Mauricio Pochettino’s era has redefined Tottenham Hotspur. The perennial losers from North London are no more. And while they are still unable to claim bragging rights over their neighbors, Arsenal, things are looking up. St. Totteringham’s might be nearing its fateful end after last season’s close call.
But let’s back up for a minute.
Last Saturday, Crystal Palace managed to eek out a 2-1 win against Chelsea after the clubs combined for 3 goals in the first 11 minutes of play. A little earlier in the day, Tottenham capped off an easy win against Burnley. Then, both Chelsea and Tottenham won their next two games – but Chelsea still has to play Man U next week. On the same day, Tottenham will play Bournemouth. While Chelsea still has a dominant hold on the standings, this is the best chance Spurs are going to get to cut into Chelsea’s lead.
The Premier League table is pretty tilted at this point in the season, and while Chelsea are heavy favorites to take the title, the recent 3-point swing means Tottenham are only 7 points out of the top spot.
So what would it take for Spurs to conjure up some magic? Tottenham has been without Erik Lamela since October and just lost Harry Winks for the rest of the season last Saturday. In the same game, Victor Wanyama left with a lower back issue. With forward Harry Kane also injured, and finally making a second-half appearance as a substitute during today’s game against Watford, the squad is lacking a certain amount of offensive leadership. Duties at striker have been split between Son Heung-min and to a lesser extent Vincent Janssen. Yet the driving forces behind Spurs’ offense have been Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen. Against Burnley, Dier scored off an Eriksen corner. Son scored off a pass by Alli. That play all started off a pass by, you guessed it, Christian Eriksen. During Tottenham’s game on Wednesday against Swansea, Eriksen managed a goal (assisted by Alli) and two assists (one of which Alli scored on) late in the game to lift Spurs to a 3-1 victory. With a 4-0 win against Watford this Saturday Tottenham are doing all they can to catch up.
Alli and Eriksen have been nothing short of a revelation late in the season, especially since they’ve been given complete control of the offense. That being said, Harry Kane will be back soon and Erik Lamela, busted hip and all, is reportedly not for sale. This leaves Tottenham with an embarrassment of riches when it comes to offensively minded players. The big question on everyone’s mind for this season and beyond is: Who is the man to lead Tottenham’s central attacking midfield, Alli or Eriksen?
The Simple Answer: Christian Eriksen.
Though he was shaky at the start of the season, Eriksen is the premier playmaker on the roster. According to Eriksen during his interview with the Telegraph, “[he’s] always going to be the guy sneaking the ball through, to build and create something”. The architectural way in which he approaches passing and his keen understanding of Tottenham’s system make him a truly special player. Harry Kane may have 19 goals this season but Christian Eriksen, whether through direct assists or play design, has had his hand in quite a few of them. Some have gone so far as to call Eriksen Tottenham’s key player. His unique skillset has served Spurs well over the past few seasons but particularly during the current campaign.
The Harder Answer: Still Christian Eriksen
Despite his unbelievable play, the question of Alli’s maturity level often comes up. That’s not to say that Dele Alli hasn’t been playing out of his mind lately. The young phenom has scored 16 goals this season and has looked great in Harry Kane’s absence. But when compared to Christian Eriksen, Alli is booked much more often. He also has a tendency to act childish and some of his fouls are more reminiscent of a U-12 rec league than the EPL.
Alli’s other issue is missing easy shots. Despite his natural goal scoring ability, Alli manages to rocket one ball over the net from less than 10 yards away, every single game. The 20-year old seems nervous and rushed when he’s in the box and because of this, he often doesn’t take the time to settle the ball and deliver a good strike. Alli reflected on this issue earlier in the season but still has to work on his patience during up close scoring opportunities. The poise necessary to slow down and just tap the ball in comes with age, however, and Alli is still extremely young. The wunderkind isn’t ready yet.
Tottenham’s overall chances at a Premier League title this year don’t look good. Chelsea would need to go into a serious slump this April in order to cede the top spot to Spurs. Regardless of how well Tottenham plays, in order to win, they need Chelsea to play poorly. Unfortunately, this year Chelsea doesn’t really know how to lose. Aside from the minor slip-up against Crystal Palace, Chelsea hasn’t dropped a match since January. On top of this, Tottenham is pretty banged up. It will be hard to guarantee wins when the team is short so many players.
Although their chances of winning the title are slim, Tottenham are quickly becoming the team to beat in the EPL. Spurs have been gathering steam over the past few seasons under Pochettino and are host to a number of young superstars in the making.
When he’s ready, Alli will be given a larger share of the Tottenham attack and will hopefully become the player he’s been hyped-up to be. With Alli, Erik Lamela, Christian Eriksen, Victor Wanyama and Eric Dier, Tottenham has possibly the best midfield in the EPL. With Harry Kane upfront, Spurs look like a top contender next season and may even be built for a deep run in next year’s Champions League. Only time will tell but the future is uncharacteristically bright for Tottenham.