As we reach the halfway stage in the 2015/16 season and with the January transfer window forthcoming, there have been many surprises in the Premier League this season. Leicester being top at Christmas, Chelsea trying to steer clear of the relegation battle, Manchester United and City showing massive inconsistencies. This has led to a lot of attention being taken away from Tottenham, who sit in fourth, as defensively solid and consistent as anyone this year. How far can this team continue to develop under Pochettino’s leadership, and how much can they realistically be looking to achieve this year?
Most important to Tottenham’s rise this year was the aforementioned defensive solidity. In the 2014/15 season under Pochettino, calamitous defensive displays led to Tottenham having one of the worst goals conceded columns in the league, conceding 53 goals. Games against big teams were littered with defensive mistakes, as seen in capitulations against Liverpool, Man City and Chelsea. With performances like these all too common, something that occurred before Pochettino arrived as well, a 5th place seemed the ceiling for Tottenham. However, this season, Tottenham have the best defensive record in the Prem. This is a combination of the spine of the team staying the same, the acquisition of Alderweireld and Poch’s philosophy. His belief in the high press means Tottenham win the ball back constantly in good areas of the field. The transformation of Eric Dier into a central midfielder, who anchors the midfield in front of the defence in a no nonsense fashion, makes the two centre backs job easier. In conjunction with a successful anchor and the world class Lloris, the two centre backs have managed to repel and shut out some of the leagues most potent attacking players. One of the centre backs, Toby Alderweireld was signed having had a successful loan spell at Southampton in 2014/15 and an already working relationship with Vertonghen, having played with him for the Belgian national team and at Ajax. Alderweireld is arguably one of the signings of the season, producing many fine displays and bringing the best out of his partner, Vertonghen. Without this new found defensive solidity, Tottenham would not be in the position they are approaching the January transfer window.
Furthermore, Pochettino has a young team, full of belief, that buys into his system. This was only achieved this season, after spending the first few transfer windows of his tenure getting rid of those who don’t buy into the system. Credit to Pochettino and his scouting team on bringing in the likes of Alli and Dier, but praise should also be directed to the academy which produced Kane and Mason amongst others. The young Tottenham team have not only had the youngest starting XI over the course of the season, the trust Pochettino puts in the young players is repaid through the execution of his system. The high press they employ means Tottenham’s players tend to cover more ground than most in games. The system also allows the creative players to play with the freedom to excel, but also to stay disciplined and work as a unit. Without this mutual trust and respect between the managers and players, the results would suffer as the players would not feel they were in an environment to flourish. For example, Erik Lamela struggled with injury under AVB and Sherwood in his first season and put in some abject displays, leading fans to write him and his club record transfer fee off as a waste. However, in the two years under Pochettino, Lamela has grown and grown, becoming one of Tottenham’s most creative players, and putting in impressive performances such as the hat trick vs Monaco and at Vicarage Road against Watford. It’s easy to admit, if AVB or Sherwood were still at the helm, Lamela’s days as a Spurs player would have been over by now. If Pochettino’s system was not so easy to buy into, and the players not be such a quality fit, Tottenham would probably be competing for a Europa League place at best.
A combination of Tottenham’s defensive solidity, something Spurs fans have been asking for, and also identified as a barrier to regularly being in the top 4, and Pochettino’s clever transfer work and his philosophy, have led to them being in the top 4 at Christmas. Finding themselves only 4 points off of top place has led to questions as to whether they can challenge for the title, which doesn’t seem unreasonable given their form. In the long term, if Pochettino can keep the spine of his team, and let them grow together, in a few years Tottenham could be a force. However, for now, Pochettino and his young team should be concentrating on establishing themselves as regular participants in the Champions League.