if not explosive.
Pacey, direct, and able to beat a man, he’s the kind of player Zaha is and exactly what Tottenham need. The issue would be ensuring that his obvious talent is consistent talent.
Spurs shouldn’t be put off by that. A player relegated twice in the last two seasons doesn’t sound like the criteria for joining a side with title aspirations, but the cliche that relegation-threatened sides shouldn’t have luxury players has some truth to it when talking about Traore. Teams like Middlesbrough, who set up primarily to defend, aren’t often the best places for that sort of player, whereas Tottenham could find him more useful.
In the end, Spurs will need someone who can do what Traore does, whether they find him in England or abroad. A player like the Spaniard could be the difference between silverware and none next season, and it’s clever signings, not bank-breakers, which look most likely to do it.