As you may have noticed, Spurs' season has gotten off to a slightly rocky start. On twitter they are firing up their outrage machines. Journalists and pundits alike are doodling hearts around "Levy likes to fire managers" in the margins of their notebooks as they wait for matches to end. And bloggers are writing articles while clutching bottles of whiskey and weeping like children.
As I wipe the tears and whiskey from my face, the interesting thing to me about our start is the lack of a common thread in the games where we have thrown away points. Under AVB, Sherwood, and to some extent, Harry, the big problems Spurs had were identifiable. And it was utterly infuriating that they weren't getting fixed.
AVB had no ability to create a coherent attack that didn't involve one of the five best attacking players on the planet. Under the Portuguese, instead of moving around in the final third, our players stood there picking their nose and once they received the ball, they waited five minutes to make their next move. Sherwood refused to shield a shaky backline with a defensive midfielder. Also he was a crazy person. I mean, he played Kyle Walker as a midfielder against Chelsea. Think about the amount of drugs you would have to do just to consider that. Now consider that Tim Sherwood ACTUALLY DID THAT. IN A REAL GAME. AGAINST JOSE MOURINHO'S CHELSEA. Even Harry refused to rotate players and ended up running his first XI into the ground, leading us to lose crucial points late in the year.
However, if there is a common problem to Pochettino's management, it isn't as obvious as it was for his predecessors. In isolation, every game where we have dropped points has a distinct reason for it. At the very least, what is clear is that whatever problems we're having are decidedly new problems, rather than problems that have plagued us for years and across managers.
Spurs came into this match riding high off of a stoppage time winner against West Ham and an absolute thrashing of QPR. It was our first real test of the season and we got stuffed. At the time we wrote it off to losing to a better team, and while that still might be true – this is still the only game Liverpool have fielded Balotelli and Sturridge together –Liverpool have hardly been world beaters in the weeks since this match. Liverpool were the better team from the off, but the game really changed when Dier conceded a soft penalty (that was still stupid on his part), and it got even worse when Andros Townsend had a giveaway that led directly to a goal. Rose and Kaboul were poor, but it's worth noting that both players have gotten much better since this game.
If I were to attribute this loss to anything, it would be Liverpool having a better tactical game plan than Spurs. We ran out the same players and formation that beat QPR to see how our first choice approach would fare against a good team and it absolutely did not work. Liverpool retained possession and made us look very bad.
Tottenham Hotspur 2 - 2 Sunderland AFC
This might be the most frustrating of our dropped points. We thoroughly outclassed Sunderland in this match. We had quick, incisive attacks that cut Sunderland open all match. Honestly it's our bad luck that we didn't score 4 or 5. Lamela hit the post and we had at least one penalty shout waved away, not to mention a bunch of free kicks for cheap fouls on Lamela.
Yet somehow we drew, conceding two goals despite only conceding a single shot on target. One of the goals came off a super stupid deflection off of Harry Kane's chest during a corner kick. Their other goal came off a nasty deflection of a shot by Sunderland. Honestly, if I had to chalk this defeat up to anything, it would be an inability to deal with set pieces and a lot of bad luck.
Tottenham Hotspur 0 - 1 West Bromwich Albion
This might have been one of the worst games of football I have ever watched. It was like the ghost of AVB had returned to the touchline and taken control of the team because there was no movement and even fewer ideas. And let's not forget our fans being so bad after about 20 minutes that West Brom's manager credited them for helping them win the match. We conceded on a late set piece and really looked like we had no idea what to do. West Brom maybe isn't as bad a team as we thought they were, but we still should not have looked this awful. Despite what the hashtag brigade would have you believe, in our other bad games this year there have at least been a semblance of an attacking strategy. But there sure wasn't against West Brom. Literally the only positive of this game is that Pochettino was so pissed over our performance it probably led directly to Ryan Mason cracking our starting line up.
Tottenham Hotspur 1 - 1 Arsenal
While technically we dropped points here, any sane person would take a point away at the Emirates. It's even more encouraging when you consider that we had a game plan and executed it pretty effectively. Pochettino set the team out to play smart reactive football and it broadly worked. We won the first half and created several good chances. In the second half we bunkered deep and fought off a ferocious onslaught of Arsenal attacks, only to give up the three points after a misplaced clearance that gifted them an opportunity. An individual mistake cost us, but on balance it's hard to feel like anything actually went wrong here.
Tottenham Hotspur 1 - 4 Manchester City
While we didn't deserve to win this game, we looked much better than the scoreline suggests. Many who criticized us for "not playing the Tottenham way" against Arsenal should have been much happier with this, because we took it to the champions, on the road, and looked pretty dangerous doing it. We did not finish as many chances as we should have, including a penalty miss by Soldado. At the same time, Sergio Aguero punished us, even if he wasn't at his best. Regardless, it's hard to easily evaluate this game because Jonathan Moss turned this into the Ref Show. Moss gave out FOUR penalties in this match, three of which involved embellishment if not outright diving, AND he missed a handball in City's box. Again, we probably didn't deserve to win, but the referee distorted this entire match. The game was actually close until late, when Soldado's missed penalty at 2-1 down was immediately followed by Fazio getting sent off, which lead to things spiraling downhill. It's a weird game that would have felt just as fair drawing 2-2 as it would have losing 8-2.
Tottenham Hotspur 1 - 2 Newcastle United
Ugh. So Spurs were dominant in the first half. We ran the show and Newcastle looked every bit the relegation candidate. If there is one complaint about the first half it is that we didn't score more often. Then we came out of halftime and Sammy Ameobi (!!!!) scored in eight seconds because Eric Dier was caught napping. Spurs never looked to recover from this gut punch and looked shaky through the second half. Pardew shored up his midfield with substitutions, but the real problem was Spurs looked to be pressing for the rest of the game and when Dier got torched again to set up Newcastle's second goal, they looked really desperate.
So what have we learned?
A lot of people here are going to point to issues like character, or heart, or guts, or endemic rot. I think that's nonsense. Everyone was banging on about how much heart and character Kaboul had when he was scoring winners against Arsenal a few years ago. That's hardly gone away. Even if it has, I don't think fans have any insight into what kind of leadership we do or do not have. If we're missing anything in this respect that we can analyze from outside the locker room, I think it's a midfielder who will take control of the way we're playing a game. After watching him yelling at Lamela to get on his mark last week, I think that Ryan Mason might be growing into that role.
Once you move past the idiotic world of Tim Sherwood's intangibles, I think the two most obvious problems right now are Eric Dier and our finishing. Starting with the former, it is hard to blame Dier too much. He is a 19 year old center back playing out of position in his first year in English football. It's telling that after he won the back up job in the West Ham game, he had lost it back to Kyle Naughton by the Southampton game. Naughton was actually playing really well until he got hurt and we were back to our third choice right back. For a 19 year old, out of position, third choice right back, Dier probably hasn't been that bad, but he has been at fault for a lot of our defensive errors and we really really need to get one of our two Kyles back on the pitch.
As for the scoring, this is a more endemic problem. Our front line hasn't clicked yet and we need to see some real improvement from them both as individuals and as a unit. While you can see Spurs have a coherent attacking strategy that creates far more danger than AVB ever did without Gareth Bale, we're not creating enough chances. While Chadli has his issues and Eriksen and Lamela still don't seem to be clicking, I'm going to lay most of the blame here at the feet of Adebayor. He isn't lazy, as some fans suggest, but he is wasteful. His first touch is dreadful and he fails to shoot when he should. I know that he is capable of being an absolute monster, as we saw earlier this year, but he's really bad right now. The sample size is limited, but our attack has looked much more potent with Soldado or Kane leading the line. Given that Soldado now seems to be fit, and how well he knitted the attack together against City, I can't understand why he's not starting over Adebayor. Given how impressive Kane has looked when given an opportunity (admittedly against lesser opposition) I can't understand why he's not gotten more minutes. I can only guess that Adebayor looks better than one or both of them in training and Kane is suffering from being the low man on the totem pole. Still, as Ryan Mason proves, Pochettino will start players on merit. I would hope that the striker situation will sort itself out sooner rather than later.
So yes, we should probably be worried about our defeat against Newcastle, we should also take solace in the fact that we haven't had any other defeats like that this year. None of our defeats have really looked similar. Here's hoping that's a product of transition and Pochettino implementing his style and learning his line up, and not a sign that we've made another mistake.