Review of the Season Part 1- Spurs End On A High. Or – How On Earth Did We End Up 5th?

Spurs ended this convoluted and at times incoherent season on a high. Harry the Hero’s diving header from Dier’s sumptuous cross gave Tottenham victory against Everton and lifted us into a delightful but improbable 5th place.

2014-15 will be remembered as the season of the Fine Young Men of Tottenham Hotspur and it was fitting that Kane, the very best of them, should seal a creditable finish with an assist from another young player who when thrown into the limelight through necessity, did not blink. Like Mason and the excellent Bentaleb, who could turn out to be the best of them all, Eric Dier made the most of his opportunity. Often these youngsters have carried their more experienced team-mates on their shoulders, too often in my view.

Fitting though this ending was, the quality of the goal was not in keeping with large chunks of Tottenham’s football over the past 9 months. We have seen such rubbish sometimes, it was a most unwelcome resurrection of long-buried memories of the mid-nineties when Spurs were devoid of teamwork, ambition and above all hope. After a bright start, autumn and spring were flat and frustrating, bookends for a winter that was anything but bleak.

I watched open-mouthed and aghast at the disjointed, inept performances against Villa and Hull away, Stoke and Newcastle at home, that became a worrying pattern. Yet away from home there was another element. Late goals against the run of play transformed the side. 3 points at Villa, Hull, Swansea, Leicester, winning this way became the norm. However undeserved these wins were, we have been lucky that so many sides have missed good chances against us this season, the players began to believe in themselves. Their manager’s fearsome fitness regime that some older heads rejected, proved its worth. Spurs were still running as opponents flagged. Injuries were at a minimum. We had skilful players who without imposing themselves on the game for 90 minutes could win the match with a moment of class, Eriksen being the prime example.

In April and May, understandably the young players who had lifted us from the doldrums were mentally weary and performances suffered. The legs were still willing but the minds were weak. This inconsistency was intensely frustrating but completely predictable given the inexperience of half the players and the lack of balance in the team. Those who have taken a heavily critical approach on social media should just consider this for a moment. More about the manager and players in a moment, but this squad was in no way equipped for success. Sides full of young players do not prosper in the Premier League. I have been critical of an apparent lack of learning-from-mistakes and apparently of effort, I’ve bitten my tongue in irritation at a succession of crass errors, I realise our high final position is in part a comment of the inadequacies of other teams in a mundane PL, but remember this season as one where a developing team over-achieved.

In the middle, remember too some glorious matches and moments made all the sweeter because they were unexpected. Kane’s emergence as a top class footballer, one of our own come to save us from mediocrity. He will have a fine career but surely never a season like this one where for a while everything worked, every shot went in, even the dodgy ones. I loved him most though over the last month or so where though he played well the goals weren’t coming, yet he worked so hard, often without any support, intelligent, constant effort shifting the defence around, making space for others, always an eye for goal. He’s forever trying to do something for the sake of the team rather than personal glory. And all this without a hair out of place.

A hard-fought, tense draw against Manchester United after Christmas was a creditable result that should not be forgotten despite what followed. My vision of the Chelsea match is a dream-like blur of white shirts sweeping at will through the Blues defence, goal upon goal but the movement was sublime. Eriksen drifting here and there, pulling defenders with him, Chadli into the space, Kane a ghost for all Cahill and Terry could lay a hand on him. Harry’s shimmy and turn for his goal in the second half, bliss.

Then Arsenal, not just north London bragging rights but a deserved win against one of the best. Kane’s winner, right behind that looping header that hung for an age before nestling softly into the corner of the net, was unforgettable. Most of all, the atmosphere was as full-bloodied and committed as anything from the 45 plus years I’ve been going, and I’ve been to every one of the glory glory days and nights in that time. Bedlam in the stands, ears ringing in time with the tuningfork girders of the grand old ground vibrating in joyous rhythm, perhaps for the very last time. Perhaps there will never be another occasion like it before the wrecking ball comes in.

A Wembley final too, disappointing outcome but at least we took the game to Chelsea in the first half before their experience and billions became too much on this occasion. A reminder of the correlation between salaries and success in the modern era, Spurs’ wage bill is the 6th or 7th highest in the PL and that’s where we usually finish. The best young player of the season gets about a quarter of what Sterling is demanding.

Mauricio Pochettino isn’t the messiah, not even a naughty little boy. He’s a hard-working, diligent manager who has done very well to get Spurs through this season, let alone finish 5th. Firmly wedded to 4-2-3-1, the players know what is expected of them, and, most importantly in terms of progress in the long run, can build on this next season because for once there will be no changes in the summer.

This focus can also be his weakness because there have been times where this set-up has been too rigid. Towards the end of the season it felt as if he was devoid of ideas and waiting for the summer where he could buy players to fit his philosophy of high-tempo, pressing and always looking to pass the ball forward. I’m trying to sidestep the word ‘transitional’ here because it applies to most of the last 20 years, but also because it’s a euphemism. Pochettino has faced up redoubtably to a legacy of gross mis-management and neglect of the playing resources. Villas-Boas did not know what to do with the post-Bale influx of players, a £100m windfall and once in a generation opportunity that has been wasted. Sherwood was merely a caretaker.

Tactics schmatics. In the end, it’s all about players and the manager’s ability to pick the right ones. Pochettino was left with a poor squad unfit for purpose. One reason he’s been unable to change things around too much is simply that he does not have the options. The young players have prospered because they were prepared to buy into the approach of a manager who told them he could make them better players. Remember too they had to play because Pochettino quickly discovered the paucity of his inheritance.

Several apparently were not able or willing to follow their manager. Chiriches is a walking mistake, neat in the tackle but holds onto the ball in dangerous situations and easily beaten in physical aerial challenges. Capoue is too slow and one-dimensional for this manager, whose biggest mistake was entrusting Kaboul with the role of first-pick centrehalf. Injuries have deprived the Frenchman of the supple athleticism and power that made him so promising. The risk of giving such prominence to an injury-prone player was too much. I would not have sold Dawson, whose leadership and determination was surely an asset during times of change. Fazio, presumably signed with Pochettino’s agreement, does not look like an upgrade as he lumbers in and out of the side. Tough and clever enough to compensate for his limitations, he’s a barrier in the box but outside he has all the mobility of a tower block. Dier as I’ve said shows promise at centreback. He was fearless up against Costa in the League Cup final.

Vertonghen appears distant and aloof sometimes yet remains our best centreback despite being caught square one on one too often. In one match, Leicester home I think it was, he was inexcusably arm-waving and moaning at the problems around him instead of taking responsiblity to do something about them as senior defender. I suspect he would go if made a good offer.

Perhaps the season should be characterised not so much about the youth of the players who have done well but by those willing to take their opportunity. Ryan Mason said recently that he finally feels like a proper footballer. He’s taken his chance magnificently. From nowhere to the England team via a good summer tour in America that was the start of it all. I like his committment and ability to move the ball forward and he does not seem like a natural defensive midfielder so maybe all of this and playing out of position. We would have done less without him yet can’t rely on him to be the heart of the defensive midfield. His partner Bentaleb often gives him encouragement and an arm round the shoulders in solidarity. Spurs have taught this group togetherness and to take responsibility. Always available, he has an eye for the pass and keeps the ball moving. Highly impressive, he really could be something in the future.

If we’re talking about taking chances, Danny Rose comes out on top. He’s fought off the promising Ben Davies and looks every inch the attacking full-back. He deserves fulsome praise.

Our biggest problem has been the players wide in the ‘3’ of the 4-2-3-1. None of them suit the set-up because they are defensively weak. Chadli and Lamela are best when freed of any defensive responsibilities. I have been critical of the Belgian for his lack of work-rate. Lamela has learned to put in the yards but not that in the PL he’s going to get tackled before he can get up a head of steam. Both are effective when allowed to drift into the middle. Chadli has scored some fine goals and Lamela’s perfectly weighted angled through-balls from 25 yards are a delight. However, the gaps they leave behind have repeatedly left a fragile back four exposed, which some opponents have ruthlessly exploited.

Townsend is the Spurs youngster who has failed to grasp the nettle. He’s best flying down the left wing, powerful and direct. He’s not a great thinker on the pitch and the inverted winger role gives him too many choices. Come inside, go outside on the weaker foot, lay it off – too much for him, slows him down for a vital, fatal second.

Inside, Eriksen’s season has tailed away. He will never be a player who dominates a midfield. Rather, he needs someone else to win that battle, then he could win the match for you. Some fine goals and free-kicks will linger, none more so than his cool finish up at Brammal Lane when the defence fell apart late on. Spurs need more through-balls – we made chances from these and Eriksen can deliver. Trouble is, and this sounds crass I know, but he and Lamela have to have someone to pass to. So often this term, Kane has either been on his own up front or has gone out of the box in order to set something up. Poor Bobby Soldado is shot to pieces, a troubled soul who has scored goals by instinct since he was a boy and so has no idea how to make it better now they have dried up. Beyond redemption in north London, I can’t bear to see him suffer any more and wish him goals wherever he goes. Adebayor has been invisible, a troubled soul and out of contention. So no one to pass to.

Dembele holds on the ball and so does not seem to fit, but he has so much ability and strength, surely we can do something. He’s never been a DM and should play further forward. I’m surprised Stambouli has not been given more of a chance, especially as he was bought under Pochettino’s watch. Paulinho needs some sun on his back, once a good player who looks a long way from home. Nothing left in north London for him.

Last but not least, Hugo Lloris has been outstanding this year. I feel for him playing behind a dreadful back four. He looks so crestfallen when we concede as if it hurts him personally. His saves have earned us a good few points this season. I assume he will go in the summer, why would he stay if an offer from a better team in Europe comes along, and good luck to him, I will really miss him.

After the League Cup Final, it was easy to get swept away in a tide of optimism. The many pieces saying we had a spine of young players to rely on to secure future success were sweet but naive. My view is unchanged from well before Christmas. This summer requires a major overhaul of the squad and that’s without departures of the players like Lloris, Vertonghen and Eriksen who might be in demand. More about the future plus reflections on where the club is right now later in the week.

24 thoughts on “Review of the Season Part 1- Spurs End On A High. Or – How On Earth Did We End Up 5th?

  1. I think the midfield is where the problem lies, if we persevere with Mason, then Dembele must go as they cannot compliment each other. Personally I prefer Dembele as he offers far more in terms of technique and acumen, but clearly MP doesn’t rate him and some of his lackadaisical performances under MP show why? As for where we are, firstly I think you have to ask who we are? 5th behind who? and is it possible to compete against those above us? Well, yes we can, but only by bringing in quality and not quantity and then doing our utmost to keep those players fro being enticed by bigger and more prestigious clubs (far easier with home grown than purchased players) but realistically 5th is OK and pretty much where we should be in the realm of things. My problem is the actual performances witnessed, and if they were considered dull under AVB then this season at times, they’ve been insipid and uninspiring to say the least apart from a couple of notable examples. Could we have done better with a more adventurous attitude and style?………I don’t think we could’ve, but it would’ve been far easier on the eye i think?

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    • We need to rebuild everywhere Pete – more about this later this week. One upgrade on a DM at least and mason and dembele could go further forward, options at least. I don’t think we play unattractive football, it’s just not good football. Attacking instincts have been limited because we’ve not got players into the box and/or dangerous positions. That’s where the problem with the wide midfield comes in – not in the right place, right time.

      Regards, Alan

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  2. We dropped a lot of silly points at home early in the season because we were finding things out. Like finding out Kaboul can’t do it any more, Adebeyor don’t want to help the team and finding out no matter how long you give him chances for and no matter how much he tries, Soldado is not a premiership striker. These dropped points have weighed heavy on the team, we have had to carry that disadvantage through the rest of the season. Assuming we have learned the lesson and were not going to go through the same learning curve, we should get off to a much better start next season. Nothing is gauranteed but a better start and a squad of 25 players we can actually use would be a massive boost to the club and then perhaps the tough section of the league (after new year) will be a lot easier to handle.

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    • A season of finding out – that’s exactly it. Pochettino has had to find out by experimenting to re-vamp the squad. Hard at times – I reckon by November he must have wondered what he let himself in for. Done well to pull us round, even more evidence of what an achievement 5th is.

      Regards, Alan

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  3. Well!! That’s it Alan. Time to concentrate on my garden and the birth of my grandchild next week or so in Jersey.
    Also I like the look of the formation yesterday. They said that Bentelab was on the left wing and Dier on the other flank but, I think it looked like Poch played a 3 – 5 -2 or a 3 – 4 – 2 -1. It seemed we were a lot stronger in the middle because of the packed midfield. If I’m wrong on this, I still liked what I saw from this formation.

    Looking forward to next season and just hope we can go on to better things with a few player changes and the exit of players that are not up to poch’s tactics. Also we still have Pritchard to come back, which I can’t wait to see how he fairs .

    Look forward to seeing your posts next season Alan.

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  4. Thanks for another season of superb blogging Alan. Much anticipated and very thoughtful writings each week. Have a great summer.

    4-2-3-1 was dull as ditchwater, the way we played it, much of the time. Yet exhilarating in the winter.. Which suggests promise with the right players for the system, but a bit confusing overall. I’m not sold on Poch, but I very much hope he gets the full support of the board in the summer.

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    • Much appreciated, couldn’t do it without your support. One more blog this season, then more of the same come August.

      Regards, Alan

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  5. Thank Alan for your words during the season.
    Finishing 5th behind the mega rich clubs who try to buy the comp each year is a great result in the manager’s first year.
    Hopefully we can pick up a striker to support Harry and I would like a play maker to drive our attack.
    I am sure our defence will be tidied up for next year.
    With all our young guys coming through lets hope next year is even better!!!
    COYS

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    • You’re welcome. It is a fine achievement – if unexpected. Don’t feel we have played like a team that’s 5th but who cares?! need more than one or two though to build a squad.

      Cheers, Alan

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  6. The legs were willing but the minds were weak. I think it was more, the minds were willing but the legs were weak. Accumulative fatigue of young players during a long, hard season. But good article. enjoyed it.

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    • Thanks. You might well be right. Either way, they deserve great credit for picking up the challenge, shame they could not be rested because our squad was so thin.

      COYS Alan

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  7. Pete we could see something good in this last game against Everton. But what did it mean?
    All season we struggled to play coherent football.Lloris saved us early on and Kane somehow came through in the second half to save us and with that make us a top 5 club.Its unbelievable.
    We played so much crap football this year,mediocre stuff as a team that its hard to believe how we finished up 5th.
    This last game in the first half was a relevation. It was one of the few times we actually saw a flow of any consequence. Was this evolution taking hold and the plan working? Was it a super plan by Poch? Putting Benteleb at LB opened up the field for us as we put in another midfielder and created space for ourselves.Dembele inserted into a place where we have more players than Everton. We created a flow.
    All season Poch kept doing the same thing. We were supposed to be Atletico and we were no more than AVB at Tottenham.But in this game look what happened.
    First of all Dembele offered great presence and stature in that position and so we didnt look so disjointed. We also had two rows coming back as what was suppsed to be the case all season so even with one shy at the back we managed to block any gaps. Was this intended?
    I have no idea but it would be good for Poch to look at this.Its just that I think he,like AVB has this blueprint in his head and wants to find the players to fill it.
    Without some players who can expand our game Im afraid it will be same old same old. So unless Pritchard and Ali provide the vision Im afraid it will be a different package with the same type of season next year. maybe a touch better.

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    • Hi RonWol, good to know your still about, yes it was a good win, but ultimately pointless (yeah I know we got 3), but I honestly think the current fair play system, while a start is still in need of finer tuning for anything close to equality between teams, in which case we are what we are, the best of the rest. I’ve seen a player recently, no-ones mentioned, wouldn’t cost the earth and could do a really good job for us, without breaking sweat-Stephen N’Zonzi of Stoke, he’s fit our remit perfectly for next season, but overal I have real concerns regards to Potch, no plan B, and some mighty strange positional and tactical call’s, notable more so in the Cup Final. That was indeed the most frustrated I’ve been for ages, as it was like my dad teaching me to box, when he held his outstretched arm on my head and got me swing at him? By playing Cahill, MP thought great Kane will see to him and Terry again, but JM outsmarted him by using their other CH in mid to kill the service, and it was so damned simple to do, and MP made it work by doing nothing!..Not crying for his head, but I want to see better from him and his coaches next season. I’d love us to keep hold of Moussa, but I take it those who didn’t travel on tour are out of his plans?

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      • Mousa plays his own way and is a bit retro in that sense. Today everyone has to fit the cookie cutter of the computer system and so unique individuals seem more and more at a premium and yet in Pochs system he needs cookie cutters.Dembele isnt one. He isnt a great enough player though to be a one off but he is a quality player and a player with a lot of class. Cant see Poch keeping him. He is injured though being taken off in the last game so not sure if that meant anything. Do think we will get better but I still want to see good football as much as good results.
        N’Zonzi havent looked at too much. Will take a look!
        All the best my feisty mate!

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        • Hey, the season’s over and I’m as chilled as a Srongbow in the cooler-I really can’t say whether we’ll improve positionally, it’s like losing that last pound of fifty when you’re on a diet (so they say), As you know, I really don’t care too much so long as the performances are creditable and the footballs flowing and attractive, after all I’ve never seen us win the league, so I’m not missing anythnig, in fact the highest I’ve known is 3rd on about 3 occaisions, I’ve seen us mid to lower more and genrally about 6th, and that’s 50 years supporting them, so where we get Big Club from I have no idea-I know us as a Cup Club, even with far better players in an inferior league, we were always 6th? Anyway, have a great summer RonWol

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          • You too Pete!
            For me seeing the flow when I did,showed me what can be done with the right blend.So even though we havent quite achieved since the bar was set high at that time.Over the years we have had a few good teams but more often than not more so of dynamic players here and there.That kept the vision going along with Daniel levy’s ability to do well on the spreadsheet (rather than the team sheet) but still we are in a potential situation,with lots of it. I cant see them buying their way through so I think Levy came up with the plan of manufacturing. The training facilities,the stadium all point to the future and development.Sell some and keep some and augment what you need.It makes sense The future is bright.But I hope its not too long to wait.
            All the Best mate!!!

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    • the thin squad meant we had no real alternatives Ron. Also I think with the right players the 4-2-3-1 offers a lot of flexibility – moving the 3 around, full-backs pushing up or sitting back etc. i wouldn’t pay much attention to the tour – purely about money.

      regards, Alan

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      • Alan,I think we want to do well on the tour and I watched the game yesterday.It was an exciting encounter and good things from Carroll.
        Want to take the opportunity for thanking you for this great thought out blog. It has a more intellectual vibe and refreshing from other blogs..

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  8. Well played, Alan, you were hard but fair right up until the last game of the season and you’ve earned your place on the virtual beach. This is an excellent summary of the good, the bad and the exceedingly average we’ve endured and among the many mysteries is how we’ve managed to stumble into fifth place and another chance to visit the fleshpots of eastern Europe. It’s always good to finish with a terrific performance and result to keep us optimistic for the next couple of months…imagine how both sides of Liverpool must be feeling at the moment. You’ve hit on all the areas that need addressing, but the game on Sunday could easily have gone sour if Mirallas had managed to squeeze his feeble shot past Lloris, who’se my player of the year. Bentaleb was a revelation and all the right and left backs who failed to make the match day squad must be gulping at Pochetinno’s lack of faith in their contribution. This is becoming a trademark of Poch – as the season progressed he relied on a small, trusted, coterie, even playing them out of position rather than calling up other more specialized members of the squad. Thus, fringe players such as Davies, Yedlin, Townsend, etc. found themselves on the outside, looking in. Poch is a very, very, lucky man to have put all his eggs in the Kane basket. To go into the season not having replaced Defoe, and then ignoring the chance to bring in reinforcements in the January window was his biggest gamble. With Ade being Ade and poor Soldado’s vanishing act, the club’s fortunes were reliant on one young player managing to avoid injury or some other threat. Poch’s intransigence also contributed to the poor run-in when a couple of more wins would have put us in touching distance to United. As you point out, the reliance on playing both Lamela and Chadli enabled opponents to overrun the makeshift defence and contributed to our fragile disposition. I don’t see the point of Lamela. He doesn’t anchor his side of the pitch and he doesn’t contribute anything meaningful as a goal threat, while Chadli somehow mustered a decent tally. Thank heavens for Dier, who played most of his season out of position: he strolled through West Ham on the opening day to give us our first win and he smoothed an excellent cross for Harry’s winner on the last day. Beautiful bookends to keep me interested in next season. With more young talent on the way, we’re still a couple of major signings away from bringing badly needed experience into the squad. Let’s see what falls off the table after the billionaires club has feasted on the available talent.

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    • Much appreciated David, you’ve had a fine season yourself gracing the comments column, look forward to hearing from you when you drop in. You are right about the striker situation – gross negligence on the part of the club and whoever did the buying in the summer. Does not bear thinking about, what the season would have been like without kane’s emergence, which surprised him almost as much as it surprised Poch or us. Lamela could fit if given protection defensively – admit I’m being optimistic here. Dier a good prospect. need more than a couple of quality signings.

      Have a good summer, Alan

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  9. A strange season in that 5th is better than expected but it still feels in many ways like a missed opportunity for CL qualification given the relative inefficiency of mega spending Manchester United one place above us, and also, most frustratingly of all, missing out on silverware v Chelsea. All in all however, I lean towards a half full glass given the exceptional promise, based on performance,shown by Kane, Bentaleb, Dier, Rose ( I never thought I’d be typing that!), and to a slightly lesser extent, Mason. Hopefully Pritchard and Alli can continue to improve also, maybe in the UEFA Cup, until they are of the standard needed.
    I agree re Lloris, he’s been top top as the Redknapp family might say and if he leaves for better things it would be hard to begrudge him the chance.
    There is definite improvement needed, but much potential already in the squad, so buying round pegs for round holes this time around would be a step in the right direction. It’s not always how much you spend but how you spend it is key.
    All that optimism however many have not been present were it not for the fact we secured fifth place virtue of Sunday’s win at Everton, such is the fickle mind of a football fan, or at least this one!
    My hope would be for a trophy next season as I’m of the opinion that doesn’t see CL qualification as the be all and end all, even when realising it’s monetary value.
    Anyway, thank you for taking the time to write an interesting, well informed and reasonable piece each week, free of headline grabbing nonsense seeking hits! Yours is my favourite (and increasingly only) Spurs read, even when not 100% in agreement, and its nice to see my mood is not the only one that is affected by the success or otherwise of Spurs. Have a pleasant, peaceful summer and good health until next season.

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