We continue our series evaluating the season of the 2017-18 Tottenham Hotspur first team players. Up next, we look at the central midfielders.
Cards: 6 yellow, 0 red
After a fantastic 2016-17 in which it looked like he was ready to make the leap to the next level, Eric Dier stalled a little bit in 2017-18. It’s not that he was bad -- he was perfectly serviceable at both DM and CB, and sometimes he was fantastic. He just... didn’t really improve from his past seasons. He went from two goals in 2016-17 to two assists in 2017-18, and stats show a marginal improvement in his involvement in Spurs’ buildup play, but Dier’s not the player that you normally look at to get a goal or grab an assist. If you asked him to run around, break things, and execute some timely s—thousery, Dier was your guy and he did it well.
And yet I think we all expected a little more out of him. More involvement, more defensive stability, more... something. Maybe that’s unfair, because it’s not as though he had a bad season, and maybe we need to reorient our expectations a little, since maybe this is the player Eric Dier is going to be for us. And yet, I think even Eric thinks he can do better. “I believe this season, last season and the season before that my improvement has been good but at times it could be better,” he said in April. “I can still improve a lot more and I want to improve a lot more. I feel I can still reach a much higher standard.”
With Dier likely to become the experienced head in Spurs’ midfield next season, I think I agree with that.
Rating: 3.5 Chirpys
Real Madrid players kicked in a single play: 2
If Tottenham Hotspur’s midfield has a soul, it’s Mousa Dembele. But we knew this already. This was a season where people finally started to appreciate his importance to this Spurs side, and also probably where he started his inevitable decline. Dembele’s importance doesn’t come from goals and assists — he didn’t have any of either — but in how he was able to control the midfield and transition the ball from the defense to the attack, almost seamlessly, and the way he involved himself into the buildup of play.
Unfortunately, age is finally starting to catch up to him -- he had a couple of stints out with injury and it’s thought that, at age 30, he’s ready to move on to end his career in a place where life isn’t quite as strenuous as the Premier League. He also had a few uncharacteristically lackadaisical matches that were very un-Moose-ish. His unique combination of skills -- brute strength, dribbling ability, and passing -- are almost unique in club football to the extent that Tottenham can’t hope to replace him when he goes, but they will need to learn how to adjust to playing without him. And he will be missed.
Rating: 4 Chirpys
Goals: 1 (and it was a beauty)
Plates of spaghetti eaten: 78
It was an injury-blighted season for Victor Wanyama. He missed nearly the entire first half of the season with injury, and his performances when he did play in that stretch were pretty awful. By the time he came back, Spurs’ midfield was basically set and he was relegated to mop-up duty for the most part. Consequently he was never really able to get into a rhythm in matches, and thanks to the injury to Harry Winks when he was called into action it was as part of a pivot and not in his preferred role as destroyer in front of the back line.
He put in some flawed but heroic matches at the end of the season out of necessity, and it was thought that he played through a minor injury alongside Moussa Sissoko in midfield because there was no one else available. He also had THAT goal.
There are rumors that Spurs would listen to offers for him, but I kind of doubt it. I think he’ll be back next season, hopefully fully healthy and rested, and will be able to be a bigger and better part of the rotation next season. But this was a season that, for no fault of his own, Vic would probably like to put behind him.
Rating: 2.5 Chirpys
Minutes played: 1500
Poor Winksy. It’s not his fault. He was supposed to be a big part of Spurs’ midfield rotation, Dembele’s primary backup. He played a big role in Spurs’ Champions League campaign, playing significant roles in all of the group stage matches except the draw at Dortmund. This was the year he was supposed to establish his bonafides in the Premier League. He even got his first England cap, and there were murmurs that he might play his way onto the plane to Russia.
And then he got injured. And it didn’t get better. And instead of opting for surgery, he held out hope that he could recover and still make the World Cup. He had a string of games in the FA Cup but that injury never really healed. He never played again after February.
The saving grace for Winksy was that, when he played he played pretty darned well. Like in 2016-17, Winks showed promise while also battling through adversity. He showed a great deal of maturity in the draw against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu while going up against Luka Modric. The injuries are starting to become a concern, but again if he can stay healthy in the future there’s every reason to think that he could be a very good player for Tottenham.
Rating: 3 stars
Appearances: Too damn many
Moussa Sissoko is not a great player. I mean, don’t we have enough evidence after two seasons in lilywhite for us to make that determination pretty emphatically? It’s safe to say that Spurs paid £30m to Newcastle for a glorified scrub, someone to plonk into games when you’re up big but never someone to rely on to make positive things actually happen.
And yet. Mauricio Pochettino publicly praised Sissoko for being a model professional at the end of the season, and I wrote at the time that he probably wasn’t wrong. In fact, the stats say that Sissoko showed improved performance in xG90+xA90, shots, goals, assists, and xGChain. He certainly has kept his head down, run around a lot, tried really hard, and has been by all accounts a model teammate. He was better in the pivot than he was on the wing. Those are things that we can admire about Sissoko, and if Pochettino wants a (to use a phrase coined by Michael Caley) “try-hard binky,” well, who are we to say otherwise?
But holy hell, we can do SO MUCH BETTER. Or even if we can’t, we can at least give those 2100 minutes to young players like Josh Onomah or Tashan Oakley-Boothe who might actually improve with time. Sissoko will not. He is what he is, which is NOT GREAT BOB, and he is an obvious player to replace with all the super-brave Joe Lewis-funded transfer money we have this summer.
Moussa Sissoko was fine. Let’s sell him anyway.