The season is upon us. This is a preview. So pull up a chair and sprinkle some sugar on the popcorn (hopefully it will be our rivals chewing on the salty variant).
I've already crafted and published an article relating to depth but want to revisit some key areas of discussion, a natural continuation from the end of last season.
I'd like this to form a legend, something we can refer back to as a benchmark to gauge progress. Nothing overly scientific. Whether we sprout wings and fly or this ends up being nothing more than a heroic dose of magic mushrooms, it's the absolute of it all. Last season we had no certifiable expectancy. It came about thanks to...well, we all know the story.
This time there is an expectancy. So can we fly? I'm cautious not to jump off a building to test it and instead follow the guidance of the late great Bill Hicks and simply attempt to take off from the ground. I might be recycling this particular analogy. I guess whether we fly or just remain completely grounded, I'm hoping once again for something profound to happen.
Maybe last season was a fluke of circumstance allowing Leicester City to achieve the improbable and for us to redefine ourselves whilst failing gloriously (or not so depending on how you're wired). Regardless, it's ultimately changed the course of history for them and it's given us a foundation to build on that we've never had before. Not for decades. Fluke or not we can still consider a title challenge without laughing incessantly with accompanying foaming mouth.
I've categorised it into 5 sections with some very high level commentary.
Rotation and options
We need to retain momentum when transitioning from league to CL back to league. Most of our games are away from home post-CL group stage. This might suit us better with the counter attack in mind. We have an outstanding first eleven but need to be intelligent with how we protect key players (and avoid running them into the ground). Bolstering the centre-midfield area means we can swap and change without losing quality. Second striker absolutely pivotal with supporting Kane and giving us an alternative spearhead. We have a tighter squad than most - which is both an advantage (familiarity, fluidity) and a hindrance (fatigue, reliance on smaller pool of key players).
This is simply a continuation from last term. We had players slot in, disciplined and focused. This is thanks to training and preparation. It's not the case of Tottenham simply being greater than the sum of our parts. The players still make the telling difference but that difference is made collectively - a team in the truest sense. We need to produce a similar competitive culture that delivers the same standard of intensity again. Hunger to win, hatred to lose and the willingness to improve feeds into our ambitions and goals. The system facilitates the players and vice versa. Tottenham are finally using a glue that is super.
Evolution of Philosophy
Push and Press v2
Everyone knows what we're about which means there's no slow brooding surprise when opposing teams face us this time round. Our swarming pressing will no doubt be met by teams that will sit even deeper or possibly seek to pressure us with similar strategies. We won't change our style to unrecognisable levels, obviously. No overhaul. But we do need to adapt and evolve. This might happen naturally with players improving as individuals. We'll become more refined, much like we did from early last season into the new year. Having new players also means we have potential new outlets, fresh options in how we look to swagger and swashbuckle (be it less free-flowing than the days of Redknapp).
Promotion of youth
We have another generation waiting for their baptism of fire. Some are more prepared than others. For me, what remains important is that this cycle doesn't stop. Homegrown/academy products breathe constant life into the clubs ethos, generating pride and a sense of connectivity with the supporters. Obviously, the players have to be good but if they don't get given a chance we'll never know. It feels different to the more desperate days of O'Hara or Livermore. When we promote now, there's more astuteness to it. Although Kane was perhaps accidental, it's promising that the club are highlighting the kids that might just breakthrough and are introducing them without fear but equally so with utmost protection.
We drew far too many home games. It's why we didn't win the league. Our F-U attitude at Stamford Bridge was maddeningly gloriously dirty. Combine it (with a more controlled bullying, spiteful mode) with ruthlessness in games where we lead 1-0, then so many of our end of season wobbles matter less thanks to points already accumulated. We have to kill teams off and then kill the game off in terms of possession. Far too often last season we made hard work of it, inviting the opposition back into the game. This is problem we create for ourselves and one we have to fix to avoid occurrence.
The brilliant bounceback also helped build our pace in chasing top spot. We lost a game, we came back stronger - every time. This was the mark of a good side. The games we lost were often ones of regretful mistakes (again ones we take responsibility for). Don't make the mistakes, we won't lose those types of games and that makes all the difference.
Aside from the 5-1 and the 1-0 at Upton Park, it's hard to argue against the fact we were hardly ever outplayed (outplayed yes). Another trait we need to solidify once again.
This quote from Poch on the shambolic end to the season pretty much nails why we need to once more believe in ourselves above all the basic blocks that make up a top side:
"My feeling [after the Newcastle game] was, well you know, I wanted to kill them all. I didn't have the opportunity to kill them all though…..obviously I would kill myself too!"
"They did a lot of things [wrong]. Football is tactical, physical and technical, but it is more mental. More mental than it was years ago. Today to be strong in your mind and how we improve is very important.
"Then we need to know how we can improve our mental state. That is very important and I think that was key in the last few games of last season.
"To move on the team and improve to achieve another level it's here [points to head] that we need to improve, it's not tactical or our philosophy. After two years we know very well how we need to play, but it's here in our head that we need to improve."
Nails it. This is why it's vital we hold onto this coach and achieve something we can stick ribbons on. Tottenham proved they are now multi-layered. We need to repeat and retain the same ethics to stand any chance of truly progressing from contenders to (whisper it) champions. Even if the odds are stacked against us, we have to believe we're capable. Otherwise, what's the point? Might as well settle for 4th spot every season and turn into them lot down the round.
Key players and extra dimensions
I'm not fearful defensively. I think we have it pretty much covered although I would never say no to another centre-back. There is no possible way of predicting injuries and suspensions and had we more to select from (be it in midfield) towards the end of last season, we might have prolonged the title race a little further. I still adore Pochettino for fixing the defence. We have leadership and quality in experience and talent. Danny Rose, the beacon of proof that you can never claim to be Nostradamus when it comes to players that might turn it around (nobody believed Rose would). But what of the midfield and further up the field?
We need Erik Lamela to become the player we thought we signed. He's at that point now where he's gone through all the stages. Looked awkward and out of depth. Clumsy and over-eager. He adapted, changed to fit into the team and the style of the Prem. Plays to the instructions given to him. Perhaps he's too deliberate at times. Too physical. But slowly he's started to display sparks of individualism and confidence. Much like we worship a subtle Eriksen touch, Lamela has been equally effective. He just needs to be more influential for longer periods within a game or at least be more consistent as someone that can change a game (with regularity). Someone like Bale might be out of it for 89 minutes, then produce a moment of magic. I'm not saying we need him to be exactly like Bale, but we do need a catalyst that produces passages of play that are perhaps outside of our hard grafted drilled shape.
With Eriksen, firstly, we could all do with him signing a new contract. We could also do with an alternative. This is an interesting one because your gut instinct would be to desire another central attacking midfielder, similar to Christian, so we have a like-for-like replacement. Perhaps the robust way we evolve is to have an alternate way of transitioning from midfield to attack. So, in most games we build our tempo around Eriksen. Say he isn't playing and we have a less capable (but still bright) player in his place - rather than expect that player to pull the strings, the focus is pushed onto another. Say, for example, Lamela. We have to be durable here and at least we can all agree that we're not solely dependent on the single brain to rub together the grey matter. Unless we look to play the exact same way, regardless of the player in the key position (pushing responsibility to someone centrally with more experience). Although playing the exact way when you don't have a player that can ghost around like the Dane has this segment in the preview looping back to the start.
Interestingly, there was plenty of evidence last season that when Lamela is not present (subbed), our pace off the ball drops. Both players are important. That much is obvious. How do we line-up if neither are present will be one of the questions I'll be hoping to see answered.
Last season was Alli and Dier. Dembele woke up. Alderweireld proved to be a masterful addition. What of this season? We don't necessarily need some of the kids to break through (that would be nice). It might be that other players in the squad provide that little bit extra that alters the dynamics of selection. Of course, the likes of Alli and Dier haven't exactly peaked and a new player like Janssen or Waymana (both hardly footballing secrets) might pull the attention towards them whilst others quietly excel. However, it will always come back to Son (and perhaps one or two others that might or might not be sold). We are so reliant on 'new players', it's almost like we forget the ones we have can still aim to get onto a higher level of performance. Every player in the first team could breakthrough. That is testament to the consistency of quality in the squad and the expectancy the manager has from them not to sink into a culture of comfort that so often anchored us to mediocrity.
Fitness and end of season depletion / Poch curse fallacy
Poch teams collapse towards the end of each season. It's probably overly dramatic (especially as several teams can wobble after a long season). However, we have been light in depth towards the finale. We do run a stupendous amount of KM's. The 5-1 was wholly unacceptable regardless and Poch will have made sure the players don't surrender their mental mindset in such a calamitous fashion again. He'd also be aware of the fact that we had no way of retaining momentum. With the Champions League likely to suck out more physically and psychological energy, this season is already a different task to the previous one because the stakes are higher. I don't mind this. The players are so pumped up under Poch that they need to know they're being constantly tested. You can not risk standing still when running into strong winds. You need to pick yourself up if you do find yourself on the ground.
The transfers in will go someway of assisting many of the issues cited in this article, but for the most part, having quality replace quality from the bench will mean there is no excuse to capitulate from fatigue or whatever else might have happened to force us to switch off.
Also, last season, we started slowly. No reason to do so again this year. No overhaul. Just new additions. Slow start cost us (only with hindsight, it was unavoidable at the time as the team was forming into the monster it became). A good start this time round is pretty much imperative.
Devolution of Philosophy
As discussed, we can't just go out and be the exact same team as last season. I don't think this is possible. To be the same will mean being telegraphed by our rivals. Players will improve (they have to) and as a consequence so will the team. How Poch tweaks it (especially with the addition of Janssen and the possible selection headache in midfield) means that the standard required is already a couple of steps up from last seasons campaign. It's a threat, to be come stale and predictable. The players don't strike me as one that would allow it to happen because they're relishing the fight.
No secondary CAM
Lose Eriksen, we lose the nucleus. I'm repeating a positive here as a possible negative. We can speculate or base our ideas around last season. We won't know until we've played a few games and seen a variation or two of our starting eleven. Eriksen was at times ineffectual. I like to advocate that just because he appears to be quiet, doesn't mean he's having a quiet game (thanks to his movement, pulling players away and creating space). But his productivity can sometimes be low (his stats will say something different). Ignoring Opta and the rest, when you watch a game, you can more or less see if a player is having a good one or is not influential but still plays a key part. With Eriksen, the hope is that he dominates far more during the game and across many. It's an issue we have with a couple of our players. Good problems to have because the talent is very much evident (and so many of them are young). No Eriksen nucleus...and then what? There's the aforementioned alternate shape. We might need to wait until after the transfer window shuts and we've played ten games to understand this better. This ties in with what was already mentioned in 'Key players'.
The Harsh Truth of economics
The biggest high profile coaches have turned up in the Prem to leave the journalists drowning in their own juices. Sickly. It's going to be one massive cringe-fest. I don't care. I don't want us to be included in the Top Four punditry predictions. Some are going to find themselves in the same welcoming position Liverpool had when they could solely focus on the league (although they tripped up in the end). That's an almighty advantage.
When the 'super rich' are spending untold millions on wages and agent fees, you wonder what real chance anyone has if...* if * they hit the ground running. We can't compete with them on this particular financial front. But time and time again, we've contended on the field. The difference is, this time we have a solid base to push up from. What everyone is waiting for is further consolidation. If anything because, there are no guarantees in football. I still believe the Prem remains in flux, but a year or two from now...that flux might be gone and along with it our chances of keeping up. And I want to keep up. I want to be a nervous wreck during every single game. Last season was a crush course in what it feels like to actually be in contention and what real supporter pressure is. I loved it.
We (collectively) didn't expect to be in the top 4 at the start of last season. This time round, we've already been written off. Fans expect us to give it a go (rightly so). Perhaps we all know it could be a lot more difficult this time. Or, it might not be. Why stand around waiting for others to falter when all that matters is how we go about taking flight. Quietly and softly, the team and manager have to believe we can win the title again. That's enough to fuel it. Winning it, well, that's an accolade you get for finishing the job off. It it's beyond you, it's a harsh truth there's no escaping from. You want your team to the very best they're capable of. Where it gets messy is with perception. Are we doing enough (as a club) to back the coach? Is the coach good enough to guide us towards something that doesn't turn into a downward spiral? In everyone's ideal world, everyone would be good enough to win the league. Only one team a year is.
We want a cup. I want a cup. The domestic ones have been written off by most. Let's not pretend otherwise. But if we're going to cite tradition and history (winning silverware every decade since the 50s), then it would be nice for us to have another footnote in history. How we go about this will depend how far we're stretched in the league and the CL. I'm tentative about it and think our approach won't be too dissimilar to recent years.
Wembley. It is what it is. WHL is missing a corner and none of it is ideal but equally so it's impossible to avoid the move away. How the atmosphere shapes up inside could be impacted by day-tripping tourists. Or perhaps Spurs might set the place on vocal fire. One thing is for certain, the players will be 1000 times more up for it and immersed in the CL than when playing in the Europa. How much of distraction it will be remains to be seen, but it's easy to suggest we'd have problems because everyone has to step up a level. I don't see how, if we're playing strong teams in both the CL and league then ye olde momentum retains a sense of strength. The team and coach are under the right type of pressure to perform the right way. I honestly don't see a single negative with being involved in this competition. Players will be lusting for it. It's still a shame it won't be under the lights at the Lane (and perhaps some of that home territory shock and awe might be missed).
This blog along with the 'Unsocial Media' and 'Black Box...' articles were all scribbled down in Notes whilst returning from my summer holiday, stuck in the sky, four hours at around 35,000 feet. I'm unwell (ooh the humanity of it) and extremely busy, so I apologise for not sharpening up these articles before publishing. Excuse any typos/grammatical mares.
I will be back post-Everton.