Tottenham have had a steady start to the season this year.
On the opening day, they drew away at Everton before following that up with their only victory so far at home to Crystal Palace with a late goal from Victor Wanyama.
Finally, before the international break, they got another point from the other Merseyside club Liverpool at White Hart Lane to leave them with five points going into this weekend.
The performances so far haven’t been what we came to be accustomed to last year with Spurs. As they challenged for the title they were one of the most exciting sides to watch attacking with exuberance but also being defensively sound.
This season, however, they haven’t looked quite at it. It’s early days of course but could it be time for Mauricio Pochettino to shake things up a little with the way Spurs play? FootballFanCast takes a look.
Spurs have gone with the same tactical blueprint that served them well last year. Pochettino likes to have two holding midfielders who are essentially destroyers with the three midfielders in front the ones who make the chances for the one up top – usually Harry Kane.
It was Eric Dier and Mousa Dembele that were the two holders for most of the season and they generated a formidable partnership, adding an extra wall in front of an already resolute Spurs back-line. It may have appeared negative, but it allowed Kyle Walker and Danny Rose to fly forward and give the team pace out wide and as we saw for most of last season it was a system that worked.
Now, though, there are suggestions Spurs have been found out slightly.
Of course, they have missed Mousa Dembele in the centre – many sides would – but even so in that second holding role he is being limited, as has Victor Wanyama, his replacement. Last year it worked because teams weren’t sure how to play against Tottenham but now they know exactly what to expect. Spurs have become slightly predictable.
You know that Rose and Walker are going to be outlets. You also know Erik Lamela and Christian Eriksen are going to want to come inside and play. Stop these two factors from happening you’ve gone some way to stopping the whole Spurs machine. Throw into the bargain that two of their three central midfielders can’t get into the more advanced action now to help out, Spurs aren’t winning the midfield battle as much as they did last year.
It only needs a slight change in honesty but it could be a key one, and Pochettino’s dealings in the transfer window – two of them in particular – suggest he’s got such a change in mind.
It wouldn’t be a surprise if Spurs go with one holding player from now on. They now have Moussa Sissoko who is as mobile as Mousa Dembele so it would make sense to play them both. If Sissoko produces the goods he can on a regular basis Spurs suddenly have a more advanced base on which to implement Pochettino’s press.
It’s time to switch that midfield three around. Instead of Dier and Dembele holding with Dele Alli the more advanced Spurs might be looking at Dier as the solitary pivot – the role he plays for England – with Dembele and Sissoko more advanced and with more license to maraud forward – what they are best at.
Inverting that midfield triangle gives Spurs a much more attacking outlook and that ultimately is what they need right now. Three goals in three games so far isn’t a good enough return for a team wanting Champions League qualification at the very least this season and with their current system they surely won’t improve that with teams now happy to sit in and defend against them.
That shouldn’t be the end of it, though. Spurs still need more pace out wide. Against Liverpool, they saw what a quick winger can do with Sadio Mane one of the standout performers but it looks as though they’ve acted with that in mind. Georges-Kevin N’koudou might not have the Premier League pedigree yet but he has the hallmarks of what Spurs needed. He plays down the wing and is quick as well as fitting the Spurs profile of being young.
Whether Pochettino throws him in straight away remains to be seen but he should be given a chance soon because he could be key in helping evolve the Spurs side.
Tottenham have the foundations for a good team but if they don’t switch it up a bit, no matter how slight, they’ll continue to be found out by teams and eventually get left behind.