From Vicarage Road – Aside from being completely atrocious football teams who are a stain on this great sport, Derby County 2007/08 and QPR 2012/13 have a peculiar and embarrassing accolade in common – their fans won the club’s player of the year award.
That’s when you know that you’re not just a bad side, you’re stinking it up. You’re the cupboard full of bin bags left over from the Christmas period because your dad forgot about the change in the collection timetable. Good job.
Even when teams aren’t great, particularly at top clubs, you can usually still pick a standout player. This season, Manchester United have leant on Marcus Rashford, while Arsenal have relied on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to score the goals and Bernd Leno to save them.
At Tottenham, there’s been no standout candidate, and for Jose Mourinho – heading into a club mid-season for the first time since the early 2000s at Porto – he could probably do with just one dependable player right now.
When he first arrived at Spurs back in November, his game plan to get the best out of Dele Alli worked fairly well, but teams have wised up and the 23-year-old’s spark has gone. Son Heung-min had meddling disciplinary trouble throughout 2019, and worldie against Burnley aside, has yet to properly shine under Mourinho.
The head coach isn’t blameless of course – football’s a team sport after all – but Spurs need someone to step up, get the juices flowing. Right now, Mauricio Pochettino’s assessment that this squad finds it hard to win without aggressiveness and desire is a pretty fair one.
Harry Kane‘s injury makes trying to find a winning formula that much harder, and as cliche as it might sound, Spurs do lack leaders when the going gets tough. The only advanced player actively showing for the ball throughout at Vicarage Road on Saturday was Giovani Lo Celso.
Bright opening ten mins for Lo Celso and Lamela, both showing for the ball a lot and getting plenty of touches
— Sean Walsh (@SeanDZWalsh) January 18, 2020
Playing in a midfield three with Alli and Harry Winks, the Argentine found it hard to cause too much direct threat, but at the very least he wanted to be involved, he wanted to run the show when everyone else was still in the lobby downstairs getting their popcorn and San Pellegrino.
Ironically, Watford looked like the Mourinho side, full of aggression, full of bite. Gerard Deulofeu and Ismaila Sarr, while largely unproductive, were threatening at very least, while Etienne Capoue, Nathaniel Chalobah and Abdoulaye Doucoure swept up in midfield. Peak Tottenham under Pochettino were an archetypal pressing 2010s team, yet the Hornets were the side who had the profiles to play in that way today.
Mourinho began his Spurs tenure by professing his love for some of his new squad, that he wanted them and was priced out of deals to take them to his other clubs, but you’d forgive him if he admitted that he was wrong – this is 2020, these are not the players that he pursued for so long. It would help if he stopped giving record signing Tanguy Ndombele the cold shoulder, but until he regains fitness, that’s a conversation for another time.
Pochettino’s warnings that Spurs need a ‘painful rebuild’ linger, and it’s not a solution that one January transfer window can solve. There’s crying need for change at full-back, central defence, defensive midfield, out wide and up top – the quickest way to win again comes through the latter options, and Mourinho’s made it clear that Son and Lucas Moura aren’t strikers. For now, they need a new way to win without balance, bloated with weird squad profiles.
Time has told that Tottenham can’t win with this squad – in the meantime, they need someone to carry the load in order to simply get through the season.