Yes you read that title correctly. No, I haven’t suffered a mental breakdown and yes, I have been watching the Premier League this season.
The fact of the matter is Tottenham Hotspur are the club in England that play the closest to the Spanish giants everyone holds up as one of the most impressive teams in football. However, it may not necessarily be for the reasons you usually associate with the Catalan side.
Spurs’ best attribute this season has been their stern defence. They’ve conceded just 20 goals this season in the league and despite just nine clean sheets in 26 games, they have only allowed more than one goal twice.
It’s pretty impressive and while some will pin it down to their Belgian centre-back pairing of Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld, along with their world class goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, the real difference has been in front of them. It’s the manager Mauricio Pochettino’s use of Eric Dier that has really helped them become a sterner unit at the back.
The defender-cum-defensive midfielder had been utilised in a number of positions last season but it’s his role as the protector that has pushed his game to the next level. He doesn’t venture too far forward and even slots in as an extra defender as the full-backs push on.
That movement, although simple, gives them an extra body against counter attacks and allows his centre-backs to close down the space as he uses his defensive instincts to cover. Much like Sergio Busquets and Javier Mascherano do at Barcelona, they almost create a 3-5-2 as the full backs push on to give them the width that allows their creative players more space in more dangerous areas.
The two CBs also act in a similar way to what Gerard Pique does, as they are both quick on the ground and proficient with the ball. Both Vertonghen and Alderweireld are capable passers, even switching play on occasion and it’s a real asset to the team.
Speaking of the full-backs, the club’s use of their four players in those positions on both wings has been very impressive. They rotate them when they can to keep them fit, which keeps things competitive and has pushed four solid players to become even better, as well as becoming a real important part of their attacking play.
In an even stranger stat, both right backs (Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier) have a goal and an assist while both left-backs (Danny Rose and Ben Davies) have two assists. They are allowed to get forward and create chances in Pochettino’s team, with Trippier showing a few weeks ago how much freedom they have.
Even with possession on the opposite flank, Trippier found himself in the opposition box to score. It was reminicent of Dani Alves or Jordi Alba at Barcelona, who are more advanced more often that most full-backs for any team, contributing mainly in an attacking sense with the knowledge that they have cover from those three defenders behind them.
Pochettino does come from that class of Marcelo Bielsa pupils, along with the likes of Pep Guardiola, which is probably why his style emulates Barcelona. They like to win the ball high up if they can, they like their full-backs to provide the width and their defensive midfielder to have the discipline to stay back.
And while they don’t have the attacking potency of Barcelona, their forward players have been allowed to create and cause havok. Harry Kane is no one-season wonder, Dele Alli has been a revelation, Christian Eriksen has continued to grow and Erik Lamela no longer looks like an expensive mistake.
All that is gelled by quietly one of their best players in Mousa Dembele. The Belgian is a real workhorse, going from box to box and be involved as much as he can on both sides of the ball. He keeps them ticking with his 89.5% pass completion, he’s added three goals and he’s the perfect foil to the balance that any side needs.
When rotation is needed, the likes of Heung Min Son and Nacer Chadli have contributed as well and along with the full-back depth and the form of Kevin Wimmer in Vertonghen’s absence, they have plenty of talent in their squad. It means they’ve sneaked games they used to lose and it’s a great credit to the side that Pochettino has created in his just-under two seasons there.
Tottenham can absolutely win the league, they have enough to do it but the real thing here is they can really build something here. The one issue is keeping every single piece they can in the summer, or at the very least finding the right replacements and the little additions, with a move to a new stadium on the way along with the influx of TV money, they could make themselves a permanent top four fixture.