It was all smiles in the end at Villa Park for Tottenham Hotspur, as a dramatic late free-kick from the in-form Harry Kane secured three vital points for Mauricio Pochettino’s side after Christian Benteke had been sent off for hosts Aston Villa earlier in the game.
The 2-1 victory, which takes Tottenham up to 8th in the table and within three points of 4th place, was the first time Pochettino has come from behind to win in the Premier League, and the sense of relief from both the fans and the players was palpable as the final whistle went.
However, this result hides what was an incredibly poor performance from Spurs, and had Benteke not been sent off for the home side, the visitors would probably have gotten nothing from the game.
Aside from the continued rich vein of goal-scoring form of local sensation Kane, two things struck me as interesting upon watching the game unfold.
Firstly, the absence of any of Spurs summer signings in their starting eleven was intriguing to say the least. Admittedly the exclusions of Ben Davies and Michael Vorm are to be expected, but Pochettino’s decision to not start any of Federico Fazio, Benjamin Stambouli and Eric Dier is telling.
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It was well documented over the summer that Pochettino had identified Jay Rodriguez and Morgan Schneiderlin of former club Southampton as his priority signings after taking over at Tottenham.
Neither of these players arrived however, and Tottenham instead signed Stambouli for a fee of around £4.7 million – significantly cheaper than the reported asking price for Schneiderlin.
Lack of signings
The absence of Spurs’ summer signings in Sunday’s match-day squad, as well as the preference of the inexperienced Ryan Mason ahead of Stambouli, may have been purely coincidental.
However, to me it suggests that none of these players were Pochettino’s signings, with Daniel Levy instead opting for cheaper options abroad rather than paying the premium for proven Premier League talent.
This is worrying, as it suggests the manager has not been backed right from the very beginning of his time at the club. A manager cannot implement his philosophy without the right individuals at the club, and Levy should have backed the man he hired on a five year contract in May.
Lack of pressure
This brings me on nicely to the second observation that I made during Sunday’s game; the lack of pressure being applied by Spurs players when Villa were in possession.
Pochettino was famous for implementing a high intensity pressing game whilst in charge at Southampton, and part of the reason for his appointment must surely have been a desire to see Spurs adopt a more fast paced and intense style of play.
This was certainly the case in some of Spurs’ early fixtures, particularly the game against QPR, where their players were constantly putting the opposition under pressure and attempting to quickly gain possession, so why has it stopped?
It is of course plausible that Pochettino has made the decision to ditch the high press himself, but this seems unlikely given the success it brought for him at Southampton. What appears more likely, and what is even more concerning, is that his players are simply not implementing the press and ignoring his instructions to do so.
A manager who is not being listened to by his players is very concerning to say the least. Admittedly many of us have questioned some of Pochettino’s team selections this season (The consistent preference of Adebayor over Kane is baffling), but if the players are refusing to adopt Pochettino’s style of play then this has more serious implications for his long term future as Tottenham manager.
Perhaps the reason behind the Spurs players’ decision to ignore their manager has something to do with the culture of blame that is perpetuated by Levy’s rotating door policy when it comes to the management of the club.
Under Pochettino Tottenham are now unto their 11th manager since Daniel Levy’s arrival at the club in 2001, and it seems to be as if this has had an impact on the pitch at the club.
Players at the club know that if results are going badly, then the manager is likely to take the blame, as was seen with the sacking of Andre Villas-Boas in December of last year. When Tottenham lose, much of the criticism appears to fall on the manager, with the players escaping relatively unscathed.
What motivation, therefore, do the players have to perform to the best of their abilities in a Tottenham shirt, when if they don’t, they are not held in any way accountable? Daniel Levy’s hire-and-fire approach has absolved any on-field responsibility at the club, and hence the players are not significantly motivated to perform to the best of their abilities.
It is also interesting to note that Spurs’ best players on Sunday were their young inexperienced Englishmen, Kane and Mason. These are the players with the most to prove at the club. They aren’t guaranteed to start based purely on their reputation and as a consequence they are more motivated and passionate, putting in strong gutsy performances.
Crack down needed
Perhaps Pochettino needs to crack down on some of his under performing stars to give them a reality check and let them know they aren’t shoe-ins to start week in week out.
Despite the result, Sunday’s game was far from a convincing performance from Tottenham and the players, with the exception of Kane and Mason, need to take a long hard look at themselves if this side is going to get anywhere near Champions League qualification this season.
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