The 2015-16 Premier League season is over, and now it's time to review. Over the next days and weeks, Cartilage Free Captain will be rolling out season-ending reviews of all Spurs first team players, looking not only at what happened this past season, but also what may happen in the future. We'll begin today with a team-wide overview.
Goals scored: 69 (2nd in EPL)
Goals conceded: 35 (2nd in EPL)
Final table position: 3
What went right?
Boy, a whole lot went right this season. Spurs took a leaky, struggling defense and turned it into the best back line in English football behind the steady partnership of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen. And when Jan went down with a knee injury early in the season, unheralded Austrian reserve Kevin Wimmer stepped into his role and didn't miss a beat, putting in extremely solid performances in his own right.
Spurs' offense was also fantastic to watch this season. After a slow start in which he went his opening six matches without scoring, Harry Kane quickly shrugged off any "one-season wonder" tags and went on to win the Golden Boot, scoring 25 league goals, 28 in all competitions. Erik Lamela doubled down on the midfield press and had his best season in England by far, scoring 11 goals and turning himself into one of the better all-around midfielders in the Premier League. Dele Alli went from League One to the Premier League and established himself as a superstar in the making.
But perhaps the biggest thing that went right this season was the center of midfield. The partnership of Mousa Dembele and Eric Dier took a little while to settle in, but once it did it was an absolute force. Dembele's strength on the ball and passing ability melded very well with Eric Dier's ability to break up play and shield the defensive line. The result was that very, very few teams were able to outmuscle Spurs in the midfield, which set up the offense for success after success.
Spurs took this offensive efficacy and turned it into some truly impressive performances, including a 4-1 shellackings of Manchester City, West Ham, and Sunderland at White Hart Lane, and a 3-0 win over Manchester United.
Also impressive was Pochettino's tactics. This year's team not only embraced the high pressing, high fitness, fast attacking style, but excelled at it for much of the season. Poche's setup isn't a "gimmicky" system that clubs will "find out" and neutralize, but a overall philosophy that is effective in the Premier League and should be for the foreseeable future.
The end result: Spurs lost only six times all year, challenged for the title until the final month, and ended the season with 70 points, their second highest point total in the Premier League. The finish was good enough for third in the table, which guarantees them Champions League group stage football next season.
If you were to be offered that finish at the start of the year, 99% of Spurs fans would have gnawed their arms off to accept. It is, by almost every possible metric, a fantastic season for Tottenham Hotspur considering preseason expectations and the financial gravitas of the club compared to its rivals.
What went wrong?
Unfortunately, there is one metric in which you can be disappointed with this season, and that's how Spurs finished. Spurs hung in there with "fairy tale" title winners Leicester City for much of the season and were in with a shot until May. A petulant punch got Dele Alli suspended, and Dembele himself picked up a six match ban in an ill-disciplined draw with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge with three matches to go. Spurs imploded after that, dropping their last two matches, including a humiliating 5-1 defeat to relegated Newcastle on the last day of the season, which allowed them to be pipped to second place by arch-rivals Arsenal. The end result was a mere two points picked up out of their last 12.
And while as a whole Spurs looked as good on the pitch as at any point in the past ten years (or more), there were frustrations. Spurs earned a lot of draws – 13 of them in the league – and many of them were games that they should've won had they been more clinical. In fact, despite Kane's 25 goals this season, Spurs didn't always have the cutting edge that's required to be Premier League champions. They may not have lost a lot of games, but they didn't win as many as they should have.
While Spurs' starting 11 was very good on balance and extremely impressive at points, the season also highlighted a lack of depth in the squad. While Wimmer was able to step in for Jan Vertonghen, the midfield in particular had a huge drop-off in talent and ability when the starters weren't able to go. Players like Ryan Mason, Tom Carroll, Nacer Chadli, and even new signing Son Heung-Min were sometimes disappointing and sometimes shockingly poor. This was particularly evident in the Europa League, where Spurs put out a rotated side against Dortmund and was put to the sword.
Spurs are in an odd position going into the 2016-17 season, one they haven't had to deal with for a very long time: the burden of being preseason contenders. Despite the end-of-season collapse, Spurs have the youngest team in the Premier League and look as though they have built a platform by which they can build on and improve in future seasons. Few people probably expect Spurs to win the title next season with all the money flying around this summer by the likes of Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea, but they've shown enough this season to prove that they have the talent and drive to be in the mix for not just the top four, but possibly higher once again.
They just put to rest the specter of losing their manager by tying Mauricio Pochettino up to a new contract, and it doesn't look like they should have any concerns about losing their best players to bigger clubs, a perennial danger to a "tweener" club like Spurs. Most of the pieces are there, but they need quality depth signings that can rotate in for or challenge players like Kane, Dembele, Dier, and Alderweireld, and that won't be awed by the Champions League. They have money to spend, but it pales in comparison to the oil-drenched super-clubs. Smart, cheap purchases of young, developing talent will continue to be the modus operandi of the offseason transfer window
Champions League participation will also be a highlight, not only because Spurs will be going up against some of the best competition in Europe, but also because it is a crucial test of this team's ability to compete in two major competitions at the highest levels of football. The last time Spurs were in the CL, they made the quarterfinals, but finished fifth in the league. The long-term future of the club hinges on consistent Champions League qualification, and it remains to be seen whether Spurs can pull it off.
Tottenham continue to be a well-run, stable club with a bright future. Despite a season that can really only be described as "excellent," there are still questions going into next year. Spurs need to work hard to ensure that this past season was not a blip, and that they not regress going forward.