Top of the league
For Tottenham Hotspur fans, the Premier League table makes for very enjoyable viewing.
Spurs sit on top, the only team to have won all three matches in the competition so far and on top of that Nuno Espirito Santo made history as the first Tottenham manager to guide the team to three clean sheets in their opening three league games.
He is also the first new manager at the club to win his opening three league matches and the first since Arthur Rowe to do so of any manager in the role.
Espirito Santo is a very modest man and feels uncomfortable in the spotlight. After the victory he threw all of the praise towards the players, calling them “amazing”.
Those Tottenham players have been doing what they’ve been told and that’s testament to the management of the Portuguese.
He came into a club that was fractured, with numerous players wanting to leave – not least the Harry Kane situation – and plenty of experienced players heading out the door, but he’s pulled everyone together that he needs to.
Espirito Santo’s management and coaching is all about routines and drilling habits into players and in his own words he is now seeing a Spurs side that is “solid, compact and everybody working for each other”.
That solid foundation has brought about the early 1-0 results but you can tell from the way the Spurs head coach speaks that it’s just the early framework being put in place for what he eventually expects from his team.
After the latest victory against Watford and Son Heung-min’s winning goal, Espirito Santo said the performance was still “very far” from the style of play he wants and there is “a long way to go”.
When football.london asked him whether he could take some pride from the team being top of the table after the first month of the season, he could not have shot that down any quicker.
“That doesn’t mean anything at all, that doesn’t mean anything,” he said. “I invite everybody, not only the players, but our fans to don’t pay attention to that.
“Don’t pay attention to that. Let’s keep on working, we still have a long way and a lot of aspects to improve on.”
Espirito Santo did have a lot of praise for the Tottenham fans inside the stadium and explained what he liked and didn’t like about the performance from his players.
“Our fans [pleased me the most]. The way they support us when the team was in trouble. The way they start pushing. Really pleasing. You ask about all the things, that was the one,” he said.
“From the game? The organisation. I think we kept all the game the shape, the right triggers, the right moments to press. Much better in the second half when we recover higher up the pitch.
“What pleased me is when we could not kill the game, we had chances to do so, we didn’t lose our minds, we stick together, and we were compact, we did not allow too many chances to Watford.
“That was good. The balance between these two aspects was good, and in the end, the way we managed the game. Something I didn’t like – we should be more clinical, I think we had enough quality and talent players to kill the game.”
It’s still very early days for Espirito Santo and this new Tottenham era but it’s heading in the right direction.
The case for the defence
Had you asked most Tottenham fans at the end of last season what their defence would look like if they were to record three consecutive clean sheets at the start of the new season, few would have predicted the line-up.
Most fans’ favourite defender Toby Alderweireld is gone and the big new centre-back signing Cristian Romero is still getting over the last few issues from a knee injury he suffered in the summer.
That leaves Eric Dier and Davinson Sanchez – two players who most supporters would not had shed tears over if they had departed – partnered in the centre of defence and without putting too fine a point on it – they have been superb.
Sanchez in particular has looked every inch the dominant centre-back Spurs splashed out a then club record fee of more than £40m on in 2017.
His manager then and a former international centre-back, Mauricio Pochettino, said that the Colombian could become one of the best defenders in the world.
After a promising first season, that claim looked more and more unlikely as the young defender struggled to cut out silly mistakes in his game as his centre-back partners chopped and changed around him, with Jan Vertonghen beginning to pick up injuries and Alderweireld not quite the wonderful player he was before his own serious hamstring injury.
All of that led to this summer when Sanchez looked likely to leave Spurs as the club tried to drum up funds to sign another central defender alongside Romero, who has joined initially on loan.
Sanchez just got on with his work, helping Colombia to a third-place finish at the Copa America and with interest from clubs such as Sevilla, the defender began to rebuild his confidence.
He returned to pre-season training a different man and Espirito Santo and the staff at the club immediately sensed that confidence.
The Colombian was put straight into the next starting line-up and, the rotated Europa Conference League team aside, has not stepped out of it.
Unless a huge bid arrives for Sanchez in the final two days of the window, a move away for him would now be odd.
Having turned 25 this summer, the Colombian has always had the tools to be a top defender but it’s always been about the mental aspect of the game and the one mistake he makes in most games.
That Dier has also currently cut out most of his own decision-making errors has helped Sanchez and a backline that has faced the likes of Raheem Sterling, Jack Grealish, Riyad Mahrez, Kevin de Bruyne, Adama Traore, Raul Jiminez and the pace of Ismaila Sarr in recent weeks has not conceded a goal.
What damage the quarantine to come – at this current stage – for Sanchez and Romero following their return from Colombia and Argentina duty has on the backline remains to be seen.
Having the screen of Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Oliver Skipp in front of the back four has helped but this is also not a defence-obsessed team.
Spurs are constantly looking to get the ball forward and the full-backs Japhet Tanganga and Sergio Reguilon are given licence to get into the opposition half. The only thing asked of them is that one must try to hang back slightly if the other is very advanced.
It’s all about building that foundation and Espirito Santo’s obsessive coaching of routines and drilling habits into players will not only help those defenders but also the attacking players as they come to know exactly where their team-mates will be.
The attacking movement improved as Sunday’s game wore on and that will continue to be the case now Kane is back in the reckoning and Espirito Santo works the plan around him.
Skipp and Hojbjerg’s partnership will also evolve as the pair learn each other’s games inside out and when each of them can get forward. They both possess the passing ability to spread the play and bring the full-backs into attacks and that could prove crucial in the season ahead.
“That’s the beginning of everything. Always said the shape, organisation, being solid and compact because we have talent,” Espirito Santo told football.london.
“Being consistent is what we are focused on and we have to keep on going. Today we control very well the deep [areas]. Watford was clearly trying to make us go higher on our lines to play on our backs.
“The back four control very well, but at the same time, the second balls we need to sooner to be anticipating that part of our game. Something we have to improve. Well done, we keep on going.
“Now the players go, we’ll stay, we’ll look, we’ll work with the players going to stay and try to make better for the next one.”
The Sissoko mistake and Rose goodbye
Tottenham made a real gaffe when it came to Moussa Sissoko this week and while some Spurs fans would have claimed the Frenchman was never likely to harm his old club, that’s rarely how football worked.
When it was announced that Sissoko was in the starting line-up for Watford on Sunday there were shocked, and a few angry, faces inside Tottenham.
New signings must be registered by 12pm on the working day before a match in order to play. For Sunday’s game, that deadline was noon on Friday.
Spurs’ football administration department assumed the Frenchman was not registered in time for that deadline on Friday as the £3m deal for Watford to sign him was not completed until much later in the afternoon.
However, it appears that Watford somehow managed to get Sissoko registered with the Premier League before midday even though seemingly the full deal had not been completed by that point.
Most clubs would have ensured that move could not have taken place in time for a variety of reasons.
Other than giving the opposition an extra option to use against you, you are also taking a player who has been in and around a club preparing for the game and then providing him to the opposition with any knowledge that he gleaned from that week.
It’s very rare that a transfer taking place between two clubs about to play each other is allowed by the selling club to go through in time to help the buying one in their efforts against them and that gaffe annoyed a number of people within the club.
While Espirito Santo would have been surprised by Sissoko’s inclusion, he explained that the training schedule this week would not have benefited the Frenchman in giving away any best-laid plans to his new club.
“No [he was not involved in preparations for this game], this week was different because of the Conference League game in midweek, so this is different, ut there is no issue at all,” said the Spurs boss.
“The moment he joined Watford he became a Watford player so the decision of playing him was with the manager of Watford, we cannot interfere, we did not interfere. Everything is clear, huge respect and admiration.”
He added: “We worked together for a few weeks. I have huge respect for Moussa, huge and I just want to wish him all the best at Watford because it has been a pleasure. I have big admiration for Moussa. A true gentleman.”
In the end Sissoko did not have a big impact on the match, other than teeing up one early effort for a team-mate and sending one shot himself into the stratosphere – a sight the Tottenham fans finally got to enjoy.
The biggest damage he did was accidentally smacking the ball into Espirito Santo’s chest from point-blank range after being frustrated by Dele Alli marshalling him out of play. The Frenchman immediately apologised profusely to his former boss.
Whatever Sissoko’s performance as Skipp dominated most of their duels, the point is that he should not have been on the pitch with the potential to make a difference in the game.
What was great to see though was both the Frenchman and Danny Rose getting a chance to say a proper goodbye to the fans.
Both players walked around the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium pitch, applauding the supporters and getting a great ovation in return.
Both Sissoko and Rose gave plenty to Tottenham during their years at the club and it was a fitting moment of closure for both of them.
A deadline day about opportunities
Daniel Levy wore a huge grin up in the stands at the final whistle, no doubt content with his club being top of the Premier League table and thus far the decision to appoint Espirito Santo paying off on the pitch and off of it, while probably enjoying the fact that Spurs’ north London rivals Arsenal lie at the bottom.
There are less smiles in the recruitment department as managing director of football Fabio Paratici attempts to make things happen in the final 36 hours or so of the transfer window.
There has been more work done this window at Spurs than is immediately obvious to the casual observer.
Many of the big earners who either wanted to leave – and the club were happy for that to happen – or were not regular starters have been moved on.
Sissoko, Alderweireld, Erik Lamela and Joe Hart have all been found new clubs while Rose and Paulo Gazzaniga departed after their contracts ended and Juan Foyth joined Villarreal permanently after his loan.
Coming in the door has been the big new defender signing in Romero, a potential Hugo Lloris successor in Pierluigi Gollini, one of Spain’s brightest young prospects in Bryan Gil and one of Ligue 1’s top young talents in Pape Matar Sarr, who has been loaned back to Metz to continue his rapid development.
However, more needs to be done and the problem for Tottenham is that many of their moves in recent days have hit dead ends.
Paratici has had a busy weekend, having spent time in Barcelona trying to find some bargains to be had amid the Catalan giant’s financial chaos before flying back for the match against Watford.
Among the players he spoke to Barcelona about were right-back Emerson Royal and Ilax Moriba.
football.london understands talks took place over the former with the hope that Spurs could potentially move on both Serge Aurier and Matt Doherty, with the north London club currently more than fully stocked with three right-backs.
Moving on both of their experienced right-backs could be a step too far at this current stage, although the hope is that Aurier does at least get his desired move.
With Moriba, the preference of his representatives appears to be a more financially lucrative move to RB Leipzig next summer when his contract expires at Barcelona.
Then there is Tanguy Ndombele, who with each passing day looks more and more like staying at Tottenham.
football.london understands that Spurs have had interest coming in to them or Ndombele’s agent from a couple of La Liga clubs in the French midfielder but neither approach satisfied both the player and the north London outfit.
Ndombele staying makes a move for another playmaker in midfield unlikely unless a bargain deal arrives in the window’s final throes.
Tottenham need more creativity in the midfield areas with a feeling among many fans that despite Ndombele’s and Lo Celso’s arrival, what Cristian Eriksen brought to the club in his pomp was never truly replaced.
It is that opportunistic route that appears to be the fans’ best chance of transfers in the remaining 36 hours.
As clubs look to free up space or funds in this pandemic-hit market for most, signings that are too good to pass up will suddenly become available and that is where Paratici’s vast network of contacts will give Spurs a huge leg up.
With the international mess now becoming clear around Romero and Sanchez and their quarantine next month and potentially in the other international breaks to come, a late move for another centre-back available at a good price has not been entirely dismissed at this point.
Cameron Carter-Vickers is now deemed fit enough to be able to move on following his ankle injury and Japhet Tanganga has claimed the right-back spot rather than being seen as centre-back cover.
Having four natural centre-backs for two positions or for the moments when Espirito Santo decides to switch to a back three is enough to cover when all are fit and available but leaves the squad stretched in case of a couple of injuries and during those post-international fixtures in South America.
At the other end of the pitch, Espirito Santo and Paratici’s desire to bring Adama Traore to the club is currently on the rocks due to Wolves’ desire to keep the player and shun offers for his services, despite the winger being keen on the move.
With the money involved it had been a case of Traore or a striker, with the Spaniard’s arrival expected to push Son up alongside Kane.
With Wolves standing firm, it now remains to be seen whether Tottenham move for another winger or try to bring in a striker to play alongside or support Kane.
Top striker targets Dusan Vlahovic and Lautaro Martinez have also proved difficult to get away from Fiorentina and Inter Milan respectively.
Espirito Santo has thus far been working with Son as the striker in a front three throughout pre-season and in the opening games of the season before Kane’s reintegration.
What happens in the coming day or so will depend greatly upon which of their own players Tottenham receive unexpected offers from and which moves they can quickly advance in response.
Espirito Santo has always been clear. New players must improve what he already has rather than just tick a box and there is also the foreign player limits as usual to remain within.
The club has spaces in the Premier League squad but currently has the exact 17 allowed for European competition.
There has been something of a clear-out at Tottenham this summer but who comes in must improve what Espirito Santo has.
The Portuguese’s start at the club has been impressive but he needs more help on the pitch with the options at his disposal.
Espirito Santo prefers to work with a smaller squad but found at Wolves that with European competition as well, that’s not as workable.
Levy has wanted Paratici at Spurs for more than half a decade and in this remaining 36 hours of the transfer window, he will be looking for the Italian to show exactly why and he in turn will have to back what plans he brings before him if that grin is to remain.
Source by Football London