It’s not hard to explain Tottenham’s biggest problem as we head into the season: Our squad is thin. Here is a list of players currently at Spurs who have first-team experience with the club and seem to be trusted by Pochettino:
GK: Hugo Lloris, Michel Vorm
Defenders: Kieran Trippier, Toby Alderweireld, Eric Dier, Jan Vertonghen, Danny Rose, Ben Davies
Midfielders: Mousa Dembele, Victor Wanyama, Harry Winks
Attacking Midfielders: Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli, Son Heung-Min, Erik Lamela
Strikers: Harry Kane
We also have Kevin Wimmer, Moussa Sissoko, Georges-Kevin N’Koudou, and Vincent Janssen still around the first-team squad, but Wimmer does not appear to be in Poche’s plans, Sissoko may leave this month, and both N’Koudou and Janssen are still very raw and barely played in the second half of last season.
Reviewing Squad Depth
To review, then: We’re OK at goalkeeper. In defense, we have no trusted backup at right back, one trusted backup in defense who is also backup in midfield, and one trusted backup at left back. We have one trusted backup in midfield besides the guy who also backs up in defense. We have one trusted backup for three roles in attacking midfield.
Oh, and two of the guys on that list above are currently injured and one of the two is expected to miss 12 months of action before possibly returning in October. So it may be more accurate to say we might have one trusted backup at left back if Rose stays fit and we don’t actually have any trusted backups in attacking midfield given Lamela’s fitness woes.
Moreover, another one of those guys is an aging midfielder with a history of fitness issues and muscle injuries in particular. So you might also reasonably that we don’t have any trusted backups in midfield if you assume that Dier will have to backup the defense and Dembele will miss time due to injury.
In other words, if you do not count players with major injury concerns (Rose, Dembele, Lamela) or players that Pochettino clearly does not trust (Wimmer, Sissoko, Janssen) that leaves us with 13 first-team players:
There is also Georges-Kevin N’Koudou, who Poche seems to rate more highly than Janssen or Sissoko but who also can hardly be called a reliable first-team player.
So you’ve got a backup keeper and Eric Dier on the bench and a best XI that includes Kieran Trippier, Ben Davies, and Harry Winks.
Adding Depth to a Team
The solution here if you’re a club with money is you go out and buy. That’s what Manchester United, Chelsea, and Manchester City have done this summer. United has added depth in defense and midfield while Chelsea has added depth in defense. Both have also replaced their fairly durable first-choice strikers and both have backup strikers who are far more trustworthy than Janssen in the form of Michy Batshuayi and Anthony Martial. City, meanwhile, has gone nuts spending almost £200m on three defenders, a goalkeeper, and a versatile midfield attacker.
Spurs obviously do not have the money to do this. So the solution for us has to come from the academy. Daniel Levy’s comments earlier this summer also suggest that that is the current plan.
That said, Josh Onomah is now moving to Villa on loan. So there goes an obvious backup in midfield and attacking midfield. Marcus Edwards, the most obvious backup in attacking midfield after Onomah, is still very young. Kazaiah Sterling, a promising young striker, is also still young and inexperienced. In defense, Kyle Walker-Peters and Cameron Carter-Vickers are more experienced, but neither look ready to be a regular, reliable first-team contributor.
There are many, many plausible disaster scenarios for Tottenham.
The result is that it is not at all hard to imagine a nightmare scenario where 2-3 players get injured and we have a horror run as a result. And because we are so thin, you don’t even need to go worst-case scenario with something crazy like Toby, Harry, and Christian all getting hurt. That sort of injury issue is apocalyptic for any team.
But we could have a far more garden-variety sort of problem: Lose one star for six weeks and then a couple good squad players for a month. Suppose Harry Kane, Mousa Dembele, and Eric Dier all are hurt. Suddenly this is the best match day squad we can put on the field:
Trippier, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Rose
Son, Dele, Eriksen
Bench: Vorm, Wimmer, Davies, Walker-Peters, Lamela, Edwards, Sterling
(This is assuming we keep Wimmer and sell Sissoko, as appears likely at this point.)
To be sure, that XI is good enough to win plenty of games. Wanyama and Winks is probably a coherent midfield. The back four is mostly good, though Trippier lacks the pace needed to support the attack and do what is needed defensively. The front four is going to be OK, although it’s asking a lot from Dele and Son as far as goal-scoring goes.
But the bench is a huge concern: There is literally no cover in midfield, meaning our plan if we have to sub out one of our midfield players is either do some crazy 4-1-4-1 thing with Wanyama running everywhere or push Jan or Toby up into midfield and bring Wimmer or Davies on at center back. Another option, I suppose, is to drop Dele back into midfield and bring on an attacking midfielder. But it’s also hard to identify the backups in attacking midfield. And I even have Lamela in this squad! But besides Lamela, there isn’t much experience there either.
We’re nine days away from the season opener at Newcastle. We will almost certainly play at least 50 matches this season. We could quite possibly have even more than that depending on how we fare in Europe and the domestic cups. At present, this squad is not nearly deep enough to handle a campaign of that level.