The Liverpool Offside: So, looking at the table, you're 3 points clear of Arsenal, and with a better goal differential to boot. Is this finally the year you finish above your cross-town rivals? Or are you feeling a certain Spursiness coming up?
Cartilage Free Captain: *Sees some form of "Spursy" and begins to hyperventilate.*
So, logic dictates that Spurs are playing better than Arsenal and have for a good portion of the season. One would think that it would continue and Spurs can maintain this lead.
That being said, I don't need to bring up history to tell you that I'm not counting anything until it's mathematically impossible. The injury bug hasn't been kind to Spurs this season but they're still managing to put together some results given that Toby missed close to two months, Danny Rose and Jan Vertonghen are both out currently, and Erik Lamela is presumed mostly dead waiting for his magic potion from Miracle Max from The Princess Bride.
TLO: Other than the obvious goal of finishing above the Gunners, what would be considered a success for this season from your point of view?
CFC: All of us felt with the rejuvenation of the Sky Six that a finish in a Champions' League would be a success. If Spurs can somehow finish in second place behind the runaway freight train that is Chelsea, then I'll take that in a season where finishing in the top four has been a demolition derby.
TLO: Liverpool and Spurs are kind of in the same boat, being behind the other big clubs (plus Manchester United) in regards to money available. It is clear that Spurs have made a lot of progress under Mauricio Pochettino, but how far do you think he can take a talented group under the current wage/spending structure?
CFC: This is a question we all ask ourselves from time to time, given that we see charts pop up that shows Spurs' net spend over the last several seasons somewhere hovering around even money. I think Pochettino can truly bring this squad to the title, but like all things, it takes time. Last year was fun until those last few matches and there are plenty in the fanbase that think last year was THE chance and they blew it. I don't disagree, but the Premier League is a funny thing. One would look at a squad like Manchester United and think they should just run roughshod over everyone, yet they're in sixth. Anything can happen, and while I expect Chelsea to win it this season, there is no telling what will happen next year.
In regards to the wage and spending structure, there's this shiny new stadium opening up in 2018 that is going to change things. Daniel Levy and ENIC, for all of the garbage that they've had to endure from a small group of supporters, have taken Tottenham Hotspur and transformed them into a club that can compete year in and year out. The new stadium is only going to increase revenue and exposure. A new kit deal with Nike increases the revenue alone from $50m over five years to $150m over five years. The NFL deal is practically a lock for $25m-$30m a season, and that's without the possibility of leasing fees from a London franchise. Levy had a plan long term and has played it as best as he could. I know it still sounds funny for other supporters to say it, but Spurs are in that Sky Six group that will be competing for the top four. The added revenue will allow Levy to spend more on players and increase the wage structure without drastically changing his vision, and that only bodes well for the good side of north London.
You can change those dollar signs to pound symbols.
TLO: Nah. Too much math. Or Maths. Let’s talk about really low numbers instead. Spurs have conceded an impossibly low 16 goals this season. What's the secret to your defensive strength? Asking for a friend.
CFC: We're still getting used to this ourselves, to be honest. Couple of seasons ago, we were just hoping to finish in the positive on goal differential.
This comes in a three part answer. First, Pochettino's ability to work his system and adjust as needed is invaluable. We've seen him adjust tactics and roll with a 3-4-2-1 / 3-4-3 at times in order to change an attack but still keep a strong back line. Spurs can't play it currently due to injury, but even then the 4-2-3-1 is still a solid look with Toby Alderweireld and Eric Dier manning the CB spots. Victor Wanyama and Moussa Dembele have been a great pairing in the pivot as well.
The second part is simply having Toby in the back line. He's nothing short of incredible and it's also a testament to how good Atletico Madrid have been given that Toby couldn't break into their Starting XI on a regular basis just a few seasons ago. His pairing with fellow Belgian Jan Vertonghen certainly doesn't hurt as they clicked almost immediately together. My favorite about Toby is a simple one: In 4,715 minutes of football, Toby has conceded just 13 fouls. Let that sink in for a minute.
The final part is the development of Kyle Walker and Danny Rose. They are terrifying to see coming at your defense in tandem and still manage to track back and defend. Not having Danny for this match is going to suck, but Ben Davies should be fine.
TLO: It seems like the whole of the English footballing world is taking delight in watching Klopp's Liverpool fall to pieces, with excessive rounds of "told ya his style couldn't work here" and so on. What's your outsider's view of Liverpool, and how could we turn our fortunes around?
CFC: I, for one, am insulted that you would insinuate that we would ever take pleasure in anot....okay, I'm sorry. I couldn't get that entire sentence out with a straight face.
All joking aside, I honestly think Klopp will be fine. I think he will learn like Pochettino did that you can't use the "Press until defenders die" strategy every single match because you'll kill your own players in the process. Exhibit A: Final month for Spurs last season. It looked pretty obvious that Spurs just ran out of gas. I think Liverpool need to focus on fixing their back four and the rest will fall in place. I look at Liverpool's attack and it's a good one! But what good is an attack if your defense resembles a sieve?
I personally enjoyed watching Klopp's Dortmund sides, especially in their Champions League run when Robert Lewandowski was taking defenders' souls for fun, much like what he does for Bayern Munich now. But, as stated above, I think he has to find a happy medium of the high press and a different style in order to have his squad get through the slog that is the full season, especially since it looks like Liverpool is going to have some form of European competition next season unless they go into the tank completely.
TLO: At the moment, it looks like Spurs will be back in the Champions League next year. What position needs the most strengthening in order to compete domestically and in Europe?
CFC: This all depends on what happens with our own movement at the end of the season, but I think another playmaker in the attacking band is a must. I love our attacking front but with mid-week matches, a club has to have more to just fill a Starting XI. A player like Maximillian Meyer certainly fits the bill, but I think he'll cost too much in the long run unless Schalke fall off the face of the Earth and somehow get relegated. There are also those who are writing off Vincent Janssen already, but I'm not in that grouping. He needs time to adjust to the Premier League before Spurs go looking for another striker.
Secondly, I think adding one player in the pivot is essential. I love Moose to death, but he's turning 30 this summer and his injury history still scares me, even though he's been healthy the last couple of seasons. The problem is that there aren't many players that are like Moose. The guy is a tank. We're all excited for Harry Winks and how he's progressing, but the question remains if he's good enough to slot in on Europe's biggest stage yet.
Finally, I think another CB is going to be needed. Jan Vertonghen also turns 30 in April and he's had a couple of bad injuries the last two seasons. Even with that, there's going to be some interest in him from other clubs and we all have to wonder if it will be enough for Levy to decide to cash in on a player to make a profit. If that happens, even though Spurs have Eric Dier, Kevin Wimmer, and Cameron Carter-Vickers, another CB is going to be needed.
TLO: Speaking of Europe, how seriously will you take the Europa League on a scale from "Who cares?" to "Wake me up if we make the final?"
CFC: Normally I would be somewhere around "Meh, get to the quarterfinals and I'll pay attention."
However, have you looked at this field in Europa? It sucks. This is one of the weakest fields in years. There's no Dortmund to be worried about. Gladbach aren't good. Lyon are...okay? I guess? United are probably the biggest threat. Hell, there isn't even Europa League Champion Until the Heat Death of the Universe Sevilla in the field this year.
My thought is this: After the match on Saturday, Spurs have their away match against Gent, an FA Cup tie against Fulham, and then home against Gent before playing Stoke City. Rotate the Starting XI mixed in with the backups for all of these matches and let's see what happens. I really want to win silverware and the FA Cup would be great, but so long as Europa isn't interfering with the league, with a draw this weak? I probably care more about it this season than I have in years past.
CFC: Spurs are going to roll out the 4-2-3-1, and it'll look like this: Lloris; Davies, Toby, Dier, Walker; Dembele, Wanyama; Eriksen, Dele, Son/Sissoko; Kane.
Spurs' defense is still formidable even without Jan and Rose. They haven't given up more than two goals against anyone this season with the exception of Wycombe which was a heavily rotated side that had a back four of Davies, Dier, CCV, and Trippier which ended with Trips being hurt. Spurs have goals in them, but ultimately this match has "draw" written all over it for me.
TLO: Thanks for stopping by, Sean. Good luck when you’re finished playing us.
CFC: You too, Zach!
You can find the reverse fixture on Cartilage Free Captain: here.