One cannot blame Mourinho for the terrible squad imbalance hurting Tottenham
Teams are just that, they are a collection of individuals who work together in complementary ways toward a shared goal. For Tottenham Hotspur, the problem with the team is the imbalance of the squad that prevents complementary play and leads to consistent inconsistency. So where is the squad off and what can be done?
Spurs Defensive Limitations
Tottenham Hotspur have primarily played with a back four for nearly a decade, with such a clear style and approach, one would think a team as highly regarded as Tottenham would have plenty of cover. The reality is only ONE of the four backline positions is set and that is a big part of the problem. Spurs have 8 first-team defensive players, which seems a reasonable number until you realize five of them play the same position – right-sided center-half.
Toby Alderweireld, Eric Dier, Davinson Sanchez, Juan Foyth, and even Japhet Tanganga – do you know what they all have in common? Technically their best position is right-sided center-half. Jan Vertonghen, who clearly cannot keep up with young Premier League attackers anymore is the only true left-sided defender in the mix. Toby can play there, but is better on the right, Sanchez can but should NOT play on the left, which explains why Dier became the starter by default.
Now we hear about another defender possibly coming in and he too is a right-sided-center half, so the imbalance continues. If center-half is an embarrassment of too many people for the same position the exact opposite is true for the full-backs, where Tottenham are seriously lacking.
While we have seen Dennis Cirkin make the bench recently as did Ryan Sessegnon, the reality is Spurs only has TWO recognized first team full-backs – Serge Aurier and Ben Davies. Cirkin has yet to even debut for the first team and know one seems to know what is going to happen with Sessegnon or if he even plays defense.
Regardless, Tottenham sold Kierran Trippier in the summer and then loaned out Danny Rose in January and never replaced either player. What compounds things for the side is arguably Rose and Trippier were the better two full-backs and Aurier and Davies. Davies has serious limitations with athleticism and both Davies and Aurier have been known to make poor decisions, particularly under pressure and neither can seem to hit a good cross to save their lives. Bottom line, between the lack of fullbacks and the overabundance of right-sided-center-halves, Spurs defense is a mess in need of a major overall.
Tottenham Midfield Malaise
Just as Tottenham have failed to address the defense adequately leaving the team playing people out of position the same is very much true in the midfield as well. At the pinnacle of the Mauricio Pochettino era Spurs were known for stingy defense and a lightning-quick attack.
Those two ingredients really hinged – more than anyone clearly realized – on one position more than any other – the single pivot.
Let’s face it when Spurs have one player who can control the defense in the pivot sitting deep in the foot of the backline the team is better off. When two players are there, space gets limited and the ball just does not move.
The problem is the two best players at that position are no longer with the club as both Mousa Dembele and Victor Wanyama have been sold over the last year and much like Trippier were never actually replaced. Now I know Wanyama seemed to be finished with Spurs and Dembele needed his own ward to stay healthy – but both brought some steel to the Spurs lineup that has been sorely lacking ever since.
While I like Harry Winks guile and he can manage the single-pivot against finesse teams and the bottom half, when it comes to the top tier of football, Spurs don’t currently have anyone who can get that job done alone, meaning time and again the team is stuck with two deep-lying midfielders and no few outlets for advancement.
Just as the defensive side of the midfield was ignored as players left the club, it seems management forgot one thing as they brought more players in, which is how to pass. Gedson Fernandes, Giovani Lo Celso, Steven Bergwijn, Tanguy Ndombele, do you know what they all have in common? They all like to dribble the ball. What is more, so do Erik Lamela, Heung-Min Son, and Lucas Moura – whereas the one midfielder who could eye that pass is now in Italy.
So, this leaves some seven attack-minded midfielders to essentially play 3 positions, and most of the time out of position at that. Moura is not a CAM, Lo Celso is not a wing, Fernandes is not a striker the problems go on. If the team continues to sign talent rather than players and add names and not cohesion the problems will continue.
Spurs Forward Frustration
As if the imbalance in the midfield and defense was not bad enough the forward situation is frankly the worst of any position at the club, as there is only one – Harry Kane – recognized striker on the club. This is not a new problem it is a recurring problem that frankly the club has not addressed since Jermaine Defoe left. Soldado was no cover for Adebayor, just as he was not cover for Kane.
Spurs tried, but never really developed Vincent Janson, then they had someone who fit the team, like the club, and could impact games late in Fernando Llorente, but the team failed to bring him back to save a couple of million dollars. I wonder how much more is saved, I mean lost, by not making Europe. Since Kane has broken through the team has failed time and again to find real cover.
This hurts because no one is pushing Harry Kane and that shows, but that is a different story. Bottom line is Pochettino and Levy did a number on this squad and it may take all 3 years of Mourinho’s contract to fix it, particularly given the Spurs penchant to not spend big. Let’s hope between the youth and Mourinho’s magic something can be figured out.