Tottenham: Five reasons to be fearful

Dave Tickner

After coming up with five reasons for Spurs fans to feel chipper, we’ve done five reasons why they should be riddled with absolute dread fear. This was easier.

 

1) The Striker
Harry Kane is just absolutely knackered, bless him. His very weird World Cup form has carried on into the new season, and in truth his current malaise seems to stem from rushing back from injury in March in a futile bid to win the Golden Boot.

It says much about Kane that he has been obviously, visibly struggling since that point but a) is still playing almost every game going, having made a frankly mental 25 appearances for club and country since his comeback on April 1, and b) has still somehow scored 15 goals in those 25 games.

And therein lies the conundrum. Even at 60%, Kane is a hard man to leave out. Mauricio Pochettino has said doing so would be “crazy”. But something has to give, surely. And the goals are at last really drying up now, with just two in the last 10 games – even if they were both scored in August to prove some kind of point or other.

There were a couple of encouraging signs against Inter, where his hold-up play and overall contribution was a bit more like the Kane of old. But that miss after taking the ball round Samir Handanovic was an alarming one. A player who has made goalscoring look instinctive and stupidly easy for the last four years was suddenly having to think about what has always come so naturally. It didn’t end well.

This is a player who looks to be running on empty both physically and mentally. There is no ‘good’ time to give him the rest he so obviously needs. But what’s the alternative – just wait until he gets properly injured? At what point does the risk of continuing to play him outweigh the risk of leaving him out? And are we in fact already quite a long way past it? ANSWER ME.

2) The Manager
Harry Kane is the figurehead, but Mauricio Pochettino is the key man at Spurs. Kane is difficult to replace, Pochettino almost impossible.

And he is starting to sound, well, a bit weird. The press conference after the Inter defeat was not good; managers demanding “respect” always just comes off a bit Mourinho.

Even in your crazy modern world of football he is surely not in any danger of the sack. But he has never looked less happy with his lot or closer to the end of his Tottenham career than he does right now. The new contract signed on the back of demands for Spurs to be “brave” in the transfer market seems a long time ago.

His public pronouncements may be getting stranger – I for one would literally never consult a cow about train timetabling – but his frustration over the stadium uncertainty and lack of signings is becoming clearer.

He is far from blameless for Spurs’ current predicament but equally is entitled to feel let down. The stadium is nothing to do with him and is clearly starting to have a negative effect.

If White Hart Lane 2.0 doesn’t open until the 2019/20 season as looks increasingly possible, will Pochettino even still be the manager for Tottenham’s homecoming? Which leads us to…

 

3) The Stadium
It’s going to be great, eventually. But right now it’s the biggest single factor feeding the negativity around the club.

And that is mainly due to the way the situation has been handled. The delays themselves are unhelpful and frustrating, but also understandable. New White Hart Lane isn’t the first stadium build to suffer these kinds of setbacks and it won’t be the last. The Emirates opened a year later than originally planned. Wembley took forever. It happens all the time, even when you don’t have the additional problem of trying to build first around an existing stadium and then demolishing that one to complete the work.

But Spurs have treated their fans – and in truth the other Premier League clubs – with something approaching contempt. They have never got in front of the story, with news of the latest delay or setback always coming from the media before Spurs say anything. The originally scheduled opening fixture against Liverpool last week now looks woefully optimistic to the point of naivety, and the club have allowed further bad news to drip out in what has now become a steady flow of chip-drenching piss.

First the Liverpool and Cardiff games were moved to Wembley, along with the opening Champions League game. Then the rest of the Champions League games. Now it might not open until the new year. Now it might not open this season.

Throughout it all there has been no apparent understanding of how let down the fans feel, beyond a few weasel words every time the club is forced into a public update. Even the timing of the Liverpool decision looks suspect, coming as it did just after the season started to end any possibility of refunds for season ticket holders and members.

There has not even been a token financial gesture to acknowledge the fact that fans who bought season tickets for the new stadium have effectively been diddled. Still they are told that Wembley is basically the same thing, so cough up the cash.

The unrest is growing. Some fans are starting to vote with their feet and will no longer attend Wembley matches. Those that do still go are increasingly disgruntled.

In the long term, Spurs risk permanent damage to their relationship with their most committed supporters. In the shorter term it does nothing to create the sort of match-day atmosphere that can help lift a struggling team.

 

4) The Lapses
For all the lovely forward play of Kane, Dele, Eriksen and co at their best, Pochettino’s greatest trick in the last four years has been to turn pretty-but-soft, lads-it’s-Tottenham Spurs into one of the best defensive sides in the league.

Spurs have conceded three or more goals in a Premier League game only four times in the last three and a bit seasons – twice last season against Manchester City, and also in final-day banters against Newcastle and Leicester.

After conceding 53 goals in Pochettino’s first campaign, Spurs have had the joint best, best and third best defensive records in the three seasons that followed.

This season, though, the defence has looked worryingly brittle, with the only clean sheet thus far coming in a 3-0 win at Old Trafford that already looks odds-on to be the season’s oddest outlier when we look back at early results next May.

But while the number of goals conceded hasn’t been too alarming, the manner of them has been. They have been bafflingly weak on crosses, with five of the six Premier League goals they’ve conceded coming from headers.

More worrying still is the trend to ship more goals soon after conceding a first, which points to the speed with which confidence has drained from this team.

Spurs have always been slightly guilty of this even at their best – think last season’s Wembley turnarounds against West Ham in the Carabao Cup and more importantly Juventus in the Champions League – but it’s already happened twice this season and it’s not yet October.

Much has been made of Spurs losing three consecutive games under Pochettino for the first time, but they led two of those games with an hour on the clock. Both times the equaliser led to panic; both times it was no surprise to see emboldened opponents grab a winner.

It was more luck than judgement that Roberto Firmino’s second goal for Liverpool wasn’t followed by more last weekend, while Spurs have also been fragile after scoring; although they eventually beat both Newcastle and Fulham, in both games they allowed a swift equaliser after taking the lead.

 

5) The Wantaways
Failing to bring in any players was always going to be a risky strategy. Failing to do so after watching so many key players reach the final weekend of the World Cup was downright reckless.

Yet the root cause of Spurs’ summer transfer woes was the errors made in previous years. The failure to offload your Janssens, N’Koudous and Sissokos left the squad too bloated. Spurs are not a petrodollar club who can afford to stockpile unused footballers. They needed to make space in the squad and didn’t do so.

Just as importantly, they also failed to cash in on those who wanted to leave and could have brought in significant transfer funds.

Toby Alderweireld, Danny Rose and Mousa Dembele all appeared certain to leave Spurs in the summer. All stayed, yet none of their situations is truly resolved. Alderweireld can still leave on the cheap next summer, Dembele is still out of contract at the end of the season and Rose’s future remains uncertain.

They are quality players and all have featured this season. They have not been at their best, but are far from alone in that regard in this Spurs squad.

It’s encouraging that Pochettino’s apparent feud with Alderweireld in particular has cooled sufficiently for the player to be reintegrated in the first team. But in a squad whose fragile success has been built on unity and togetherness, this could come at a cost.

 

Dave Tickner