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Cartilage Free Captain Roundtable: Thoughts from the Writers' Room

Following this weekend's result, many people started to question Spurs' direction. Yesterday, we asked for your thoughts. Today, we're giving you ours.

Alex Livesey

So, after we polled the commentariat yesterday, I wanted to poll the staff here and then publish all their thoughts so that you guys could see where we're at too. I asked the entire staff the following four questions:

  1. Same questioned we asked the folks on the site: Do you want AVB fired? a) Yes, immediately; b) If we get blown out by United; c) If we lose to United and Fulham d) Let's evaluate at the end of the season (unless we end up in the relegation zone). Why?
  2. What is ONE thing Spurs can do differently right now to make themselves better?
  3. Assuming AVB is no longer the coach of Spurs, who's your preferred replacement? Who in your mind is most realistic?
  4. We're still only four points out of second and two points out of fourth. What's your expectation for the rest of the season? Can we still pull of Champions League football?
Kevin:1. I want AVB fired if we lost to Fulham and United, but I'm willing to ride it out until the end of the season unless it looks like the ship is sinking and any change will be good. Assuming Heynckes and Hiddink stick to their assertions that they're not coaching this year, I can't imagine we'll find a mid-season replacement that can guide us to top four.

2. Bench Paulinho and Dawson. There are lots of big problems with the team and this won't make Spurs contenders in and of itself, but it'll slow the bleeding.

3. Besides the aforementioned two: Pochettino, Laudrup, Simeone, Hyypia, Tuchel, in no particular order. Tuchel and Laudrup are probably the most realistic.

4. We can pull Champions League football because we have good players and money to spend in January, but my current expectation is 7th.

Ed:1) Yes, I'm not upset if we pay AVB off and give him a picture of a Spitfire at this point. I've never truly been convinced by him as a tactician or a man-manager, but in most scenarios I'd be prepared to give him a pass and let him stick it out to the end of the season. With things as they are, however, I'm starting to worry that he's losing the dressing room- I can't remember the last time I saw Spurs look so deflated and and directionless in November as on Sunday, with no shape or discernible game plan guiding them, and I don't think the 'gelling' argument can explain that away any more. For that reason I feel the risk of bringing in an experienced head isn't a serious as that of letting a manager who is actually starting to tip us towards regression continue to manage the team. I know it's an ugly little opinion, but it's my honest one.

2) Change the system. Play a looser, more expansive style of play which results in the right people making the right runs and passes at the right time to improve our goalscoring efforts, now the solidity of the high line/pressing style has collapsed like a sad Jenga tower before our eyes. But AVB won't do this, and that's why I'm not fond of the idea of him staying with us for too much longer.

3) The out-of-work Guus Hiddink is my main choice if he can be coaxed out of his sabbatical early. If we can't get him, then Pochettino, Laudrup, Sampoali or Hyypia, all of whom have that young, dynamic, fresh-thinking thing going for them that AVB was originally feted for.

4) I'm sticking to my prediction of fifth as our ceiling. Sorry guiz.

MCofA: -I have not watched the City match yet.

-The numbers initially are bad, but they don't outweigh our quality numbers from earlier, I'm guessing Spurs will be a little under 50% for Champions League when I run the numbers.

-I think firing AVB would be exceptionally dumb. Firing a manager and totally changing course after (1) a 70 point season, (2) an offseason predicated on building a new roster that fits our style with AVB and (3) a solid but unspectacular start to the season would speak to mass organizational dysfunction. I don't think it's going to happen, and I don't think it should happen. I could reconsider in January, but no earlier than that.

-There's just way too much randomness in football results over twelve matches. I could point to innumerable examples from the last couple years. And our results are still pretty good, our underlying stats are better than pretty good. Our mid-level stats (goals scored, mostly) are not good, of course. But when the results (the things that actually count) are good and the underlying stats (the things that best project future performance) are very good, it doesn't make sense to me to get angry due to the mid-level stuff.

-Have we looked bad? I didn't watch City. But we have loooked good in a number of matches we either didn't win or only won by close margins. I just fundamentally disagree with people who look at the Everton match and the Newcastle match and see a trend of poor football.

-More to come when I actually collect the stats systematically.

Menno: 1) I know I'm perceived as one of the cock-eyed optimists on the writing staff, and I'm really okay with holding that role. For that reason, I'm choosing option D - evaluate at the end of the season. Look, everyone will agree that we are not playing good football at the moment, and most people will also agree that the head coach should take a good deal of the responsibility for it. We have not started out well well, but I still maintain that the system is a GOOD system and it SHOULD work and that AVB deserves more time. However, I'm not firm in my beliefs here, and could be swayed with a couple more poor results in the short term. I'm taking the opinion however that we should not rush to a judgement by how we've played against two of the best sides in the league this year -- Arsenal and City. There's a lot of season left and we're still in a healthy position in the table despite playing like crap lately. We have to take the long view.

2) Establish a first-choice 11, and do it now. And by "establish a first-choice 11" I really mean "don't let Paulinho start ever again because he's been terribad."

3) Ugh. I look at a club like Southampton and I think "that's the kind of football we should be playing." So I'd take a long, hard look at Pocchettino. Also Bielsa (who won't come but whatever), or Guus Hiddink. Oh, OH! I know! How about Roberto Martinez TROLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLO

4) I still want fourth because I believe we have the squad to do it. My minimum expectation is Euro qualification.

MCofA: "Fifth as our ceiling" is just not compatible with the way I look at projections. There's no way that fifth is possible and fourth is impossible. The future is never so fixed as that.

Ed: I'm not saying it's our destiny or anything, just that if you were to ask me to pick the position I would have us in at the end of the season, it would be fifth. Possibly poor phrasing there.

MCofA: I look at Southampton, and I see a club that plays bascially the exact same kind of football that we do, with basically results of the same quality, accounting for schedule, and with underlying stats that are nearly identical as well. It seems to me that the case against AVB right now is so heavily dependent on our club having a historically exceptional rate of G/SoT or xG - G, and that just has zero predictive utility. Literally, .01 r-squared, RMSE and MAE 50% higher than projecting using a league average rate. I need an explanation of why this club is poor that doesn't hang on goals scored, and I'm just not seeing it.

I'm being needlessly confrontational, I think. I'm decompressing from a very long conference weekend. Sorry. Please take these emails with the tone intended. Love you guys!

And obviously I'm also unhappy with the results and stressed about my numbers not working. But to be convinced something is wrong, I need to be convinced, and I haven't been.

Fifth as our projected place I'd probably agree with. But I would happily make a bet at 2-to-1 or 3-to-2 that Spurs will finish top 4. We have a very real chance at that.

Sleeper's Sleep:1. I've been an AVB fanboy from the beginning, but my patience is just about worn out. There are, of course, all kinds of factors that lead to teams underperforming, & as there are so many new faces in the squad there will, of course, need to be time for bedding in. That said, there is an underlying psychological hurdle Spurs have yet to clear - that old "underperforming" bugaboo that continues to haunt our team. Everything is in place to put that behind us, so there's really no excuse for anything other than lovely performances from a team with an abundance of talent.

I haven't answered the question. I can't say what the breaking point should be, & I'm not convinced the decision should be wholly based on results. So I guess "D," as in "None of the above." I hate that I'm writing this, & I really REALLY want to be proven wrong, but this motivational dimension of the team is sorely lacking right now, & I'm no longer convinced AVB can provide the necessary fixes in that department.

2) I think Dembele needs a prolonged spell in the first team, & Lamela NEEDS to play every game. That said, I think the one thing Spurs can do tactically right now is to move the ball with greater quickness up the pitch. Less dawdling, more direction. Lamela & Dembele are the guys to help with that.

3) Guus Hiddink. He has two "u's" in his first name, right next to each other.

4) I have no idea what to expect, but a 4th place finish is a minimum requirement for me.

Bryan: 1. I've been one of AVB's biggest defenders in the writers room, but like Sleep, my patience is wearing thin. This team should be better than it is and I've not seen anything from AVB in 2 years to demonstrate that he knows exactly how to make this team play better. I appreciate MCofA's stats and everything about how we're playing well, but that's not what I'm seeing on the pitch. I trust the projections that he's built, but I'm still skeptical. No matter what, I'd rather give AVB the full season. Firing him now doesn't make any sense to me.

2. Drop Paulinho. It doesn't matter if we play Sandro and Capoue or Sandro and Dembele or Sandro and Holtby or any other combination of two midfielders, so long as one of those two is not Paulinho.

3. There's lots of names out there that I like. I've always been a fan of Luciano Spalletti. I think Frank de Boer is a possibility too. I'm not sold on Guus as a replacement. I think one that makes sense is Fabio Capello. Presumably this is Franco Baldini's team now and the two of them have had a lot of success together. He's also the sort of old, experienced head that a team might be looking for after a younger more progressive manager.

4. I don't remember what I predicted at the beginning of the season, but there's still a very real possibility that we'll finish fourth or third. This season is so topsy turvy that a couple good results could really turn things around. I'm still expecting at least fourth.

SkipJack: 1) We're two points off fourth and a year off of our best ever points total in the Premier League. I think firing AVB would be a bit premature. Also, for all of our success in recent years, we've gone through managers like a teenager goes through socks. So some patience wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. That said, I'm starting to get a little sick of this team's performances. Yes, we've been a bit unlucky, but we should be playing better than we are. Honestly, unless we're threatened by relegation, which I doubt will happen, I'm fine with evaluating at the end of the season.

2) Play a deep passer. Get Eriksen or Holtby or someone to start cycling the ball out of the midfield and into the final third. City's mauling aside, I think our biggest problem all year is we're taking too long to make decisions in the attack. I think a deep lying passer, as opposed to a dribbler, would help fix this.

3) Harry Redknapp for dem lulz. Failing that, Peter Capaldi seems to have gone over well as a replacement. Let's use him.

4) We're 2 points out of fourth in November! WE'RE DOOMED! DOOOOOOOMED! DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOMED! Look if we keep playing like this we won't be fourth. However, our players are better than this and we've seen enough tactical acumen from AVB in the past to make me believe there's at least a chance he fixes this. After the last two results you'd like to think everyone at Spurs understands there are problems that need fixing. I think we can absolutely finish fourth if we even sort of get clicking, particularly with the top teams' form being what it is. I have no idea if we will get it clicking or not. I am completely vexed by our performance.

Bryan: To MCofA's point on Soton: It's incredibly frustrating watching them, because that's what Spurs could be. What Pochettino has done is implement AVB's style, but have some incisive and creative attacking players. I think Spurs are better, man for man, than Southampton and it makes no sense to me why they should be so successful and look so good doing it and we look like crap.

Brett: 1. Short of an open revolt by the players, firing AVB midseason makes no sense. As MCofA said, the results have not been near as dire as they've been made out to be. Firing AVB on the back of a 72 point season and with Spurs only 3 points out of 4th place would send a signal to other potential candidates that they would be on a very short leash if they joined Spurs. This stuff matters - it's why Pep Guardiola is at Bayern Munich and not at Chelsea.

2. Drop Paulinho and play Mousa Dembele. Dembele started 25 Premier League games for Spurs last year - Spurs won 17, drew 5, and lost 3. Pro-rated to a 38 game season, that's 82 points. And the losses are somewhat fluky. In the loss to Everton, Dembele was substituted when Spurs were leading 1-0 (Everton scored 2 goals in extra time to steal the game). In the loss to Liverpool, Dembele was played on the right wing and not central midfield, his best position. In other words, we are fucking awesome when Dembele plays. So let's play him.

3. Someone out-of-work maybe? I can't see anyone being so thick as to give up a job they already have to join organization dumb enough as to fire the manager who led them to their best ever League points total, but that's just me.

4. Champions league qualification is still within reach. We'll probably finish somewhere between 3rd and 6th.

MCofA: So I didn't actually answer the questions.

1. (D) was basically implied. Our actual results and our underlying stats are nowhere close to justifying a managerial change. As Brett says, it would take a seriously dysfunctional organization to sack a manager in this situation, and that in turn would just make it harder to get a manager (and perhaps players) that we want. They would, rightly, see Spurs mistreating AVB.

2. The rotation on the wings does not seem to be producing the quality of wing play we need. I think settling on a group of attacking players, I don't care who, and making them play together a bunch of games in a row, not being too swayed by short-term results, might produce more cohesive play.Sure, play Dembele too.

3. The in-season manager market is a silly place, full mostly of silly people. If Spurs are firing the manager and bringing in a hired gun, I don't know. Would Sven listen if Daniel Levy called? He's very silly.

4. I'm expecting ~40-50% CL chances for Spurs when I run the numbers. That seems right intuitively. As I said before the match, 7 points from the next four (now next three) is holding serve. Draw United, beat Fulham and Sunderland away and we're over 50/50. I think this club has the talent to finish top four, but there's a bunch of other good clubs and there isn't too great a disparity in talent and quality between a large group of maybe seven or eight side, which means that unknown events, randomness, form will play roles in determining the end of the season in ways we cannot possibly predict from the perspective of November. Wouldn't be at all shocked by 7th, think we should be 3rd/4th.

Petrilli: 1) D. My philosophy is that there is no benefit to firing a manger midseason unless relegation is part of the equation. Seeing or not seeing the team lately won't change that. Unless we're pulling a Newcastle I think it's an exercise in futility to can him midstream.

2) I can't comment, other than making the flippant suggestion that AVB should set all of the wingers and strikers individual moves to learning to place shots, as if this is FM.

3) Incredibly realistic? Guus. Very possible but not necessarily 100% possible? Fabio Capello. Him and Baldini are bros, assuming Baldini isn't sacked/leaves if/when AVB goes.

4) My expectation is anywhere from 3rd to 5th. Every team 5th to 8th is in my mind overachieving, and god knows any team can blow a tire in the home stretch. Pulling an Arsenal is not out of the question.

Lennon's Eyebrow: 1. I don't even like that we're having this conversation. We're a good team coming off a good season and sitting in a good place. Unless we get dragged into a relegation fight, I don't see what firing AVB gets us. Even if he tanks the season completely, finishing 9th under Fabio Capello instead of 12th under AVB isn't gonna make me any happier. The club has backed him with a huge transfer budget to mold the team in his image, and pulling the plug on Project AVB at this point seems incredibly premature. There's plenty of talent in this team and plenty of room for improvement. AVB's just as likely to coax it out of them as any random bro we bring in. Yes, we've had some bad results. This is not unique to Spurs or unique to this season. Shit happens. We'll come through it.

2. Paulinho seems to be the scapegoat here and I'm gonna jump on that train. He's been really bad. I've seen him be good for Brazil, which is nice, but it's not worth giving him the starting minutes to figure it out when we have Mousa Dembele sitting on the bench. Last year the pairing of Dembele and Sandro was the dominant midfield force in the Premier League. Why we don't build around that for every single match is a complete mystery to me.

If we're continuing with the high line, the sooner we can get Vlad and Verts playing together at CB the better.

3. There's nobody out there who can realistically accomplish anything worth accomplishing. If we're sliding down the table, getting a guy like Hiddink might make our season look better with a slightly higher league finish. But it's not going to be a long term solution with long term results. If we really need to change managers, the end of the season is when we should be doing it.

4. I expect us to fight for a Champions League place. Like every year. I think most fans have expectations completely out of sync with reality. After finishing 5th place last year and selling the best player in the league, who everyone readily acknowledges baled us out of more than a few rough games single-handedly, why do we assume we should compete for the title? Or that Top 4 is our birthright? We haven't competed for the title in decades and the top four has eluded us almost every single year.

We bought well in the off-season and improved the squad, but we didn't become title winners over night. We still don't have a left winger. We're still playing our best CB at left back. We've added great depth, but nobody who is better than Gareth Bale. This is a great squad capable of challenging for silverware and competing with anyone. But Liverpool, Everton, Arsenal, City, and Chelsea are also very good. Southampton and ManU are playing mostly well too. That's 8 teams competing for 4 places, all of whom are pretty damn good. We're right in the mix where we should be. I don't know what else we can ask.

Ed: I'm interested to know what you think what 'Project AVB' is in tangible terms, and why you think it's not worth pulling the plug on now. I just can't see any evidence of any tangible direction or structure in our play right now. I'm not saying you're wrong, I'm saying that i want to know what it is I should be seeing that I keep missing that everyone thinks merits a longer stay for AVB. It increasingly seems like we're pinning our hopes on the mere hope he pulls something awesome out of his sleeve.

MCofA: I think that AVB's Plan A of a high line and high pressing has produced mostly exceptional defensive performances. It has produced a mix of attacking performances mostly centered between tepid and good. The combination makes us one of the four best clubs in the Premier League by our underlying numbers. We should be creating more in the attack, but Project AVB is all about goal prevention, and we have eleven matches of elite goal prevention performance to point to.

Plus City, of course. That sucked. But that's just one match.

Ed: Yeah, that's all a good point well made. i'm just worried that increasingly goal prevention isn't going to be enough. Certainly when a striker-less West Ham figure out a way to put three past you at home, biting back on the concern is difficult.

LE: Don't worry y'all, everything's gonna be ok.


Kevin: ¡Dale!

Menno: /has a real good time

/has a real good time

/has a real good time

/las a real good time

/has a real good time

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