Quarterfinals Fan Preview: Tottenham Hotspur
With Spurs getting set to play Manchester City in the quarterfinals, Breaking The Lines co-owner Zach Lowy chats to ex-Yahoo writer Andrew Gaffney on Tottehanm’s chances.
ZL: What are you expecting for Spurs going into the City game?
AG: When the draw was made I don’t think I was alone in wanting to avoid Manchester City above everyone else. Spurs have stumbled in the league and FA Cup and the top four is no longer the minimum expectation but rather a scrap to the death. Far from ideal but that’s sort of the Spurs way.
These are the matches where you must show that you belong amongst the elite. Whilst neutrals will say the pressure is entirely on City and Pep Guardiola, it’s a pivotal moment for Spurs too. Not just for the season but the project as a whole. There can be no excuses, no massive individual errors. It has to be an almost perfect performance. We’ll find out if Spurs are truly contenders or simply impressive pretenders.
ZL: In general, what have you made of Mauricio Pochettino’s teams’ performances against Pep’s City?
AG: At first it appeared as if Poch had Pep’s number but on reflection perhaps it was merely teething problems as the side adjusted to their new manager’s system. After that, City have largely dominated Spurs in these fixtures although a few have swung on major individual mistakes.
They also possess a ruthlessness Spurs simply don’t have right now, as demonstrated by the plethora of chances they wasted when on top against Liverpool. If you don’t punish City, they’ll punish you. Pep has done a good job of punishing Spurs in recent times.
ZL: By my estimation, this will be the closest quarterfinals tie. Are there any areas in which Spurs hold the upper hand over City?
AG: I’m not sure there are any areas where Spurs have a clear upper hand but if Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen and Heung-Min Son click up top then they are as good as any quartet in European football. A fit Danny Rose charging down the left flank offers more than Oleksandr Zinchenko, for example.
Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld fit into the same category as Spurs’ attack: perhaps not clearly better but definitely good enough to dine at Europe’s top table.
ZL: Rose used to be the finest left back in the Prem. How do you feel about his season so far?
AG: I think he’s shown some of his best form whenever he’s been fit and available. Davies is a reliable, standard 7/10 full back but Rose is capable of pushing 9/10 performances. Poch has moved him into centre midfield and up to left wing at times but he lacks the discipline to shine in those areas for me.
In a back four with a license to roam forward, hoping this marker doesn’t track his runs, is where he’s at his most dangerous. He’s similar to Jordi Alba in that regard but obviously not on the same level as the Barça man.
ZL: What’s one player who’s surprised you the most this season?
AG: Now this is an easy one. The turnaround in Moussa Sissoko’s fortunes has been truly remarkable. I can’t remember the last time I saw someone who looked so broken mentally, who looked such a lost cause, find form that very few in the division can match. Everybody thought it was a purple patch and he’d soon resort to type but Sissoko has consistently been one of the best performers in a very makeshift and changing midfield.
He might not be able to shoot, true enough, but he offers much needed energy and directness to a side which can sometimes become predictable. If Spurs achieve something special this season or at the very least qualify for Champions League football again, he’ll have played a major part in that success.
ZL: What’s one player who’s disappointed you the most?
AG: I suppose the obvious answer here is Kieran Trippier but I don’t think he was really that good before this season. A lot of people jumped onto the hype train after his World Cup exploits but he’s constantly looked poor in a back four. My vote would be for Eriksen purely because he’s an extremely talented player who has underperformed and gone missing when the team needed him the most.
Maybe his mind is elsewhere, maybe he just suffers these dips in form. Either way if Spurs are to finish the season strongly they need the Great Dane to live up to his nickname. Right now, he’s a passenger.
ZL: Why do you think Eriksen, one of Spurs’ best players on his day, has gone missing so often this season?
AG: I don’t actually think it’s a new thing. He’s prone to these dips in form but that’s usually masked by someone else stepping up. With Kane and Alli’s injuries coupled with Son’s international commitments, it’s added a greater spotlight on him and his poor form.
You also need to factor in Harry Winks’ injury problem as without him, there’s next to no creativity in the centre of the park. The added pressure on his shoulders and less people to cover his dip in form has made it more recognisable but again, it isn’t a ‘new’ problem either.
ZL: What are some areas in which Spurs have improved this season? Are there any?
AG: I don’t think we’ve seen the best version of Spurs under Poch this season. Some players have had really important spells of form such as Son but the lack of investment and competition for places, particularly in midfield, has been exposed this year.
ZL: Do you think that the added boost of Madrid and United not going after Pochettino has helped Spurs’ morale in any way?
AG: Maybe, but I personally never felt either job was too enticing right now. United still need a lot of work despite their upturn in form and Real Madrid set the bar so high under Zidane, it felt like a pointless task replacing him (so much so he had to return following two coaches failing to match his standards).
Hopefully the interest in Poch from elsewhere inspires Levy to loosen the purse strings a little. Alderweireld and Eriksen, should both go in the summer, will be tough to replace, but make no mistake about it: Poch is the glue which holds this whole project together.
ZL: Pochettino has worked wonders with Spurs, but what are some niggling flaws in his game that you feel have held him back? What are his biggest shortcomings?
AG: He continues to improve players but has to be stronger in the transfer market. It’s easy to let Levy take the blame for everything but Poch is equally as stubborn. He can’t always turn water into wine. In the bigger matches he has to find a better balance. Far too often he ends up ‘gifting’ a half to the opponents before turning it around at half-time.