Why Spurs’ season was about much more than the Harry Kane show
SEASON REVIEW: Mauricio Pochettino’s talented squad, who played throughout 2016-17 like a band of brothers, could be on a momentous roll towards silverware
23 May, 2017 — By Dan Carrier
Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino
HARRY Kane’s late-season brace of seven goals in two games, as he stubbornly refused to give up the Golden Boot, capped a fine season for the forward. Despite missing 10 matches, he still smashed in 29 league goals – a return that makes him the headline act.
But ask 11 Spurs fans who their player of the season was and you may well get 11 different answers. That is Mauricio Pochettino’s trick, and why this current Spurs side feel like they are on a momentous roll towards silverware.
The simple fact is football is a team game, and no one individual has carried the burden.
The spine of the side has been immense. Hugo Lloris is as safe a pair of hands as any in the league, while heads have been scratched in the quest to remember a better centre-back partnership than Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld. Spurs’ full-back riches mean that Danny Rose’s absence since January wasn’t a disaster as Ben Davies stepped up, while Keiran Trippier’s enthusiasm has put Kyke Walker’s first-team spot in jeopardy.
Eric Dier has shown he is a man for all positions, uncomplaining as he has been shifted from centre-back to midfield to right-back to centre-back again in the course of games, while the long-term pursuit of midfield enforcer Victor Wanyama was a superb piece of business at £12m.
Mousa Dembele was the time heartbeat, the dictator, an amalgamation of strength and skill – what a shame it is that the Belgian powerhouse collects niggling injuries, as often as he ghosts past his markers.
On to the attack: three players scoring more than 20 goals shows the potency at Pochettino’s disposal. Heung-Min Son, who was persuaded to have another go in the Premier League after a patchy first term, benefitted from game time through the loss of Erik Lamela. Christian Eriksen became the assist king, but also added a dash of Luka Modric-style steel to his performances – something he could really do with upping next season. Dele Alli led through his ability to marry determination and fight with coltish, showboating skill, while that man up front could be relied on to finish.
Spurs fans say farewell to the Lane
The only regrets must focus on the time it has taken for Vincent Janssen to find his feet as a game-changing sub – the role he was surely bought for – and the mystery of Moussa Sissoko. His performances prompt the thought that Spurs were tipped off to his ability by “George Weir’s Cousin”– the same agent who sold Southampton a player who had never kicked a ball before but still managed to make an appearance before he was rumbled when Graeme Souness was in charge.
To ask where it went wrong seems churlish: not losing at home all season, being beaten just four times in all, having both the leagues best defensive record and scoring the most goals – these are cold hard facts.
But Spurs fans are not shaking off celebratory hangovers this week or getting “title winners” tattoos. Nor are they gearing up for an FA Cup final after failing to convert a host of chances against a more streetwise Chelsea in the semi-final.
Tottenham’s title challenge ultimately fell short because of a set of results in October. The excuses could focus on the fact Kane was injured and new signing Janssen had yet to unpack his goalscoring boots from his luggage, but the team stuttered as a whole, perhaps sapped by the thrill of Champions League games during the week. Draws against West Brom, Bournemouth and Leicester – sides who would be beaten later in the season – represented an important six lost points, as did relegated Sunderland eking out a win when Spurs travelled there in January.
They are all matches this Spurs side should, on paper, have won and would have important ramifications later.
But no one is disappointed. Spurs have a team who act like a band of brothers, led by a manager who has become a father figure, and who, statistics show, have been the best team in the league over the past two seasons. Now they need to keep learning, keep improving and if they can do so it will provide some icing on this delicious cake in the form of some silverware in the very near future.
While it’s fun to watch Spurs swat teams to one side – Hull, Leicester, Bournemouth, Watford and Swansea were given harsh goalfest lessons – the home win against Chelsea in January showed Spurs, on their day, are the best in the league.
West Ham away. Instead of playing at their own pace and dictating the rhythm in a match that would have taken Tottenham to within a point of the summit, they got bogged down into a war of attrition against a determined but limited West Ham side.
Most improved player
There is no doubt that Danny Rose and Kyle Walker are the two first-choice full-backs. But in the light of Rose’s injury, Ben Davies has got into his stride. He doesn’t offer the same buccaneering as Rose, but, after taking a couple of games to get going, he has been reliable.
Keiran Trippier has made the most of his chances, too: with Walker’s ability to play twice in a week questioned, Trippier has stepped in – and played so well that Pochettino has begun to prefer him when Walker has been available.
The glee that was expressed by Newcastle fans that Moussa Sissoko was on his way out of St James’ Park perhaps should have been a warning sign. The French international has failed to get in the side, failed to offer anything different from the bench, and many would feel the same as the Geordies did, should he be shipped out this close season. The only silver lining is Spurs didn’t pay the reported £30m for him – it was a season-by-season deal. Time to cut the losses.