We are just about 25% of the way through the 2017-18 Premier League season. After ten league matches, Tottenham Hotspur in second place: just behind unbeaten Manchester City, and level with Manchester United on points.
That’s pretty good! I think if you’d ask most Spurs fans where they’d like to be at this point in the season, most would be pretty happy with wins over Liverpool and Dortmund, a loss to Chelsea, and a draw against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu. In a season where most expected Spurs to backslide from last year’s performance, it’s worth taking a moment to take stock of where things are.
Commence writer roundtable!
Bryan A.: That Spurs have managed to create a competent and coherent midfield despite the absence of Victor Wanyama and Mousa Dembele. Wanyama hasn’t played since August and Dembele has been out for a little over a month. In the meantime, Spurs have played a rotating case of Moussa Sissoko, Harry Winks, and, most recently, Dele Alli in midfield alongside Eric Dier. And, weirdly, it’s worked. If you had told me in July that we’d be going heading toward November and Dembele and Wanyama had hardly played I’d have guessed we were somewhere around mid-table. So, obviously, us being joint-second is pretty shocking.
Jake: My read on the league heading into the season was that you could break the top six out into four buckets:
- Title contenders: Manchester City, Manchester United (I picked United, but understand why most folks went with City.)
- Definitely top four: Chelsea
- Fighting for fourth: Tottenham, Liverpool
- LOL: Arsenal
The list has been shuffled around a bit over the first nine rounds, however. First, due to the Paul Pogba injury, United has slipped a little. With Pogba, they’re definite title contenders. Without him is another matter. The other big mover, for me, has been Tottenham. I think we’re definitely on the same level as Chelsea (sorry Liverpool) and may even be better than both Chelsea and a Pogba-less Man United. I think we still need a ton of help to overtake City, but I think second place is definitely a possibility for us this season and in the preseason I would have given us a 40% chance at 5th, depending on how good Liverpool turned out to be.
Dustin: I’ve been surprised by a lot of things this season, but probably the biggest is the fact that Tottenham actually have some pretty good squad depth, and from unlikely sources. Coming out of the summer transfer window, I know I (and a number of us on staff) were pretty disappointed that we didn’t really address what we saw as pretty critical areas of need in the side, particularly a solid central midfielder and attacking midfield option. I still think we could have done better to ameliorate those concerns.
That said, Harry Winks has emerged as a legitimate central midfield option. Ben Davies has upped his game significantly. Even Moussa Sissoko has turned things around and turned into not just a decent squad player, but one that we can actually say did good things in midfield! What a world! If you were to tell me that we’d go to the Bernabeu and get a result without Dele Alli, Danny Rose, Mousa Dembele, Victor Wanyama, and Erik Lamela, I wouldn’t believe you. The fact that we’re currently tied for second in the league while dealing with some pretty significant injuries already tells me that we didn’t give our reserves enough credit.
Joel: Spurs' ability to play without the ball and to do so with whomever happens to be healthy that week has lifted the ceiling on this team from hope to make UCL and get out of the knockouts to hope to give City a run for the title and make the UCL semifinals. That's where Spurs are now the 2nd most likely title challenger per 538 and have a 20% chance to make the Champions League semis. That's crazy. And that's largely due to Poche's growth as a manager and the players' obvious comfort with his broad tactics. Sonny's goals, first against Dortmund and then Liverpool on Sunday, are perfect examples of that growth, with Spurs turning defense into offense quickly against teams who would deal with our press if we tried to do the grit and grind thing we have excelled at for two seasons.
Alex: I’ve been pleasantly surprised that our lack of depth in midfield hasn’t hurt us that much. Even with injuries to Dembele and Wanyama we have been more than okay in that area of the pitch. The play of Harry Winks doesn’t surprise me, as we’ve known for a while that he has this type of talent. But the play of Moussa Sissoko has definitely surprised me. Sissoko looked like a lost cause last year, but it seems Mauricio Pochettino has worked his magic once again. Sissoko’s best games this season have come playing in midfield, which has only been possible because his first-touch and passing have improved drastically. Something clicked, and he’s unironically good now. Moussa Sissoko has gone from meme to mainstay.
Bryan A.: If we can’t choose Kane, then there are a lot of options. I’d say the shortlist is probably Eriksen, Dier, and Hugo Lloris, and if I have to pick someone from that list it’s Eriksen. Sure, he had a bad game against Real Madrid, but other than that he’s been spectacular this season and he continues to be at the heart of so many of the good things that Tottenham do.
Jake: If we can’t pick Kane, then there’s a good shortlist of Eriksen, Lloris, and (for me) Davinson Sanchez. Eriksen and Lloris are self-explanatory—Eriksen is arguably the best creative midfielder in England and Lloris’s heroics in goal have kept us in a few matches.
Sanchez is the interesting one though. Last season most of what we wanted to do tactically hinged on all five of Eric Dier, Jan Vertonghen, Victor Wanyama, Mousa Dembele, and Toby Alderweireld being fit. If all were fit, we could run our 3-5-2 and be almost unbeatable. But if any one of them was injured we had to shuffle things around quite a bit. Dier could get rotated into midfield or defense and the side of defense he was on could vary depending on who was hurt. On the other hand, if Moose or Wanyama went down, we had to shift Dier to midfield. The signing of Davinson Sanchez has solved this problem by allowing Dier to focus on midfield while the Colombian locks down the third center back spot in the 3-5-2.
The other interesting thing with Sanchez is that because he and Toby can both play in the center or on the right side of the back three, it creates different possibilities for how our back line works and particularly how we progress the ball. So Sanchez not only solved our biggest depth problem (Harry Winks deserves a mention there too, of course), he also added another tactical wrinkle for us.
Dustin: I mean, it’s Eriksen, right? So instead, let me talk up one of the perhaps less heralded Tottenham Hotspur players: Ben Davies. We’ve been very hard on Davies in the past, mostly due to his egregious failure to not be Danny Rose. But while he doesn’t have the same kind of tools in the toolbox that Danny has, Davies has steadily improved with his continuous string of games both last season and this one. It’s reached the point now where after a string of solid performances I no longer feel like he’s a liability to the way we want to play in any way. I welcome Danny’s return and think he’s still the best we have at the position, but Davies deserves an enormous amount of credit for Tottenham’s strong quarter season.
Joel: It's probably Christian Eriksen, and I'm sure somebody else will sing his praises better than I can, but I'm going to just make an argument for Jan Vertonghen here: Other than a BS red card leading to a one game suspension he's played every minute for Spurs this season. Spurs back three has been asked to do even more this season as we've played more without the ball, defending deep and clearing the ball against some of the world's best attackers. Moreover, Spurs have been lighter in midfield than in recent years, without Moose and Vic to stop attacks before they start. Jan has been the best among the back three and has been consistently calm and collected. When Spurs needed him to play left back, he did that too. Not to mention his flop against Ronaldo was A+ schmuckiness. Now let's #GetJanAGoal.
Alex: If Kane and Eriksen are out of the conversation, our player of the season might just be Ben Davies. Before the season there were questions being asked about whether Davies could handle being the only healthy natural left back in the squad, but those questions have been answered. Davies has pulled his weight defensively while also contributing goals and assists in the attack. He’s done this at high levels in both the Premiership and the Champions League. Danny Rose is coming back to health now, but don’t be surprised if Rose is kept out of the squad by our Welshman. He isn’t our MVP by any means, but Ben Davies is a quality player and needs some more love.
Bryan A.: Like... right this second? With United not having Pogba and Chelsea not having Kante? Yeah? I guess? Every team at the top is dealing with injury issues but United and Chelsea have had really integral players go down and have looked less than stellar without those guys. Spurs, as I mentioned above, have had their own injury issues but they keep moving along. So, sure. Second best team in England this week? Why not.
Jake: I’m with Bryan here. It’s really hard to say with much confidence that we are England’s second best team. United with Pogba looked good enough to overtake City. Chelsea, meanwhile, is missing Kante and still hasn’t really figured out what they want to be tactically. Both of those teams can make a run at second or perhaps even the title if City has any fitness issues with key players. That said, going into the year I figured we were locked into fourth or fifth. Now I think our ceiling is second. And that’s remarkable given the limited resources we have as a club and the fact that the current crop of Premier League managers is the best that England’s top flight has ever had.
Dustin: Talent-wise? Maaaaaaaaybe. Spurs have some A+ players on their team, but you can make a strong argument that on paper Manchester United, Manchester City, and Chelsea all have stronger overall squads. However, one of Pochettino’s great strengths is the ability to get his players to play as a team, and few teams have done as well minus a few key players as Spurs.
I’m a Spurs supporter, so naturally I have my doubts that we’ll be able to keep this run of form up and finish second or higher. But darn if this team isn’t fun to watch right now. I’ll feel more confident if we’re able to get results from one or more of City, United, or Chelsea. So... ask me again next week?
Joel: Yes, Spurs are the second best team in England. They have the second most points in England. They're great at both ends of the ball. And they're doing it without Moussa Dembele, Victor Wanyama, Danny Rose, and Erik Lamela. Now they haven't lost somebody as important to the team as Paul Pogba, but still, they've withstood a not full squad better than I could have ever imagined. By all objective measures: points, 538 power rankings, and Club Elo, only Manchester City is ahead of them. If Spurs ever get the ability to make real impact subs - which, maybe those guys are just all broken and they won't - they have another height. Wheeee.
Alex: No, have you seen Shrewsbury Town this year? They’re 15 games undefeated.
But seriously, I think we are. Chelsea have been really inconsistent, and injuries are taking their toll on Manchester United’s squad more than they are on ours. Spurs’ cohesiveness is, once again, giving them an advantage over the big-spending clubs. The defense is strong and backed-up by a world-class keeper, and we have Harry Kane, while the other teams don’t. At the moment, Spurs are the second best team in the country...But the season is long and we know how quickly things can change in this league.
Also it’s fun that Arsenal aren’t even close to being in this discussion.