They may have breezed through in the FA Cup, but the 3-0 win over Fulham ended a pretty ropey week for Spurs.
Beaten by Liverpool, and losing the first leg of a Europa League clash they don’t really want to be in, Spurs needed a pick-me-up. Harry Kane’s hat-trick did that, but I reckon Spurs are a team stuck in the middle.
I feel a bit of an affinity for Spurs. I don’t support a specific team. I haven’t done for five years now (long story, which most people who know me closely are aware of), but Spurs are a side I’ve always had a soft spot for.
It started after Italia 90 I guess, when Gazza and Gary Lineker were among the England heroes who reached the last four. Sitting with two Spurs fans either side of me in my last job also helped. There’s something about them, and their propensity for snatching failure from the jaws of success is something I feel an empathy towards. Mercurial players have always been a big part of life at White Hart Lane and that gives them a touch of magic.
But here’s the thing – Spurs have got good now. Very good – but somehow they keep coming up short. They came third in a two-horse title race last year. For all of the glamour of Leicester City’s title win, Spurs really had their best chance to win the title in decades. Yet they not only blew it, they managed to blow up so spectacularly that the Arsenal fans still got to have their St Totteringham’s Day.
Spurs are so close, but they need to go to the next level. But what is currently their greatest strength is what is most definitely their greatest weakness as they look to push on.
Spurs’ strength is their starting XI, which is definitely in the top two in the Premier League. There’s not a lot of players in other first-choice XIs who you would say could improve those players who make up Mauricio Pochettino’s side.
But that means the problem is that when Spurs want to improve their squad, you either have to be an exceptional talent to dislodge one of those in that first XI, or be happy being on the bench. When the transfer window is open, Spurs aren’t being linked with the elite players, and their improvement in recent years means that despite their stature, impressive new stadium and excellent squad, they are still viewed as less of a draw than sides they have finished above for a few seasons.
Pochettino has shown in the past few years that he can improve players and sell them on for a profit – as Southampton and one of those clubs Spurs keep finishing above can testify. But now he’s at a club that doesn’t want to be a selling club. It’s a club who wants to challenge for the title, go far in the Champions League and maybe even reach a first FA Cup final for the first time in 26 years.
And that’s why the likes of Georges-Kevin N’Koudou are finding it tough to make the breakthrough, as Clinton N’Jie did before him. Moussa Sissoko is a decent player, but the only other competition for his vastly overpriced move were Everton. Spurs are now higher than that level – that top half, challenging for Europe mentality is what they had, but now they need to push on.
In attack is their biggest problem area. Kane is magnificent, and keeps on getting better. He is the perfect fit for Spurs’ shape and formation, but as soon as he is out, they have nowhere to turn. Vincent Janssen arrived from the Dutch league with a big reputation, but the expectation was for him to hit the ground running – but only as a back-up. Kane’s early season injury gave him a chance, but he’s not the first man to find the step up to the Premier League tough going – and now he is left feeding off rare appearances from the bench to try and build up some confidence.
But that goes back to the same problem for Spurs. Who are they going to get in to provide competition for Kane or who would be happy playing second fiddle to him? It’s a big issue as their results away at the other big clubs are what is ultimately holding them back.
It’s a problem I’m sure Pochettino and those in the Spurs hierarchy are desperate to solve – and one they’ll definitely want fixed by the time their new stadium is completed in 2018…