Remember 2017? We ended the league winning 13 of our last 14 games to finish 2nd behind Chelsea, our best finish in Premier League history. Then in the autumn we beat the two time defending champions at Wembley, drew with them at the Bernabeu, defeated Dortmund twice and whipped the ultimate CL finalist Liverpool 4-1 at Wembley. When one thinks of that team compared to the one Mauricio Pochettino inherited just three years prior, it was arguably better at every position.
Lloris had matured into a high quality goalkeeper. An improved Kyle Walker was at RB in the spring, but Kieran Trippier was more than adequate as his immediate replacement. The two Belgians anchored the middle—Danny Rose was at peak form at LB. The incomparable Mousa Dembele was at his best. DESK was marauding through defences on a regular basis. Victor Wanyama and at times Harry Winks or Eric Dier were more than competent holding midfielders.
And now? Lloris has regressed. Kane has regressed if for no other reason than the time he has missed due to injury. The defence is a shambles. Winks has fizzled out. With Dembele and Wanyama gone, we have had no imperious holding midfielder—Dier is a joke, Ndombele doesn’t want or fit the part. Dele is a shadow of his former self. Eriksen gone. Maybe Lo Celso will soon rise to their levels, but he hasn’t done it consistently yet. Son is the one player who is better, but through suspensions and injuries we don’t see him all that often.
We are miles away, my friends. Last night’s game featured a side with enough quality to exploit our poor defence—twice—and quick and organised enough in their back third to ensure we couldn’t do the same. And we simply lack the quality to convert when they gave us any opportunities. The effort was there throughout—there can be no complaints on that end. I figured Dier would ship a goal with a mistake—instead it was Aurier. Lo Celso returned to earth with several misplaced pass attempts, though he wasn’t alone I that department.
But the quality is that of a midtable team. The injured will return and rise us up some, but still nowhere near the levels of just three seasons ago. We need a fairly complete overhaul in midfield and defence—one that will take multiple transfer windows and may not occur under the current manager.
We’re past the point arguing about whether Poch had lost his way or Jose is too negative or Levy is too cheap. All are true to some degree—but the answers will have to come the old-fashioned way. Wise acquisitions, players reaching their best levels, a renewed sense of purpose. The Ndombele signing may turn out to be our nadir—I can only hope it isn’t many, many years before we can look back at it in anything but regret and frustration.
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