It’s that time of the year again were squad depth is put to the test. Managers earn their wage as they look to navigate cup competitions alongside league duty heading towards the business end of the season.
It can be viewed as make or break time. A poor run of form during this period can derail a season and undo all the good work from earlier in the season.
Furthermore, It’s perhaps the most competitive season in Premier League history with six teams – Chelsea, Spurs, Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United – vying for four positions. They all genuinely have a chance too. This isn’t about reputation, this is now all about points on the board. As things stand five points currently separate Spurs in second and United in sixth.
However, of the six teams in question, Spurs have the most difficult task. Both Chelsea and Liverpool are without European football so can concentrate on the league and the two teams, for the most part, get a full week between games. Arsenal, Man City and Man United are all still in Europe in some capacity but all are used to the rigours of two games every week. The trio have strength in depth, especially in attack, and aren’t as reliant on just the one man.
Then there is Spurs.
Do Spurs have the Squad Depth Required to Challenge on all fronts?
Mauricio Pochettino has done superbly to keep them in the mix in the league but a poor showing in the Champions League meant they dropped into the Europa League. For some reason English clubs don’t seem to do well playing Thursday-Sunday.
Only Chelsea have won Europe’s beta competition in it’s current format, they finished third that season, and Liverpool reached the final last season but finished eighth in the league.
The squad was strengthened in the summer to cope with the demands of european football with the arrivals of Moussa Sissoko, Victor Wanyama, Vincent Janssen and Georges-Kevin Nkoudou. However, only Wanyama has made a position in the first-team his own and there are still question marks over the other three players and rightly so.
Janssen looks like a fish out of water having left the Eredivisie, Nkoudou hasn’t really been given a chance and Sissoko has failed to rediscover the form which convinced the club to part with £30million to secure his services.
The club want to be in the Champions League and their Argentine manager may have to make a difficult decision; does he try to keep pace in the league while playing strong teams in Europe or does he sacrifice one competition and put all his eggs in one basket?
We’ll soon find out the answer.
After hosting Middlesbrough this upcoming weekend, Spurs have three consecutive away matches. A trip to Belgium for the Europa League tie against Genk is sandwiched between a visit to Anfield and a short trip to Craven Cottage to face Fulham in the FA Cup. The return leg against Genk and a visit from Stoke City round off the month of February. Five matches in 15 days.
If they manage to get past Genk then March doesn’t look any easier. Everton and Southampton make the trip to White Hart Lane and a trip to Selhurst Park falls between the two potential Europa League matches.
Those games make not look like the most difficult on paper but if history is anything to go off Spurs may come unstuck. In the six games following a Champions League match – Sunderland, Manchester City, Bournemouth, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United – they picked up just the eight points. Granted, four of those are rivals and dropping points against them is to be expected but their run of one win in just ten matches coincides with the team playing more frequently.
Over-reliance on Harry Kane
Janssen was signed to take some of the attacking burden off of Harry Kane but it’s not gone to plan and Spurs are just as reliant on him as ever before. It’s not something that should be frowned upon. He’s one of the best strikers in the Premier League and it’s near impossible to find someone of his quality who is willing to be a bit part player and even if you could, they’d cost a fortune and the club don’t operate in that manner.
Indeed, when Janssen was signed the idea was for him to supplement Kane in attack when Pochettino wanted to mix it up but also to stand in for him when the first choice striker needed a rest. But during the 10 matches he missed due to injury it became pretty evident that Spurs simply couldn’t function effectively without him.
The team scored just the 13 goals during his absence with five of them coming in a single match against Gillingham. Excluding that Capital One Cup victory the team were averaging less than a goal a game without Kane. In the games he’s played since his return, the team have averaged 2.3 goals per 90 minutes. The player himself has 13 goals and two assists in 15 games during this time.
His impact is clear for all to see and it can’t be replicated, but at the same time can he really be expected to play every single game?
It’s a big month for Pochettino with some season defining decisions to be made and if he gets it wrong Spurs may find themselves in the Europa League again next season.
Make sure you watch Episode 10 of Football Whispers TV.