If there’s a problem or an imbalance in this Tottenham squad, it’s not at all obvious.
This is the first year in three that Spurs haven’t been considered to be in title contention after Christmas, but perhaps like the rest of the current top six, they can point to the fact that they wouldn’t be quite so far behind in a normal season – that Manchester City are simply doing something extraordinary so far this campaign.
But for the side who finished last season with both the most goals scored and the fewest conceded, to find themselves doing nothing special on either account so far this year clearly shows that the momentum has been curtailed somewhat. There are numerous reasons why – the Wembley situation at the start of the season and their impressive improvement in Europe, for example.
Indeed, there’s been improvement in the Premier League, too, since the final group game of the Champions League in December, even if it didn’t come straight away.
Since losing to Manchester City in mid-December, there’s been a marked change in Spurs’ defensive solidity. They’ve conceded just three goals since then, though two came in a game against Southampton and were consolations as Mauricio Pochettino’s side ran out 5-2 winners on Boxing Day. Getting Davinson Sanchez back was a boost after the City game, whilst the return of Toby Alderweireld will help strengthen even more at that end.
At the other end, meanwhile, it would be ridiculous to say that Spurs lack goals with Harry Kane breaking records left, right and centre. Beyond that, too, it would be churlish to point to a lack of support with some other fabulous players in the team.
And yet, that’s the place where Spurs should look to strengthen this January.
Attacking play is all about options and doing something out of the ordinary, especially for a manager like Pochettino, whose attacking systems can sometimes be a little rigid – and when it’s not working, it’s hard to force it.
That’s perhaps why Fernando Llorente found his way to Wembley this season. His height and aerial ability gives Spurs something than what they had last year, whilst the ability of the likes of Kieran Trippier when it comes to crossing or Christian Eriksen on free kicks seemed to make that a viable option. It hasn’t worked out that way, though there’s still time for the Spaniard to settle into becoming an important player for his club.
Then there were two other links last summer, neither of which came off. Ross Barkley was a player whose name kept cropping up in the Tottenham pages of newspapers, whilst Wilfried Zaha was said to have been another target, though that one was put to bed fairly early in the transfer window.
But now it’s January. Barkley is no longer and option and Llorente isn’t quite as effective as he might have been. That means you have to question what the link was between the now-Chelsea midfielder and the Crystal Palace winger: you wouldn’t think they’d be similar players, but clearly there was a reason Spurs turned their interest to Barkley when Zaha wasn’t available.
It might be to do with the fact that both players aren’t just adept at taking the game to their opposition directly, but they revel in it. Zaha with his pace and trickery, Barkley with his balance and poise, and his uncanny ability to play one-twos to take his team up the pitch.
This matters to Spurs. They don’t have a player who they can rely on to beat a man in order to break a press. They have to work their way around teams and hope that their systems and passing angles do the trick.
In January, Pochettino might have his sights on Zaha once again, but failing that, it’s Nabil Fekir who Spurs should be targeting.
A similar sort of tricky player, Fekir is a man who’s known bad luck and rebuilt. Seemingly on the verge of great things and a big money move from his current club Lyon a few years ago, the Frenchman ruptured his cruciate ligament and has only just come back to top form again this season.
But now he’s back, orchestrating attacks behind the forward line and showing his skill, directness and flair for a key pass. Those are traits which will allow him to fit into this Spurs side well enough, but something else is impressive about Fekir this season: he’s scoring goals.
14 in 17 Ligue 1 games is a wonderful tally for an attacking midfielder, and a further two in Europe shows his pedigree. Indeed, he’s currently on a run of four goals in four games, which might suggest a January move would suit him, as he can hit the ground running and carry over his form.
Spurs aren’t in dire need of an attacking threat. They arguably have the foremost attacking threat in the world at present. But they do need a spark to ignite those game where they just can’t seem to break the deadlock. They tried in the summer with Llorente, but there’s certainly no harm in bringing a player in with a different profile to his teammates, and who can bring something new to the table.
If Zaha is still off-limits, then Fekir should be that man.