Premier League Club Recap 2019/20: Tottenham Hotspur

As the Premier League gears up for a return this month, we equip you with an in-depth view of everything about Tottenham Hotspur and their season so far.

Tottenham Hotspur are arguably one of the biggest underachievers among elite clubs in English football. The north London giants aren’t as successful as their arch-rivals Arsenal, having won just two English top-flight titles. Although they have secured eight FA Cup titles, they are yet to win a league title in the twenty-first century.

While success has always eluded Tottenham in their recent history, they are currently regarded as one of the best teams in Europe. Over the past five years, under the leadership of Mauricio Pochettino, they missed out on the Champions League only once, and that happened in 2015, in the Argentine’s first season in charge.

Last season, Tottenham enjoyed one of the most successful campaigns in the club’s history, finishing fourth in the Premier League while reaching the final of the UEFA Champions League. They lost out to champions Liverpool by a narrow 1-0 margin.

That being said, the story has slightly shifted this season, and with Pochettino gone, Spurs are currently in huge trouble, fueled further by the economic devastation brought in by the Coronavirus. But with football returning this midweek, there might be a ray of hope for the north London giants in the near future.

Tottenham Hotspur’s Season So Far

Prior to the start of the campaign, expectations on Tottenham Hotspur were sky high, especially following a successful 2018/19 season that saw them reach the final of the UEFA Champions League.

However, Mauricio Pochettino’s men endured a rusty start to the campaign, winning just two of their first five Premier League matches. It was followed by an equally disappointing run of form that saw them register just two wins from September to early November.

Bloom, Gloom and the pending doom? (Picture Courtesy - AFP/Getty Images)
Pochettino’s sacking was a controversial decision from the Spurs board. (Picture Courtesy – AFP/Getty Images)

The Lilywhites struggled with their lack of consistency in the defensive department, with the players failing to act as a disciplined unit. Injuries also played a key role, with marquee signing Tanguy Ndombele, in particular, missing a chunk of the season due to his fitness issues.

Spurs’ dismal start to the Premier League campaign not only ruled them out of the title race but it also exerted pressure on the management to make swift decisions. They eventually sacked Pochettino on November 19, appointing Jose Mourinho as his successor the following day.

Mourinho enjoyed a rather promising start to his Spurs chapter, winning four of the first five league matches. His new identity helped the club steer through a challenging holiday period, although the defeats to Manchester United and Chelsea in December might have not have tasted well for Mourinho on a personal level.

Since the turn of the year, however, Tottenham have looked a little frantic. While they did notably beat Manchester City, there has been a lack of identity and team spirit. As a result, they are coming into this month on the back of a three-game winless streak that included yet another disappointing defeat to Mourinho’s former club, Chelsea.

The north London giants are still pretty much in contention to qualify for Europe next season, having secured 41 points on the board. But, they need to quickly find their identity and produce results if they are to finish above clubs like Manchester United, Wolves and Arsenal this campaign.

The Manager: Jose Mourinho

Jose Mourinho had established himself as arguably the most intriguing football pundit at Sky Sports before he joined Tottenham Hotspur in November. His eye-catching analyses had already gone viral on YouTube, which had perhaps played a key role in the media portraying him in a more favourable way.

Regardless of the media coverage, Mourinho’s arrival at Spurs meant that the board was now looking for some stability. He is, after all, one of the most successful managers in the current generation, having notably won three Premier League and two UEFA Champions League titles.

So essentially, Mourinho was brought in to not just provide stability but also help the club usher in a trophy-laden, post-Pochettino era. His charm, experience and lucid nature were ideal ingredients for the Lilywhites in their bid to do so.

The 57-year-old is yet to be involved in any controversy for his new club. But, openly criticising new signing Tanguy Ndombele earlier this year has certainly brought question marks over his long-term future, with the player now being reportedly courted by Barcelona among many others.

Tactics & Playing Style

Transition play and passing in between the lines are two things that have been valued by Mourinho throughout his managerial career. And it was no different when he joined Tottenham as he immediately injected a more direct approach.

Spurs’ idea under Pochettino was to create chances using quick interplay, with systemic build-up from the back. The full-backs, in that regard, played a key role in transitioning from defence to attack whilst providing width in the final third. That has changed, to an extent, under Mourinho, with the club now more willing to feed direct balls into the feet of the attackers.

Back in the game. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)
Back in the game. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

Toby Alderweireld is one key element in this system as the Belgian is capable of finding those laser-passes from the back. In addition, Harry Winks has become a vital cog in midfield, often combining with a fellow midfielder to forge the double-pivot in the centre of the park.

The English international is extremely effective when it comes to distributing possession with short, calculated passes. It makes Tottenham much more composed on the ball. However, the lack of a reliable partner, especially with Tanguy Ndombele struggling, has left Mourinho devoid of any proper ball-carrier.

The urgency and the aggression that are synonymous with Mourinho’s defence-oriented tactical setup has been missing. That means they are now less willing to win back possession after losing the ball while the players have also appeared very ineffective with their tactical fouls.

Nevertheless, there have been some improvements in the build-up, especially with Serge Aurier given a more advanced role.

The Ivorian has the license to move up the pitch and operate along the right flank, with the right-winger, usually Lucas Moura, moving in centrally to provide support to the likes of Harry Kane and Son Heung-min. The left-back, in contrast, is given a deeper role, which comes as no surprise as Mourinho has options like Jan Vertonghen, Japhet Tanganga and Ben Davies.

Squad Overview

The myriad of problems Tottenham Hotspur have faced this season has left their squad lacking chemistry and composition.

Starting from the goalkeeper position, Hugo Lloris has suffered a dismal campaign, partly marred by an injury that saw Paulo Gazzaniga receive a handful of appearances. The Argentine did a decent job, but it will be surprising to see Spurs not settling for a new goalkeeper this summer.

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 28: Hugo Lloris of Tottenham Hotspur reacts during the Premier League match between Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur at The King Power Stadium on November 28, 2017 in Leicester, England. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)
Not the best of seasons for Lloris. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

The defence has also underperformed, starting with Jan Vertonghen. The veteran defender has suffered with fitness problems and lack of game-time. Even his compatriot Toby Alderweireld has failed to provide the consistency just like his defensive partner Davinson Sanchez while Juan Foyth has found it difficult to impress Mourinho.

Japhet Tanganga has been the only real spark in an otherwise dire campaign for Tottenham. There has been a slight improvement in the performance of Serge Aurier, however, although Ben Davies, on the opposite flank, has been miserable.

Moving on, Spurs have a broken midfield unit that lacks the presence of an experience ball-carrier. Tanguy Ndombele has been a disaster since joining from Lyon while the likes of Eric Dier, Moussa Sissoko and Gedson Fernandes have either struggled with form or injuries.

As a result, Tottenham have appeared over-reliant on the services of Winks. The Englishman has shown tremendous work-ethic and has visibly improved under Mourinho. However, the lack of a reliable partner has been rather evident in the club’s form this season.

And finally, in attack, the north London giants have a plethora of talented players, who are more than capable of making an impact. Yet, the likes of Lucas Moura and Dele Alli have not exactly been able to live up to the standards while Ryan Sessegnon and Erik Lamela have not received regular game-time.

New signing Giovani Lo Celso has done reasonably well and has arguably been Tottenham’s best attacker since the turn of the year. Even January signing Steven Bergwijn has enjoyed a promising start to his career in England, but the absence of Son Heung-min and Harry Kane has undeniably crippled Spurs’ offensive output.

Marquee Player: Harry Kane

Kane is the undisputedly the most important player in the Tottenham Hotspur side at the moment. Regarded as one of the best strikers in world football, the English international has been consistently scoring goals in the Premier League over the past six years.

No Harry Kane for Tottenham (Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images)
Harry Kane is an indispensable figure for Tottenham and Mourinho. (Photo by Adrian Dennis/AFP via Getty Images)

His productivity in front of goal has been critical for a Spurs side which especially lacks depth in the offensive department. As a result, the Lilywhites have visibly struggled without Kane since the turn of the year, with the likes of Lucas Moura and Dele Alli not being able to provide the goods.

Even from a tactical perspective, Kane’s ability to move into deeper areas of the pitch and link-up with fellow attackers plays a vital role in Mourinho’s philosophy. It offers his teammates additional space to run into while the forward’s aerial and physical prowess make him a tailor-made fit for the Premier League.

Kane is, however, experiencing an underwhelming campaign despite scoring 11 goals in just 20 league matches. He has been out injured since early January due to a muscle problem.

But, fortunately for Mourinho, the striker appeared in the friendly defeat against Norwich City, meaning he is now in contention to start when the Premier League returns this week.

One For The Future: Japhet Tanganga

Japhet Tanganga is currently the most in-demand young player at Tottenham right now. A product of the club’s youth academy, the youngster rose to prominence earlier this year with his performances against Liverpool and Southampton.

A centre-back by trade, Tanganga is a versatile defender who can also operate as a full-back. His defensive commitment and tight marking have already impressed the onlookers, with Mourinho seemingly willing to consider him as a reliable first-team option.

Tanganga has already featured in 11 competitive matches so far this campaign. He is also tipped to play a key role during the remainder of the season, especially if we consider Spurs’ apparent lack of reliable defensive options.

Moreover, the 21-year-old Englishman is almost destined to enjoy a more prominent role in Tottenham side next season, with Jan Vertonghen’s contract expiring at the end of the summer. However, a lot could depend on how Tanganga performs in the upcoming fixtures.

Writer’s Column

There is no doubt about the fact that Spurs are in desperate need of reinforcements in every department of the pitch. Especially in the defensive unit, Mourinho lacks the presence of an experienced centre-back as well as full-backs that play a crucial role in his tactical system.

Moreover, the ex-Real Madrid boss is yet to actually inject his aggressive formula into the players, which has served as a key reason behind the club’s underachievement in the ongoing campaign. The urge and willingness to win the ball back have been clearly missing.

These are some aspects of Tottenham’s game the club must resolve if they are to successfully get themselves out of this mini-crisis. Hopefully, for the fans, the three months of footballing break has given Mourinho enough time to get his message across to the player.

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