It’s February 2014 and Tim Sherwood is into his third month as Tottenham’s manager after the sacking of André Villas-Boas. Spurs face a tricky round of 32 tie in the Europa League against Dnipro either side of a trip to Norwich. A depleted, yet fairly talented, squad full of big money signings should see this week of fixtures off fairly comfortably, right? Wrong. Spurs lose 1-0 in Ukraine before losing by the same score line at Carrow Road. They do redeem themselves with a 3-1 win at White Hart Lane against Dnipro but only after going a goal down and turning to Emmanuel Adebayor to dig them out, again. It is fair to say that Tottenham under Sherwood were a pantomime, especially the calling out of players after defeats and the ridiculous invitation to a Spurs fan to sit on the bench during a game.
Fast forward 18 months and Spurs seem to have left themselves short in the transfer window by not bringing in an out-and-out striker to play second fiddle to Harry Kane. The only viable options up front are Heung-min Son and Clinton N’Jie, neither of whom are experienced in the league and could take time to settle in. Failed attempts to bring Danny Ings (wanted to join Liverpool), Anthony Martial (signed a new deal) and Saido Berahino (Jeremy Peace’s tough negotiation coupled with an insulting opening offer from Daniel Levy) looked like it would cost Spurs from pushing for the objectives the rest of the squad was capable of achieving.
Now, by November 8th, Spurs have just played three games in six days and have managed to gain seven points. A 3-1 home win over Aston Villa on Monday 2nd was comfortable bar a wobble in the closing stages and a late 2-1 win over Anderlecht preceded the big one away to Arsenal, where Spurs have had little success over the years. Instead of lagging and stumbling through the game, Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham were efficient, energetic and almost triumphant. A first half Kane goal put Spurs ahead but Kieran Gibbs’ late equaliser left Spurs fans bitterly disappointed. That in itself shows just how far Tottenham have come in such a short space of time – and also highlights just how far this side can go under the Argentine. And to his credit, he has not moaned about the fixture pile up or poor scheduling once – just imagine José Mourinho being dealt the same hand.
Pochettino’s pressing game was not evident, bar a pre-season friendly, when he was appointed ahead of the 2014/15 season but now, with the squad he wanted, the philosophy is on show for all to see. Not many sides could cope with the busy fixture list that Spurs were dealt, although very few leagues would hinder their own sides to such an extent in Europe – but that’s another article in itself. The pressing system requires players to chase the ball and close men down for 90 minutes and several players completed 270 minutes – plus stoppage time – over the six day period; Hugo Lloris, Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen, Eric Dier and Kane. The latter two, especially, put in a lot of running each game in order to fulfil the philosophy. But that epitomises just what this current Spurs team is like, they’d run through bricks walls for each other, their manager and the supporters. As shown above, previous Spurs sides in the Premier League have struggled to manage consecutive games well and have always been seen as a flimsy, naïve and disorganised side with good players. Instead, Pochettino has transformed the side into strong, passionate, hungry and has improved several players beyond many people’s wildest imaginations.
The abuse the Spurs Twitter account received when Danny Rose signed a new contract in the summer of 2014 was horrific, with many writing the young left-back off as a disaster. Yet in the season that followed, Rose proved himself to be a fantastic left-back and was arguably Tottenham’s best defender that season. He continues to go from strength to strength and, for most, is the club’s best option at left-back.
Kyle Walker himself receives much criticism for his lack of ability to maintain the high standard he set in 2011/12, winning PFA’s Young Player of the Year at the end of that season. However, like Rose, Pochettino has transformed Walker into a constant 7/10 and above player rather than a 4/10 one week and a 9/10 the next. But then again, that sums up Spurs under Pochettino, consistent. The Argentine’s track record with full-backs continues, having drastically improved Nathaniel Clyne, Luke Shaw and Calum Chambers at Southampton – the trio selling for over £60million to top clubs.
The list could go on as long as your arm, Pochettino’s record speaks for itself. Despite being in England for just under three years, he has been responsible for the development of nine of the last 16 England debutants and this could become 10 from 17 should Dier feature during the upcoming international break. Dier, alongside Dele Alli, Ryan Mason, Erik Lamela, Kane and even Mousa Dembélé are amongst those that have flourished under Pochettino’s stewardship at White Hart Lane. A loss at Arsenal this weekend would not have been a bad result – occasion aside - considering the form the Gunners were in prior to their 5-1 mauling at Bayern Munich, but Pochettino was able to rotate his squad adequately enough throughout the week to ensure his players were at optimum fitness going into the game that meant the most for the club and the fans.
This project has begun to show merits over the past weeks, especially considering Spurs have now gone 11 games without losing a league fixture, the last loss being an own goal in a 1-0 defeat at Old Trafford on the opening day of the season. Spurs are much more resilient, much more reliable and a lot less ‘Spursy’. There will be blips along the road and there will be games where this young team can’t quite avoid defeat, but there is no doubt amongst fans, the club and even pundits or journalists that Pochettino has changed the club. Spurs now have a backbone that they have lacked for decades and, in the words of Pochettino himself, “we have no limit” with this young, hungry and talented squad. And, unlike any occasion in my lifetime, Spurs supporters feel connected to this group of players as if they too were fans.
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