Spurs Find Themselves At A Crossroads
For Tottenham Hotspur 2018/2019 was an odd campaign.
They said goodbye to White Hart Lane but emerged into a brand new, awe-inspiring, home that was the envy of Europe.
They finished one point above Arsenal for a third consecutive season, but they were some distance from title challengers Liverpool and Manchester City. They reached the Champions League final but were bested by Jurgen Klopp’s side during a frustrating evening in Madrid during which they fell behind after two minutes.
The summer has had that same odd contrast. Tottenham broke their transfer record to sign Tanguy Ndombele and later captured Giovanni Lo Celso. The glow created by those arrivals has dimmed with talk of departures, however, most notably Christian Eriksen.
Eriksen is a difference-maker for Spurs in the final third. He opened the scoring on Sunday against Arsenal before Harry Kane added a second from the spot. A memorable derby day victory seemed assured. Then the Gunners awoke, and goals from Alexander Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang restored parity. And so returned those conflicting feelings.
It sounds ludicrous to talk about the title race in September, but Spurs currently sit 7 points behind league leaders Liverpool. Overcoming that deficit is not impossible, but the concern for Pochettino will be the lulls in performance during the early season. Liverpool have enjoyed a perfect start to the season. Man City, in second, have only dropped two points, against Spurs of all teams.
In both cases, the form of last season has carried over. The same could be said of Spurs, but not in a good way, with Pochettino’s side once again appearing stifled by a low block.
The transfer window allowed for teams to address weaknesses. Pep Guardiola has been assertive in the market, signing only a handful of first-team players. In Rodri, the club have addressed a lack of depth and now have someone that can rotate with Fernandinho in central midfield.
Klopp has opted to trust Liverpool’s youngsters, and as such has only added Harvey Elliott, Sepp van den Berg and a pair of back-up goalkeepers.
Regardless of their contrasting approaches, neither team appears to have a glaring weakness.
The same is not true of Spurs. Where the full-back position was once a symbol of strength, it currently appears a weakness. On Sunday, in the absence of Kyle Walker-Peters, the right-back role was filled by central defender Davinson Sanchez. The Colombian looked uncomfortable in his new role, although he has been far from convincing at centre-back this season. It was his poor marking that allowed for Newcastle’s winning goal the previous week.
At left-back, Danny Rose was reportedly deemed surplus to requirements this summer and joined a growing list of players linked with an exit, including Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen, Serge Aurier and Eriksen. Vertonghen and Alderweireld are in the final year of their contracts, and to lose both next summer would be a massive blow. Vertonghen is club captain but was surprisingly dropped for the Newcastle game without indication as to why.
It was hardly the ideal preparation for a North London Derby.
On Sunday, Pochettino told reporters this had been the most challenging period of his five years at Tottenham. He added that he would organise a party after the close of the international transfer window. This comes a month after the 47-year-old suggested his job title be changed to reflect that he does not have the inside track on the club’s transfer dealings.
It is not just Tottenham’s players that are shadowed by speculation, but their manager too. Real Madrid and Manchester United have both been admirers of Pochettino and talk of him leaving is never extinguished. After Spurs amazing comeback against Ajax in Amsterdam in May Pochettino joked that a win in the final might be the precursor to him leaving the club.
When given a chance to clarify those remarks, he only appeared to confuse things further.
It has left fans questioning if drastic change is coming soon. For so long the club has been striving upwards, driving forward, but right now it feels as if the car is parked and everyone is considering things. Just as the celebrations after Amsterdam could not last forever, neither can this brilliant project that Pochettino has overseen. Spurs are at a crossroads, and it’s hard to tell which direction is the right one.