Don’t tell me to look at the bigger picture. Not right now.
Let’s get a few things out of the way:
- I was not born in London.
- I have never been to London.
- I have not been a Tottenham Hotspur supporter all my life.
I was born and still reside within Milwaukee, WI, where the weather is often bad, the Milwaukee Bucks are largely irrelevant (until recently, maybe), the Green Bay Packers are often gooda��at least during my lifetimea��and in general, sports aren’t miserable on a yearly basis. Sure we’re not Boston, but we sure as hell ain’t Cleveland either. There is some joy to be had here.
So no, I most assuredly do not feel as sour about Tottenham crashing out of second and into third place over the final four weeks of the Premier League seasona��assuring they once again finished below their North London rivals, Arsenala��as the players, and particularly fans who’ve grown up living, breathing, and embracing that rivalry should be, or probably are. I am, however, quite displeased with how it came togethera��or rather, fell apart.
And right now, I don’t want to hear anything about the bigger picture. I’m talking to you, Harry Kane. Currently, I’m looking at the bigger picture with the Milwaukee Brewers as they go through a long-overdue rebuild. If I gave a damn about basketball, I would have been looking at the bigger picture of whatever it is the Bucks have been doing for the better part of the past 20 years. But this season had been largely different for so long with Tottenhama��until it kind of wasn’t anymore.
Yes, they’ll be in the Champions League next season, where the competition is fierce and nothing is certain. But this is a club who lost to relegated Newcastle not once, but twice. And friends, Sunday’s 5-1 destruction at the hands of the Toons was about as miserable a match as any Hotspur supporter could have imagined. Three of Newcastle’s five goals came with 10 men on the pitch. How in the hell does a club who for the most part, played some of the most attractive football all seasona��boasting the best defensive record, goal difference, and so ona��go to Newcastle, where their club had virtually nothing to play for, and get embarrassed like that?
Then again, this is the same club who dropped 20 points (twenty!) from winning positions this season. This is the same club that gave away leads in three of their final four matchesa��two of which were at homea��and didn’t win a single one. This is the same club whose manager fielded far lesser sides against Arsenal in the Capital One Cup and Borussia Dortmund in the Europa League (you cannot tell me with a straight face they didn’t fold in that competition) to focus on the leaguea��where the champions topped them by 11 points.
Mauricio Pochettino has done exceptional work. He converted Eric Dier from a center back to one of the more effective holding midfielders in the league. He had the youngest squad in the EPL and kept them sharp and fit through his rigorous training sessions throughout the season. They played excellent football under Pochettino; Danny Rose was a revelation, and in general, the players love him.
He deserves praise for what he’s done since taking over, but that doesn’t exempt him from criticism when things fall apart like they did over the final month. Regardless of whether the mentality is correct here, telling fans/the club that Tottenham finishing above Arsenal isn’t important was a silly thing to do. This hadn’t happened since 1995, Poch; it meant a lot to plenty of people. Folding in other competitions when this season was arguably the best chance for Tottenham to win a trophy wasn’t ideal either. So please, don’t tell me to look at the bigger picture. Right now, that picture is uncertain.
Tottenham’s final four matches showed us plenty:
- Without Dele Alli, creativity was essentially non-existent.
- Without Mousa DembA�lA�, their midfield was overrun.
- Ryan Mason may have all the passion in the world, but he’s not a holding midfielder.
- Toby Alderweireld looked sharper with Kevin Wimmer next to him.
- There was no Plan B when things started going south.
- As Alexi Lalas would say, a�?set pieces.a�?
- The lack of squad depth is real.
To those last four points…
A) I don’t want to hear the a�?Belgian partnershipa�? narrative any longer. Jan Vertonghen is comfortable on the ball, but routinely fails to mark and is often late to react. He is solid overall, but shouldn’t be untouchable or guaranteed a spot in the starting XI every time out. I’d like to know what Wimmer did wrong in the two-plus months Jan was sidelined to be unceremoniously dropped immediately upon Vertonghen’s return.
B) Tottenham love to press and win the ball back. They hadn’t put it all together during the 2014-15 campaign, but this season their improvements were evident. Unfortunately, when they were the ones being pressured, matches tended to get away from them in spurts. Obviously every club and player is going to want time on the ball, space, etc… but you have to be able to cope with pressure when it’s presented. Tottenham were largely incapable of doing so, which was quite evident over the final month against each opponent.
C) Chelsea’s first goal en route to a 2-2 draw and West Brom’s equalizer the week prior came off poorly marked set pieces. Enough with the zonal marking, please. Leicester’s winner weeks ago came off a poorly marked set piece, as did West Ham’s winner the night Tottenham had their chance to go top in the league.
Yes mistakes like these happen to most clubs from time to time, but they shouldn’t be this consistenta��particularly when said club’s defensive record was so good for so long. The majority of these appeared to be easily fixable, schoolyard errors. Instead, Tottenham kept making the same mistakes over and over again. And finally…
D) With the bitter taste of the final four matches still lingering in my mouth, I look towards the summer not as hopeful as I was just a few weeks ago. The central midfield needs to be addressed, and it should start by letting Ryan Mason (sell him) and Tom Carroll (out of a contract) go. It should continue with Nabil Bentaleb being reinstated into the squad. Pre-season shenanigans aside, Bentaleb is a more effective player than Mason is.
But it can’t end there, and hopefully it won’t. Sure they’re building a new stadium, and yes Daniel Levy has almost always prioritized making a profit over investing in crucial squad needs, but I’d like to believe that isn’t quite the case anymore. So show me. Splash some cash into the central midfielda�� DembA�lA� and Dier cannot do it all when the other is absent. Maybe invest in an alternate winger. And please, for the love of Harry Kane bring in a true striker to back him up. I know this will be addressed, but the fact they went an entire season with one genuine striker in the squad was less than ideal at the time, and remained so throughout the campaign.
I’m not saying you need to buy countless players (we all saw what happened with the Bale money) and I’d rather not relive that. But squad depth is crucial, and the Lilywhites severely lacked in that department all season long. Nobody much cared when the goings were good, but when it got rougha��Dortmund, the final EPL stretcha��it got really rough.
As good as he is, you cannot count on Harry Kane to score 20-30 goals every league campaign, play in just about every match (including cups and Europe), and not figuratively die out there. You cannot count on DembA�lA�, who’s had numerous nagging injuries in the past, to remain fully fit for the majority of the season. Clearly Pochettino’s training methods have been working as I’ve rarelya��if evera��seen a fitter squad, but we know unlucky things can happen in an instant. Tottenham were pretty fortunate in that regard this season.
But whatever you do, stop apologizing to the fans for Sunday’s performance. I understand it’s standard manager and player speak, but most fans don’t care to hear that. They want to see it fixed. If you would have told me at the beginning of the season with no strings attached that Tottenham Hotspur were going to finish third, I would have hugged you and told you to seek helpa��because I care. I would have taken that and celebrated before a ball was even kicked.
But when things are going as well as they were, expectations shift.
So today, third place doesn’t feel nearly as successful as it should. They secured an automatic Champions League berth, but didn’t win anything. They unraveled down the stretch. For as great as the bigger picture looked for the majority of the season, the final four matches painted a grotesque contrasta��further enforcing that in this sport, above all others, nothing is guaranteed next season. So many things can change, and change quickly.
So please, don’t tell me to look at the bigger picture. Not for a little while longer, anyway.