Tottenham

Tottenham need to sign to fill their spine

 • by Mark Thompson
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Tottenham Hotspur haven’t signed a player all summer, and some of their fans aren’t happy about it.

With Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea all undergoing major changes, it’s not surprising that Spurs fans might feel like they’re in danger of being left behind.

This is particularly so given the general lack of depth that Mauricio Pochettino’s side has, as shown by this depth chart from chief Tottenham tactics maestro Nathan Clark.

Spurs have been coasting by on a small squad for the past few seasons and have generally managed to get by, although perhaps they’d have done even better if they’d had more squad depth.

One concern is that the depth they do have doesn’t tend to perform. Neither Vincent Janssen nor Fernando Llorente has really made waves when they’ve played, to the extent that Heung-Min Son appears to be the back-up striker of choice when Harry Kane is absent.

Added to this, various rules on homegrown and youth players hampered Tottenham’s fringe in their Champions League squad last season.

How much depth is needed?

Research done last May looked at how much depth top six sides typically used, and the average fell on 21 main outfield players, along with some sides who played a few extra.

In 2017/18, Tottenham used just 20 outfield players (Janssen and Georges-Kévin N’Koudou, who combined played fewer minutes than you could count on your fingers, haven’t been counted).

However, three of that 20 played fewer than 270 minutes – or the equivalent of three full matches.

The research showed that top six sides typically used one nominal striker in the league who played around 25 games, another who played around 13, and a third who played around eight. After Harry Kane, who played 34.26 90s in 2017/18, there was only Llorente on 2.52.

What Tottenham have isn’t depth, but utility men – three in particular. Eric Dier, Christian Eriksen, and Son (as well as, to a lesser extent, Moussa Sissoko) all fill holes in Spurs’ problem positions.

Trouble in the spine

Given the emphasis put on the ‘spine’ of a team, it’s curious that Tottenham have been able to do so well with their problem positions all in the centre of the field. At centre-back, central midfield, and centre-forward they require players to be drafted in from other positions on a regular basis to fill in.

At centre-back, there is no fourth centre-back, unless Juan Foyth becomes anything more than a domestic cup player.

Eric Dier having to fill-in on occasion as a central defender leaves an already thing central midfield even thinner. Top six sides have typically, of late, averaged two starting nominal central midfielders, who play 29 and 24 games, and then a regular back-up, playing 18, as well as a couple of other general back-ups.

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Spurs last season had Dier, playing 31 games across the midfield and defence; then Mousa Dembélé who played 20.96 90s; and then Victor Wanyama and Harry Winks playing 9.32 and 8.58 90s respectively.

Can Levy get away with no buys?

Can Spurs do it again, getting by through this season on a threadbare squad? Can Daniel Levy get away with not dipping his toes into the transfer market? You wouldn’t want to bet on it.

The central midfield is precarious in terms of minutes and not necessarily ideal in terms of talent. Dier and Dembélé in the starter slots is ok, but the former doesn’t seem to have evolved into a great central midfielder just yet and the latter is ageing and may be moved on soon.

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Assuming he has fewer injuries next season, Wanyama is likely to be the regular back-up, with Winks as a more general back-up if needed, but that is still not inspiring. Taking account of injuries, age, and quality you could make the case for needing two new faces (and some departures) in the centre of midfield, as well (possibly) as Christian Eriksen dropping back there for good.

A mixture of Juan Foyth and Dier looks enough to plug the fourth spot in central defence… until you factor in the possible departure of Toby Alderweireld, at which point the landscape looks very precarious.

Up front, a mixture of Son and Dele Alli could fill in for Kane if required (although Son is at the Asian games at the start of the season), but that leaves the likes of Sissoko and Lucas Moura to play in attacking midfield. Do Spurs fans trust them to deliver?

The tricky thing is that most of the additions needed are in back-up slots, which tricky to fill. Do you intentionally try and buy players weaker than your starting XI, or do you go for quality and risk alienating one of your current starters, potentially pushing them out of the club and starting the whole process all over again?

Maybe this is something that Levy hasn’t figured out yet, which is why Spurs haven’t signing anyone. One thing’s for sure though, they will need to do some business before the end of the window.

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