Big Tottenham stars must step up and be generals… Mauricio Pochettino needs his leaders to dig deep or soft centre could ruin Spurs’ season
- Tottenham take on Premier League champions Manchester City on Monday
- Spurs go into the game on a downer after their European hopes were dented
- A 2-2 draw at PSV on Wednesday left Tottenham facing a Champions League exit
Tottenham should take it as a compliment that they’re under pressure after their 2-2 draw at PSV Eindhoven. People expect better of them in the Champions League because they are perceived as a leading club in Europe now with one of the best teams and smartest managers.
The fact they’re taking some flak despite having recorded their joint best start to a Premier League season is a sign of progress. This is where they wanted to be when I was at the club: in the Champions League every season and challenging for titles. With that comes this kind of scrutiny.
Yet a dangerous pattern has developed: they’re not finishing off games when they should. You wonder if they are missing the crucial component of game management
Tottenham’s players (left) look dejected after blowing a 2-1 lead against PSV on Wednesday
Good sides finish you off, with a third or fourth goal, as they should have scored at PSV. The same would be true of the Brighton, Cardiff and West Ham games, where they were hanging on. The best sides either put the game beyond doubt or close it down.
That’s what should have happened at Inter in the Champions League. There was a similar theme last season in major games against Juventus in the Champions League last 16 and against Manchester United in the FA Cup semi-final. They got themselves ahead then let the game slip away. It’s a massive worry. This is not a young team anymore. It’s fine to quote stats but history is no good to anyone. So it’s their best start in the Premier League? Great, but they’ve only finished in the top three on three occasions in Premier League history and those were the last three seasons.
They don’t want to be looking back, comparing themselves to sides that would finish mid-table. They’re better than that now but at the moment I think they’re lacking generals, the likes of John Terry and Frank Lampard when at Chelsea or Roy Keane and Rio Ferdinand in Manchester United’s great era or Fernandinho and David Silva at Manchester City now. Experienced players whose mentality won’t waver under pressure.
Harry Kane (background) needs to step up for Tottenham at what is a crucial stage of the year
Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen and Toby Alderweireld have to step up and be those players. This team reminds me of Arsenal in 2008 with Cesc Fabregas, Robin van Persie and Samir Nasri. They were lovely to watch with a soft centre. I actually think this Tottenham team are better than that, though. They have a more solid base. They need to start showing it.
That said, player for player you would imagine Manchester City would beat Tottenham on Monday night at Wembley, even though there are signs that Spurs’ best Premier League form is returning.
Harry Winks has been excellent and Eric Dier, who looked to be in a dark place form-wise, was immense for England against Spain and has continued to play like that since. Eriksen is back and was outstanding against PSV. The problem for Mauricio Pochettino is whether they continue to play their pressing game against a City side who might be the best in Europe in transition from defence to attack. My gut feeling is that he will have to keep the faith, even though it didn’t work out in these fixtures last season — when City won 4-1 and 3-1.
Mauricio Pochettino must decide whether to play a pressing game against Manchester City
Of course they’ll have to be smart and press intermittently, when it suits them, rather than constantly leave themselves exposed. But when you look at the times City have looked vulnerable — against Monaco in 2017, Liverpool last season, against Lyon this season — it’s been when teams have put them under pressure. There aren’t many teams that sit back and beat City.
The problem for Spurs is that City are so prolific in wide areas with Riyad Mahrez added as a threat to Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling. Ben Davies and Kieran Trippier are fine players and we all recognise Trippier’s strengths in delivery and getting forward. But as defenders, Danny Rose and Kyle Walker were stronger and with Walker’s departure to City, that’s a problem.
If Davies and Trippier are pushing on, that will leave plenty of space in which Sterling and Mahrez can play, which could decide the game.
Raheem Sterling (front, centre) could punish Spurs if their full backs push on and leave gaps
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