Tottenham Hotspur have played their final game of 2018, a 3-1 home defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers. The 2017/18 season ended with another top-four place and Champions League football to look forward to again. As the Premier League season hits the halfway mark, Last Word on Football reviews Spurs’ season so far. A summer with no new players, some new contracts and the new stadium being delayed at every turn.
Spurs’ Season So Far – Highs, Lows and Expectations
Spurs fans went into the new 2018/19 season with feelings of excitement and nervousness: excitement at finally returning home to the new White Hart Lane and nervousness at facing a season with no new signings. Spurs consequently became the first team in Premier League history to make no signings in the summer transfer window. A host of players had played in the World Cup and Mauricio Pochettino had ended the previous season saying Spurs needed to be ‘brave and bold’ to achieve success. A top-four finish was going to be the target again but expectations were continuing that Spurs’ season needed to bring silverware.
Best Ever Premier League Start
As with the previous season, Tottenham started the campaign away at Newcastle United. It was a scrappy match where Spurs came away with the win. Spurs then played what was supposedly their last game at Wembley Stadium. The fans wanted to go home, the players wanted to go home and Pochettino wanted to get started in the new home. Spurs brushed Fulham aside with a 3-1 win and Harry Kane broke his August hoodoo to get on the scoresheet after his golden shoe performance at the World Cup.
A second-half destruction of Manchester United at Old Trafford lay down Spurs’ intentions with a 3-0 win and things were looking good for Pochettino’s men. Then the announcement came that the new stadium would not be ready for the Liverpool game on September 15th. Spurs fans were up in arms as they had already bought season tickets for their new home and the communication from the club was poor. Suddenly, a bright start to the season looked like being derailed as Spurs lost their next three games.
Early September Blues
Defeats away to Watford, at home to Liverpool and away at Inter Milan in the Champions League meant September was a depressing start for Spurs. In Italy, Spurs had three points in their hands only to throw them away with calamitous defending. The home defeat to Liverpool was concerning – the Reds hardly broke a sweat in a sluggish and tired Spurs performance. Tiredness was an issue thrown at Pochettino’s men and, in particular, Harry Kane, who looked short on full fitness. Pochettino would mention the World Cup and lack of rest time as being problematic.
Their season started to take on a different complexion but this Spurs are nothing if not resilient.
Champions League Nightmares
After snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in the San Siro, Spurs then met Barcelona at Wembley. Lionel Messi was in imperious form and despite Spurs scoring twice, Barcelona won 4-2 and Spurs’ Champions League journey looked doomed. Spurs then travelled to Eindhoven to face PSV and again hit the self destruct button to draw 2-2. It seemed inevitable that Spurs Champions League was over before it had even begun.
Miracles Do Happen!
Spurs had to beat PSV in the return fixture at Wembley which they did and then beat Inter Milan 1-0. Heading into the final group game, Spurs had to go to the Nou Camp and avoid defeat. Playing Barcelona is never an easy task but this would be a game that would show just how good Tottenham Hotspur can be.
Spurs went a goal down inside ten minutes and you could have been forgiven for thinking that was that. However, the goal simply galvanised Spurs. In the second half, they dominated the Catalan giants in their own backyard. Chance after chance came and went. Lucas Moura somehow managed to head softly down when the goal was gaping but then the miracle appeared. Harry Kane played in Moura who fired in the equaliser. Inter were unable to beat PSV and Spurs somehow had done it. The Round of 16 awaits Spurs in 2019 and a tie against Borussia Dortmund, whom Spurs have a good record against. Everything was rosy once again.
When you make no signing and injuries hit, it can hit any team hard. Moussa Dembele, Victor Wanyama and Eric Dier have missed 37 games between them. Dele Alli has missed the odd game as have Christian Eriksen, Erik Lamela and Jan Vertonghen. This has tested the squad to its very limits. Youth player Oliver Skipp has made his first team debut, Harry Winks is getting back to the sort of form that saw him dominate Real Madrid only a season previously and Moussa Sissoko has defied his critics to become one of Spurs’ best players this season. In the defeat against Wolves, it was the lack of depth of the squad that again raised questions.
The injuries have given chance for the youth to shine yet again under Mauricio Pochettino. Oliver Skipp, as mentioned above, has performed well when given his chances and Kyle Walker-Peters is emerging as a contender to be the main right-back. He had a bad start in the Nou Camp but after his error showed immense character. In the 5-0 win at home to Bournemouth, Walker-Peters provided a hat-trick of assists to show just how valuable he can become to this Spurs squad.
Goals Conceded and Dropped Points Need Addressing
Tottenham have not drawn any game this season in the league; the only team currently in the league to not draw a single game. Spurs have also conceded more goals than the rest of the top four teams, both issues that need addressing. They have looked vulnerable at set pieces and Toby Alderweireld has constantly played with different defensive partners which never aides consistency. The vulnerabilities have even been apparent in the 6-2 win over Everton and the 5-0 win over Bournemouth (who had chances) and Spurs need to become more solid or the better teams will pick them off.
Tottenham are third in the Premier League as they head to Cardiff on New Year’s Day. Considering the lack of signings, injuries mounting and games coming thick and fast, Spurs being third, in the Last 16 of the Champions League, a League Cup semi-final coming up against ChelseaFootball.coChelsea and the FA Cup starting in January is an impressive feat.
Whilst it is still mathematically possible to win the title, they need to start beating the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City if they are to do so. They have lost both home games to the two rivals and will need to be at their very best when the return encounters come along on 2019.
Dele Alli is improving and maturing as a footballer and Harry Kane has hit 17 goals already. Spurs look likely to finish above Arsenal again but that can no longer be the benchmark. It should be a given that Spurs finish above Arsenal. The benchmark for them now is to finish above Liverpool and Manchester City this season.
It’s a tough ask of any team but it has to be Spurs’ season priority. The new stadium is still not ready and the clubs communications with fans over the delays have been nothing short of farcical. The club should either commit to getting it open early in 2019 or just admit it will be next season before it opens. The uncertainty is tough on the paying fans.
Spurs may need fresh faces but they also need to get rid of some dead wood. The likes of Fernando Llorente, Georges-Kevin N’Koudou and Vincent Jansen all need getting off the books. The triggering of Toby Alderweireld’s contract extension may simply just speed up his departure unless he gets the contract he wants and many Spurs fans believe he deserves.
The New Year sees Spurs with plenty of silverware to aim for. Against the odds, Tottenham have performed well and deserve to be where they are right now. The remainder of the season may just dictate where Spurs go next. Spurs’ season will either bring glory or glorious failure. The former may be just around the corner.