Look in certain places and you’ll hear the murmurs of discontent. Heads shake uncomfortably, groans are audible and doubt creeps inside the psyche. Stephen King once wrote that if people just took it a day at a time, they’d be a lot happier. Often, the reverse happens with football fans. We read too much into insignificant trivialities and look at the short-term rather than the bigger picture. If a few things go even slightly awry, supporters tend to collectively undergo panic attacks. “Are we short at left-back? Is our season already ruined? They’ll finish ahead of us, won’t they? The bastards.”
Tottenham fans tend to have this fatalism stored in their memory banks, and it rears its head like an old ailment during overly strenuous exercise. Despite securing their best league finish in decades and challenging for the Premier League title, their bitter end to last season and quiet transfer activity has left many supporters weary. Finishing behind Arsenal again will do that.
Fortunately, Mauricio Pochettino and Spurs have been here before. In 2014-15, Spurs had lost two and drawn one of their first six league matches before ending up in fifth place. Last season, they failed to win any of their first four. Harry Kane was struggling for goals, Pochettino was facing questions in the media and there was a mood of frustration heading into the international break. Sounds familiar, right?
Fast-forward a year and that frustration has been replaced by apprehension. On Saturday at White Hart Lane, Spurs were largely outplayed by Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool. The visitors were sharper, more energetic and pounced on some pedestrian play by the men in white. The home side showcased persistence though and earned a point through Danny Rose’s equaliser. And yet, they’ve won against Crystal Palace and picked up two draws against potential top-six opposition from Merseyside. Points-wise, it’s an improvement on last season.
The worry is not so much the results they’ve accrued but the performances of a few players and the overall makeup of their squad. Kane is struggling to adapt to a No. 10 role, which he is assigned when new signing Vincent Janssen plays. Mousa Dembele is missing through suspension, while Christian Eriksen’s contractual stalemate with Daniel Levy appears to have clouded his mind and contributed to his overall abjectness.
Another concern is the lack of depth at Tottenham’s disposal. Their first-choice team is still among the strongest in the league, but the club seem insistent on recouping funds and allowing fringe players depart. Nacer Chadli, who had a useful scoring record in a bit-part role, has joined West Brom and Ryan Mason has gone to Hull City. Nabil Bentaleb leaving for Schalke will rankle with fans, his relationship with Pochettino was apparently untenable. Add in the departure of chief scout Paul Mitchell, and the feeling of dread is inescapable.
These are issues that Pochettino and the club must address, but his track record in North London suggests he will find the solutions. The Argentine coach has already recognised the need for reinforcements and has identified precisely what his side is missing. “We need a player who is more direct, more aggressive offensively,” he said in the aftermath of Saturday’s game. “Because we have players like Eriksen, Son [Heung-Min] or Lamela, who like more to play into feet. We need someone that can break the defensive line.”
Spurs have had a bid for Wilfried Zaha rejected, although that transfer doesn’t seem the right fit judging by the work Pochettino requires from his attackers without possession. Marseille’s Georges-Kevin N’Koudou is still expected to make the switch, having been pictured in a Tottenham training kit at Enfield on Monday. The 21-year-old has pace to burn and lots of trickery, so that would offer some much needed variety. The club will be hoping N’Koudou settles better than his predecessor Clinton N’Jie, but Victor Wanyama is certainly an upgrade on Mason.
When the Premier League reconvened after the international break this time last year, Tottenham beat Sunderland, Crystal Palace and Manchester City in consecutive weeks – a run which sparked their best campaign this century. They will be striving to replicate that this time around when they travel to face Stoke City in a fortnight. The return to prominence of the league’s established order of Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United makes success more difficult to come by, but Pochettino and Levy still seem to be working harmoniously. That in itself should give Spurs fans hope that history can repeat itself.