GameDay 15: Spluttering Spurs
The difference between when I was writing consistently and the several weeks that I could not write due to damaging my hands is that in that break, the wheels came completely off the Tottenham Title Pushing bus. The record at the break was Won 6 Drawn 2 Lost 1, which was good, but in the five games I did not report, Spurs lost 3 drew 1 and squeaked by a win against lowly Crystal Palace. On Saturday Spurs dropped more points in a 1-1 draw against Watford, but this time from a more self-inflicted wound as Spurs centre-half Davison Sanchez needlessly elbowed a Watford player and got sent off. If a team cannot win these days with 11 players on the field, one does not expect much with 10 players on the field. At least this time they did hold on to draw. Tottenham's manager blamed the poor run on Spurs starting slow, but that does not hold water. Manchester City (now having won 13 straight games) have recently started slow but ground now three 2-1 wins in a row.
The reality of this poor form is two-fold.
First is the loss of defender Toby Alderweireld to injury and when Toby is out, Spurs win percentage has consistently dropped. He holds the backline and with the support of his fellow Belgian defender Jan Vertonghen - create a formidable fortress. The chief reason for that solid backline is that both Belgian defenders are world-class but the team needs Toby. Spurs got lucky that Toby Alderweireld played for Southampton when Pochettino managed them, and so that prior relationship factored into Toby choosing Tottenham.
The second reason is the back room squabble between Pochettino and left-back Danny Rose. It is now clear with Pochettino only intermittently playing Rose and sometimes leaving him out of the team all-together that he may be leaving the club in January. It is disingenuous for Pochettino to say that he is focused on squad rotation and working on making sure Danny Rose is back to peak fitness following a long lay off. Pochettino is a strict disciplinarian but in the case of Rose, the poor relationship seems to be rubbing off on the team. The irony of the moment is that Spurs are now being quoted as "playing like Arsenal", while Arsenal (whose form has vastly improved) are now being quoted as "playing like Tottenham".
There is no question that Poch has some world class type players and other players who have the potential to become world class. Now his evolution as a manager requires him to become a world-class manager. That distinction won't be given to him until he finally begins to win silverware. It is no good sounding off disciplined philosophy, if the philosophy isn't leading to winning hardware. Pochettino has managed clubs that fell into the bottom of three of a division and in the last couple of years he has managed Spurs into the top 3, but his resume lacks hardcore success and equally a winning record against the Top 6. Only Arsenal have a worse record against the Top 6 teams. Liverpool have the best but like Tottenham, they have been slipping up against mediocre opposition.
Whether this is a blip or a freefall remains to be seen. This latest period of vulnerability is notable only because of highly sports writers think of Pochettino and Tottenham's new found fortitude and skills. It is good to remind ourselves that over the last several decades, Tottenham fans would be dreaming of the kind of team that Pochettino and Levy has now put together, but such is the new level of belief, Tottenham fans are finally expecting more from this club and especially more before they move into the new White Hart Lane ground. The one bit of good news is seeing Argentinian Erik Lamela back in the team. Lamela like Tottenham comes with great expectations but has only shown brief glimpses of his much vaunted talent.
The next home game against Stoke City will be the measure if this current Spluttering Spurs is a blip or something to genuinely become worried about. Normally a game against Watford would be assumed to be in the win column even if they now have a world class player in Richarlison. For now being that Sanchez was sent off, Spurs can take the draw and maybe even look forward to introducing young Argentinian Juan Foyth to get a full debut in Spurs defense. If Foyth plays nothing short of having Danny Rose on the subs bench would indicate that whatever this period of poor performance was, that it will be yesterday's news.