If you were looking for a single word to sum up Tottenham Hotspur’s 2019-20 thus far, it’d probably be “frustrating”. After making the UEFA Champions League final in 2018-19, Spurs strengthened in the summer with signings of Tanguy Ndombele, Giovani Lo Celso and Ryan Sessegnon, but while Kieran Trippier was sold to Atletico Madrid, questions surrounded the futures of Christian Eriksen, Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen, all of whom were set to be out of contract in the summer of 2020.
Spurs started the season in very mixed form, picking up a win over Aston Villa on the opening day before securing a draw against Manchester City, only for a loss to Newcastle to bring the mood down somewhat. That topsy-turvy form continued until an embarrassing 2-7 loss to Bayern Munich in the Champions League, and just over a month later, Mauricio Pochettino was fired and replaced by Jose Mourinho.
Mourinho’s arrival has seen a slight upturn in results, but due to injuries and more inconsistency, Spurs still sit outside the top 4 in 7th place, although they are only 5 points behind Chelsea in 4th place. Here, we take a look at their chances of securing an all-important top 4 spot.
Tottenham’s form has been patchy at best this season, and while they’ve never gone on a horrible run of losses, the best winning streak they’ve managed has been a run of 3 games between January and February. Flashes of their past greatness have been on display – their 5-0 win over Burnley in December and their 4-0 win over Crystal Palace in September – but overall, Spurs have never really shone brightly during the current campaign.
The most worrying issue for Spurs this season has been their form against their fellow ‘Big Six’ sides; thus far they’ve taken 5 points from their 8 games, which is about as good as they managed in 2018-19 – but to put it bluntly, they’ve looked second best in every single one of those games.
Tottenham’s form has seen a slight improvement under Mourinho – who has averaged a total of 1.6 points per game compared to Pochettino’s 1.1 – but a lot of the same problems have remained at the club.
Spurs’ once-watertight defence now looks flimsy at times, a result of Mourinho seemingly being unsure what his best line-up is, and in attack, shorn of the injured Harry Kane and Son Heung Min, Tottenham look rather toothless at times, even if Lo Celso has stepped into the creative void left by Eriksen, who departed for Inter Milan in January.
New signings Gedson Fernandes and Steven Bergwijn appear to have settled well, while the likes of Harry Winks and Japhet Tanganga have impressed under Mourinho, but even Spurs’ best results under the Portuguese have seen them sneak results rather than actually earn them by outplaying their opposition; they could easily have lost to Wolves, Manchester City and Aston Villa – all of whom were eventually beaten.
Spurs’ remaining fixtures see them play a lot of the teams around them; they still have Manchester United (home), Sheffield United (away), Everton (home), Arsenal (home) and Leicester (home) to play. The fact that 4 of those fixtures take place in their own stadium should be a massive boost; of their 10 losses this campaign, only 3 have come at home.
They also have to play strugglers West Ham (home), Bournemouth (away) and Newcastle (away), and with all three sides looking likely to be in a relegation battle, those matches might be trickier for Mourinho’s side than they appear to be on paper. Realistically, only Burnley and Crystal Palace – who face Spurs at Selhurst Park on the final day – have little to play for.
In their previous fixtures against these 10 teams, Spurs collected 15 points; if they were to repeat those results, then they’d finish on 55 points and would likely miss out on the top 4 spot they crave. However, it’s worth noting that 9 of those points came under Mourinho; Pochettino’s Spurs lost to Newcastle and Leicester and only drew with Everton, Sheffield United and Arsenal.
If Spurs can better Pochettino’s results against those sides, which is definitely a possibility given Newcastle’s attacking struggles, Leicester’s slide in form, the inconsistency of Arsenal and lack of experience of Sheffield United, then Mourinho’s team could well collect anywhere between 15 and 24 points – do that, and they’d end up with 64 and most likely make the top 4.
Tottenham have already played the top two – Liverpool and Manchester City – twice this season and now only have two more ‘Big Six’ members to face in Manchester United and Arsenal. That, and the fact that they’ve already rolled over four of their remaining opponents in the form of Crystal Palace, Burnley, West Ham and Bournemouth bodes well for their hopes.
However, the injury problems that Mourinho is currently facing in terms of finding a consistent goalscorer, and the general inconsistencies in defence mean that Tottenham are also very beatable by all of the sides they have left to face. Under the Portuguese, Spurs never seem to be fully in control of a game, and that’s worrying.
We’ll probably learn a lot from Spurs’ next 4 fixtures – Burnley, Manchester United, West Ham and Sheffield United – all of which should be winnable. If Mourinho’s men could take maximum points from them or even avoid any losses, then they may well have enough momentum to defeat the likes of Everton, Arsenal and Bournemouth, and cement their top 4 spot.
Tottenham have the experience, the manager and enough favourable home games to do it, but after their last two losses to Chelsea and Wolves, they simply cannot afford to slip up again until at least April – and even then a slip could be costly. Tread carefully – and tighten their defence – and Mourinho could pull it off yet.Published 02 Mar 2020, 18:29 IST