By just about any metric, this has been a phenomenal start of the season for Tottenham Hotspur. Heading into 2016, Spurs are in third place (pending Manchester City's match today) with a +18 goal differential, are playing dynamic, exciting, positive football, and have one of the best defenses in the league. That's exciting!
So now that Spurs have played every team in the league once, it's a good opportunity to take stock of how things have gone, and to hand out a few midseason awards. We'll start with Most Valuable Player: the one player on Tottenham's team that has had the biggest impact on Spurs' play. But that doesn't mean we have to agree! The Cartilage Free Captain staff identified six nominees, all of whom have a legitimate claim to the award. We had a staff writer argue on their behalf, and we'll let the readers decide via the totally scientific internet poll at the bottom of the page.
Harry Kane (Dustin Menno)
Why not start with the most obvious? Harry Kane is arguably Spurs' best player, and inarguably its best talent on offense. Kane and his 31 goals last season was the reason Spurs finished, improbably, in fifth place last season ahead of Liverpool, and Mauricio Pochettino doubled down on him over the summer, opting to ride with him as the only recognized striker on the team after the deadline day for Saido Berahino fell through.
After a slow start, Kane has shaken off the "one-season wonder" suggestions and has gone on to score 11 EPL goals, good for fourth highest in the EPL. He's clearly one of the best strikers in the league, and a major, major reason that Spurs are (currently) in third, and within a shout of the top of the table. But it's more than that: Kane is also a tireless worker, intelligent in finding space, exceptional at holding up the ball, and willing to press opponents. Perhaps the biggest reason that Kane deserves MVP is that, as of now, we're all terrified of what might happen if he gets injured. No disrespect to Son Heung-Min or Clinton N'Jie, Kane's backups, but without Harry Kane, Spurs are nowhere close to top four. That's indicative of his importance, and why he deserves this award.
Eric Dier (Skipjack)
The obvious, and honestly perfectly reasonable, choice is Harry Kane. Kane fires our attack and he's one of the most dangerous strikers in England, but he did that last year when we were just alright. Spurs are legitimately the third best team in England this season and the big difference is Eric Dier. Playing Dier in midfield has totally transformed Spurs from a flimsy team that leaks goals to the best defensive team in England.
That alone would warrant mention for player of the year, but what's more insane is that this is Dier's first extended period of time in the midfield. Dier was brought to Spurs as a center back. However, after only a summer of training, he has become one of the most talented Defensive Midfielders in England, if not Europe. He hasn't shied away from his new responsibilities and handled his opposition with a surprisingly amount of calmness, even when they're strikers like Vardy and Aguero, who are setting the Premier League on fire. His play, more than any others, has transformed Spurs from an also ran to a genuine competitor for not just Champions League places, but maybe the title. No one has been more valuable to Spurs this year than Eric Dier.
Mousa Dembele (Brett Rainbow)
It is hardly believable that as recently as this summer Mousa Dembélé looked as though he did not have a future at White Hart Lane. Even more than Eric Dier or Toby Alderweireld, the Belgian has been the most important player in Spurs' defensive resurgence this season. He averages over 3.5 tackles per 90 minutes; no other Spurs midfielder averages over 2.5. Even more impressive is that he doesn't fly blindly into players. He's dribbled past far less than once every three games, according to WhoScored.
This ability to win the ball cleanly doesn't just result in fewer chances conceded, of course - it also sets up transition opportunities. On a Spurs team bereft of a true deep-lying playmaker, the importance of this contribution can't be overstated.
While Dembélé does not contribute much in terms of key passes, his physical strength and close control allow Spurs to retain possession, especially against high pressing sides. This has not gone unnoticed among his teammates. After the Liverpool match, Jan Vertonghen made his feelings known about playing alongside him. "It's a joy to play with Mousa Dembélé. Sometimes I give him difficult passes and he makes it look easy."
A lot has been written this year about Dembélé's improvement. I personally don't buy it. Dembélé has been terrific since he's been on Spurs. His key pass and shot numbers are essentially identical to previous years. The main difference is that he has the manager's trust and is actually playing. Just halfway through this season, Dembélé has already started four more Premier League matches than he did all of last year. If he can stay fit, Spurs' fans have every reason to believe their club can finish in the top four - and perhaps even challenge for the title.
Erik Lamela (Dustin Menno)
Erik Lamela for MVP? Why not! It's been a long road for Lamela, but one that has paid dividends for Tottenham this season. Our £30m Argentine has gone from a player we tried to loan out to Marseille on deadline day to one of the key pieces of Mauricio Pochettino's offense. His narrative turnaround is as spectacular as the performances he's put in on the right side of midfield this season.
The thing about Lamela's contributions isn't that he's scoring a lot of goals, although he's put in four goals in his last five matches and is second on the team behind Harry Kane with eight goals in all competitions: it's his amazing work rate and his efforts in the midfield press. Something clicked for Erik this summer, and he has fully embraced his role as a high-energy, ankle-biting midfield terrier, but still displays a creativity and an eye for goal. And more than that, he's turned into a fantastic team player. He expounded on this in a recent interview, saying "As an individual I have personal ambitions – scoring goals, giving as many assists as I can but also working hard for the team and doing a job in defence as well. My ambitions are for the team and what we can achieve as a whole.
There's a reason why he's keeping players like Son Heung-Min out of the side. He's proved that he can adapt to English football and to Pochettino's complicated pressing system, is now one of the first names on the team sheet, and has been a key player in Tottenham's improvement this season.
Toby Alderweireld (Dustin Menno)
Tottenham has a really good defense this season compared to last season, and the key difference is Toby Alderweireld. Signed (contentiously) this summer from Atletico Madrid after a highly successful loan at Southampton, Alderweireld has been nothing short of revelatory in Spurs' back line. He's paired with his Belgium national teammate Jan Vertonghen and has transformed Jan from a petulant, frustrated defender to one half of the best Tottenham CB pairing since Ledley King and Michael Dawson, and possibly going back to the days of Gary Mabbutt.
Far from a static defender, Toby's athletic enough to play his way out of danger when called upon, excellent in the air, and has the ability to put long passes out of the back with at times startling accuracy. Toby's been aided by having a solid defensive midfielder in Eric Dier to act as the first line of defense against attacks and counterattacks, but his composure and speed means that not much gets past him. You won't see him range forward on marauding runs like Jan will on occasion, but he's mobile enough to stay with the fastest of attackers and savvy enough with his positioning to not make very many dumb mistakes. Toby's also a threat offensively as his large stature and leaping ability, along with his excessive hair gel, creates a solid platform for headers off of set pieces and corner kicks.
Spurs were hoping that Toby would help shore up the defense this season. He's done far more than that. It's not hyperbole to say that not only does he have a claim to be Spurs' best summer signing, he's been the catalyst for a resurgent Spurs defense and its most important and valuable player.
Hugo Lloris (Jake Meador)
Since he is now in year four at the club it is easy to forget how vital Hugo Lloris has been for Spurs since his arrival from Lyon. Last season he, along with Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane, basically put the team on his back and carried Spurs to a fifth place finish when the team's actual performances probably merited 7th or 8th in the table. Spurs beat xGA, according to our own Michael Caley's method, by five goalsâwith an xGA of 51.3 and a non-penalties/own goal total of 46. That's a small difference but it saved the club a number of points as many of his best saves came late in the match.
This year he has continued that trend, as Spurs have an xGA of 17.5 as the year ends and an NPGA of 12. And once again, many of those saves have been vital. The result against Watford swung from a defeat to a victory in about 60 seconds thanks first to Lloris's last-gasp save on the line off a corner kick. He has also made similarly massive saves in the team's win against Manchester City and in the draws against West Bromwich Albion and Leicester City.
To be sure, the entire defense has improved this season thanks to Eric Dier's breakout performance in midfield and the emergence of Janby Vertonghweireld in defense. But behind that elite group of midfielders and defenders is one of England's best keepers. Kane, Alli, Dembele, and Dier are all reasonable choices for a mid-season MVP, but it'd be a mistake to forget the French captain who has become a fixture between the sticks at White Hart Lane.