If you had asked a Tottenham fan before the season started to name their first choice starting 11, it is a fair bet than neither Harry Kane nor Etienne Capoue would have been in it. Ask that same question now, and there would be a reasonable chance that both would make the cut. Capoue, an ever-present in the Lilywhites’ league line-up, has solidified his place with tackling and interception rates that bear comparison with the best in the league, alongside more than respectable pass aggregate and completion levels. Kane, meanwhile, seems to have leapfrogged Roberto Soldado into second choice front man behind Emmanuel Adebayor, and with the Togolese boasting only one goal in seven matches while the English youngster has hit form with six in nine for England’s U-21s, it would not be a huge surprise to find Kane leading the line at White Hart Lane in the not too distant future.
The first time round at White Hart Lane, things did not really work out for Younes Kaboul. Buccaneering runs forward were too often swiftly followed by panicky sprints back, and the perception was very much of too much having come too soon. He was rehabilitated at Portsmouth, though, before being brought straight back to Spurs, and after two seasons blighted by injury that threatened to curtail his career, he has stepped up again this time round. Given the captaincy by Mauricio Pochettino – surprisingly for some – on the departure of Michael Dawson, he has risen to the challenge, delivering a leader’s performance in the North London derby. He has real talent; if – and this could be said for a lot of the Spurs squad – he can live up to his promise and avoid a recurrence of his injury problems, the 28-year-old could prove to be one of the club’s best players of recent years.
The season to date at White Hart Lane has provided some fine illustrations of the value of competition. Following the signing of Ben Davies from Swansea in the summer, it was widely assumed that he would drop straight into what was seen as a problem position, with the inconsistent Danny Rose and the inexplicable Benoît Assou-Ekotto unlikely to prove much of a threat. Instead, it is Rose who has risen to the challenge, delivering a string of solid performances interspersed with penetrating forward runs. In front of him, Etienne Capoue and latterly Ryan Mason have squeezed out Nabil Bentaleb and Mousa Dembélé. In front of them, meanwhile, Nacer Chadli, far from being out-glitzed by Aaron Lennon and Andros Townsend, has raised his game and proved an incisive threat. Now if only Roberto Soldado could start to push Emmanuel Adebayor…
If there were two things that were perceived as defining characteristics of Mauricio Pochettino last season, they were his implementation of a high pressing game and willingness to blood youngsters. If there was one thing which encapsulated Spurs last season, it was capitulation at the hands of all and sundry from the higher end of the table. Skimming lightly over the early-season shellacking against Liverpool, what, then, did we learn from Pochettino’s latest big test, against Arsenal three weeks ago? The pressing game works, Christian Eriksen, Erik Lamela and Nacer Chadli combining for Tottenham’s goal. The new manager remains happy to throw in the youngsters, Ryan Mason far from disgracing himself on his full debut for the club. And Spurs did not capitulate – Pochettino, and many of the fans, would argue that the tactical approach was spot on, and that Tottenham should really have won. Manchester City will be another serious test, but either way, the signs look a little more promising.
A healthy dose of reality. Spurs have yet to play most of the top teams. They were taken apart against Liverpool, and lost at home to West Brom. In short, nothing that they have done this season in terms of results could not have happened last year under Andre Villas-Boas or Tim Sherwood. The Europa League campaign so far looks similar to previous iterations, with a second-string team putting out stodgy performances and earning scrappy draws. Christian Eriksen is yet to really hit top form, as is Emmanuel Adebayor. But for Hugo Lloris, they would have lost against Arsenal, and but for Sadio Mané’s scuff six yards from goal last time out, they would probably have drawn with Southampton. The margins to Champions League glamour might be quite fine; so too are the margins to obscurity.
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