Spurs have a huge problem obvious to all. Our manager, fairly or not, only trusts fourteen outfield players, one of whom (Rose) is injured and unlikely to return for several more weeks. He needs to trust at least four or five more if Spurs have any chance to progress in either of the cup competitions or to survive what could be the most intense battle ever for the three non-Chelsea spots in the Top Four.
It is time for several players to rise up and be counted.
Start at the back. I do not believe we will see the three in the back formation until Danny Rose is fully fit. The reasons are twofold—first, Ben Davies simply lacks the pace to play the wing role that Rose is so brilliant at. The risk of being exploited behind him is simply too great. Second, since Davies cannot play every game, nor can Jan Vertonghen, Kevin Wimmer would be called upon to fill in on the left, and as of this writing he is one of several players deep in the Pochettino doghouse. But Wimmer—or Cameron Carter-Vickers—or both will have to fill in at some point over the next month. Davies and Vertonghen cannot play every game.
On the right Kieran Trippier has proved his mettle, though it is like for like between he and Walker. What he lacks in the latter’s principal quality—speed—he more than makes up for with splendid crossing ability. The danger is Eric Dier—who has been inconsistent when asked to sub into the back four, except when occupying the right center spot in the three man back line. One can only hope than neither Alderweireld nor Vertonghen go down again, but given that we’ve lost each for substantial time already, odds are that at least one of them will miss some time.
The holding spots are the least of the worries—Dembele and Wanyama are always going to be the first choice. Winks and Dier are both capable alternatives in a cup or Europa game. Barring a serious injury, Poch can play this just the way he wants.
It’s the attack force where the gaping holes emerge. As of this writing only the troika of Dele, Eriksen and Son have consistently produced behind our talisman Kane. They can’t play every game. The gaffer trusts Sissoko enough to give him regular minutes—a place that the likes of Janssen, Nkoudou and Onomah have not yet earned. For all the hue and cry aimed at the Frenchman, in most games he supplies at the very least some pace and threat down the right wing, even if the final action has been vacant.
The others are a real worry, however. Janssen has either been left out of the squad entirely or been strapped to the bench for most of the last month. I would expect Kane to play today and then again at home vs Stoke on Sunday. But if Spurs advance past Gent (and this entire missive is Exhibit A of why perhaps they shouldn’t) tonight and the same vs Millwall, then three more fixtures will be added to March and April—Kane can’t play in all of them.
Nkoudou’s presence would be welcome because in Rose’s absence the left wing folds back—as Davies and Son don’t have the same pace necessary to play both ways or Poch is forced to try Dele over there which has produced mixed results. Onomah has simply not shown enough to think he will play any critical role in the remaining three months.
And then there’s the elephant in the room—one Erik Lamela. He’s been sidelined for over four months with a strange hip ailment and a swirl of stories/rumours including a dead dog, family problems back in Argentina, computer game addiction which affects his posture, a desire to return to Roma, and who knows what else. Poch has tried to keep a positive face about his fellow countryman, but one must wonder if we have seen the last of the enigmatic Argentine in a Spurs shirt. It’s been so long that one can almost forget how Lamela, more than any other forward, embraced the manager’s commitment to press, how Lamela could run rampant down the left wing, or strike from the inverted position, how Lamela could better the rather insipid corners and set pieces that Christian Eriksen has been delivering during most of his absence.
But he seems like just a memory these days.
If Spurs outlast the likes of Manchester United—thriving with a deep squad In four different competitions, having not lost for nearly three months, Arsenal—who despite their latest woes and Wengerian drama have always mounted a late run to Top Four “glory”, Manchester City—oozing talent, and Liverpool—with no cup distractions remaining and a squad regaining health—if Spurs can best two of that bunch it will take more than the fourteen outfield players who Pochettino currently trusts. Wimmer, Sissoko, Janssen, Nkoudou—and perhaps Lamela—have to contribute. It would be nice if one or two of them begin tonight.
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