In his first year as Tottenham Manager, Maurico Pochettino talked often of a change in mentality at the club. His rhetoric was in recognition of the obvious flaws within both the tactical and mental approach of former Spurs managers and their squads. Last year saw a difficult start with Spurs taking their eyes off the ball late in games, sometimes literally. Fast-forward to this season and pulling a Tottenham no longer carries the self-imploding negativity it was so often formerly associated with. Tottenham’s most recent match was a draw at home to Chelsea 0-0, and many fans left White Hart Lane feeling disappointed that Spurs didn’t walk away with more. Tottenham had more shots, more shots on goal, nearly 60% possession and forced Chelsea to play with what could have been interpreted as a back six. Expectations have been steadily rising match after match as Spurs are proving that on any given week in the Premier League they can go toe to toe with the best in England. There are clear signs that Pochettino’s choice to initially focus heavily on the mentality of the club was spot on and Spurs are reaping the benefits. It’s December 4th 2015, 14 games into the Premier League season and Spurs have lost once, yes once, and it came from a Kyle Walker own goal on the opening day of the campaign, away at Old Tratfford. Less talked about but equally impressive is that Spurs have only lost three times in all competitions and sit comfortably qualified in the group stage of the Europa League with a game to spare.
A lot can be attested to the shoring up of the back four along with a complete change in approach to each match. Spurs have long been known for an uncanny ability to crumble under pressure whether in one match or over the course of an entire Premier League season, but this has changed. Consistency in the defense has seen Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld form arguably the best centre half pairing in the league and has Spurs with the second best defensive record having only conceded eleven goals. Pochettino has the squad understanding, and more importantly willing and wanting to do the tough things it takes to win in the Premier League. As a team, defending comes first and it starts from the front. Tottenham’s high pressing style and ability to win the ball back high up the pitch has given them not only a defensive solidity throughout the starting eleven but also given the opportunities to seize games and shift momentum at any moment. The skill of players like Kane, Eriksen, Dembele, Alli, Lamela, and Son allow for quick fire attacks when Spurs win the ball back, and when Spurs are efficient and take their opportunities they are putting teams to bed. Gone are the days of the mindless passing and high percentage possession of AVB who was constantly relying on a wonder strike from breakout superstar Gareth Bale. Gone are the days of the champagne football and gung ho attacking style of Harry Redknapp. With respect to the talent of those teams, they had significant flaws and a soft underbelly and these are the things that Mauricio Pochettino will not stand for. Defensive accountability is present in such a way that Spurs are unrecognizable, the manager has shown the players that way to success is hard work and the team is buying in.
Another major change when evaluating the squad is their chemistry and camaraderie. Spurs have never been shy to bring in new players, and the constant chopping and changing of both players and managers had created a serious void in the passion and desire that is evident in a true team. It also stalled and even perhaps in a few cases ruined the chances and opportunities of youth at the club, which is ironic to say now as the academy and Tottenham’s approach to youth is the cornerstone of Spurs’ current day progress. The Tottenham academy is finally being utilized to the fullest by a manager who wants hungry and willing players (sorry Tim), and it is through passion and youthful exuberance that a fighting spirit is now back at the Lane. The players clearly trust and fight for each other, never more obvious then when Delle Alli received a yellow card versus West Ham following him engaging Noble after taking a swipe at a teammate. Obviously this is not necessarily something you want to see every game as Alli received his fifth card of the season and was therefore suspended for Tottenham’s prior game versus Chelsea. Yet this felt more like a player sticking up for his teammate and taking no nonsense rather than a rash and unchecked reaction from a teenager. That speaks to the confidence and mentality Mauricio Pochettino has imprinted on this team, something that has helped all of Ryan Mason, Eric Dier and Delle Alli receive their full England caps while under his guidance. This coupled to the great form of Eriksen and Kane along with the renaissance of Mousa Dembele and all the pieces are slowly following into place at Tottenham.
There is a clear feeling of stability and tangible progress being made at the club both on and off the pitch. Joe Lewis and Daniel Levy have finally seen advancement in the development of the Northumberland Project, a stadium they see as putting Tottenham on the Premier League and European football map again but what needs to happen to ensure that, is progress with the squad and results. Spurs have found their man, and Mauricio Pochettino has completely transformed the squad for the better. If success continues then perhaps top four may not be the ceiling on Spurs’ lofty ambitions but it starts with mentality.
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