Liverpool Football Club travel to London again this weekend to face Tottenham Hotspur in yet another key early season matchup. This fixture was one that regularly promised goals aplenty until negative football bore-meister Jürgen Klopp took charge [bait set]. What does the contest hold in store this time around?
As the ancient copywriter for inspirational office posters Sun-Tzu once said, "if you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles." In that spirit, Sean from Cartilage Free Captain and I exchanged a few questions.
The Liverpool Offside: Mauricio Pochettino and Spurs had quite the season last year, and it certainly seems like the plan is coming together, A-Team style. What’s the sentiment like among Spurs fans regarding expectations for this year? Reversion, progress, treading water?
Cartilage Free Captain: The last two seasons have been exciting for our part of North London. There's more optimism since it seems the club has a true sense of direction. The youth academy players see opportunity to break into the senior squad because Pochettino has no problem playing them if they prove their worth. At the same time, making key signings for depth such as Vincent Janssen and Victor Wanyama can only push the club further in the correct direction.
As for expectations, I think with everyone getting stronger in the top six or seven, maintaining a Champions League spot will be a success. I personally don't think Spurs can win the title this year, but stranger things have happened. I see Spurs staying in the Top 4, though.
TLO: Who’s the one player in the Spurs squad who, in your opinion, most consistently seems to outperform supporters’ expectations? Conversely, who’s the one guy who never seems to live up to his reputation?
CFC: For outperforming, it has to be Eric Dier. When he was purchased from Sporting Lisbon two years ago, we figured it was good cover at center back. He ended up being deputized at right back and did about as well as he could in that role. Last season, he stepped up into the defensive midfield position and has been outstanding. Now, he's undroppable at that role.
The second part of this is really hard to answer, but I look at Heung Min Son as the best fit. He came to Spurs last season from Bayer Leverkusen for a pretty hefty fee and we were really excited to have him. He scored some good goals but, for the most part, his first season fell short of expectations. He still has plenty of time to right the ship, though. He's back and training after the Olympics and he'll be welcomed depth for the squad.
TLO: With the close of the transfer window just around the corner, how do you think most Spurs supporters feel about the club’s business this summer? What are the areas of the squad eliciting the most hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth?
CFC: The transfer window started great. Victor Wanyama was brought in as cover in the defensive midfield and Vincent Janssen looks to be a solid backup for Harry Kane. I think most supporters like both of these signings, even if they aren't "sexy" signings. There's a bit of disappointment that Michy Batshuayi fell through, but Daniel Levy sticks to his guns on budget and wages. Spurs weren't going to pay what he went for or his wages, but that's just the nature of the beast. We're still dealing with the drawn out saga of Georges-Kevin N'Koudou and there's no telling when that is going to get solved.
The second part of the question has to be with the Moose role alongside Eric Dier. With Dembele out for the first four matches due to him attempting to turn Diego Costa into a cyclops last season, there were different perspectives as to who should fill the role. Wanyama has stepped in and done well, but there were still pushes for Ryan Mason to fill that spot. Mason, who is basically an attacking midfielder being pushed back into central midfield, can cover there but there's no need to with Wanyama able to do so.
TLO: Paul Mitchell, head of recruitment for Tottenham Hotspur, paved the way for his departure from the club earlier this month – rather unexpectedly, from the perspective of an outside observer. What’s the story here? Is there trouble in paradise or is this just run-of-the-mill comings and goings?
CFC: There are a few ways to look at this and it all depends on what you believe from the media, the club, and those involved. I think the story that makes the most sense is that Paul Mitchell wanted to have more power and say with transfers. When Mauricio Pochettino signed his new contract, his new title dictates that he has the final say with transfers. If that's the case, Mitchell had nowhere to go inside of Tottenham anymore other than in his current role. It was probably disappointing for Mitchell to say the least and he simply found somewhere that would give him the type of position he was looking for.
TLO: Champions League! We’re excited for you! Really! You can’t tell, but I have my "honest" face on right now. Other than the usual suspects, is there a particular club you’re wary of, and how do you think Spurs’ European campaign will play out?
CFC: When I first received this question, it was before the draw and the typical giants scared the heck out of me. Now that we have our group in the form of CSKA Moscow, Bayer 04 Leverkusen, and AS Monaco, I have to look at Bayer being the scary one of the group. They play a high press, high energy style that Spurs employ. Those two matches should be fun to watch, but these are also the two teams I see coming out of this group. Monaco can be sneaky but I don't think they're a true threat to get to the knockouts and CSKA were the ones we absolutely wanted out of pot one.
As for the campaign, I think Spurs can make the knockout round with this draw. After that, it's a crap shoot and depends completely on the luck of the draw. For now, I think the expectation is the knockout rounds and getting any deeper is the icing on the cake.
TLO: It’s 2019. What is Harry Kane doing professionally, and where? Is he still plying his trade at White Hart Lane, or is he a full-time Ryan Gosling impersonator on Hollywood Boulevard?
CFC: Is it bad that I've never once made the Harry Kane - Ryan Gosling comparison? He could definitely be doing that, but the hope is that he signs a new contract this season and he's at the club forever. With the new stadium going up in 2018, meaning a much higher revenue injection from ticket sales and the NFL deal bringing in added money, there's no reason to think that the wage scale can't be broken to keep him in North London.
TLO: As you know, since we’re Liverpool supporters, we live completely in the past. Jon Flanagan’s tackle of Roberto Soldado (you know the one) still elicits a Pavlovian chuckle from us now and then. Now that he’s in Spain, are you guys OK if we keep laughing or should we try to be more polite?
CFC: You just had to bring that up, didn't you? I know you'll still get a laugh out of it even if I say don't, but it is what it is.
Nobody's really sure what happened with Soldado in London, and while he could have easily pointed to personal tragedy that occurred not long after he joined Tottenham, he was as professional as anyone who played the game. He still posts about the club on his Instagram and Twitter and while it didn't work out for him, supporters were behind him and he tried everything he could to repay them.
TLO: Okay now I feel terrible about Soldado. To atone, I'm going to watch Iago Aspas take corners for a few minutes. Last question: If I wrote a screenplay for a sequel to John Woo’s 1997 magnum opus Face/Off, except involving Premier League goalkeepers, specifically Loris Karius and Hugo Lloris, would you buy a ticket?
CFC: This might be my favorite question I've ever been asked. Face/Off is one of my favorite guilty pleasure movies. So long as our captain is in the role of Sean Archer at the beginning of the movie, you can take my money. Plus, I'd like to think that Hugo is a better actor than John Travolta anyways. I mean, have you ever actually watched some of his bombs? I forced myself once to watch Battlefield: Earth. No amount of alcohol will ever erase the memory of that movie from my head.
TLO: Thanks very much, Sean, it's been a pleasure exchanging these with you! Don't be a stranger and stop by here sometime. Best of luck to you this weekend, and may the team with the worst haircuts win. Anyone looking to read our answers to Cartilage Free Captain's questions should head over there and check them out, particularly if you want to learn about what I do to console myself in the wake of Loris Karius' injury.