With the 2017/18 season coming to an end, it is clear that Tottenham Hotspur have positives and negatives to take away from the campaign going into the summer break.
While it was another successful season on the pitch - impressing in the Champions League, FA Cup and finishing in the top four in the Premier League for another season - there are still issues to address within the squad if Mauricio Pochettino's men are to push on next season.
Who should stay and who should go? Here is the definitive assessment of Spurs squad looking forward to next season.
The story of the last season
Before assessing how Spurs might proceed in this summer’s transfer window, it’s worth looking back just shy of a year to examine how they arrived at this point.
(Names in purple = players out on loan)
The squad that Tottenham began last season’s campaign with had talent in both depth and balance. It is probably the best they’ve had in the modern era.
But things quickly went backwards:
- The rapid physical deterioration of first-choice central midfielder Mousa Dembele.
- Long-term injury and stall in development of his understudy Harry Winks.
- Long-term injury and following contractual disputes for Toby Alderweireld.
- Long-term injury to Victor Wanyama.
- Danny Rose’s ill-advised interview, subsequent fall out and poor form.
- Failure of new right-back Serge Aurier to settle and adapt his game at Spurs.
- The continued failure of back-up centre-forward signings: this time Fernando Llorente.
- General failure to plug gaps with youth players and in doing so develop talent.
Lengthy injuries are always likely to occur and it was possible for things to have been worse but, with that said, it’s probably not unfair to call the season past a particularly unlucky one in that department.
Two injuries had an immediate impact on Mauricio Pochettino's tactical decisions: Firstly, the loss of Wanyama decreased the need to for Pochettino to play three centre-backs at once. The Kenyan is neither a creative passer nor comfortable dropping between the centre-backs to create a temporary back three, something very important for Spurs’ building out from the back.
Secondly, the loss of Alderweireld and poor form of the faster pair of full-backs decreased the ability to field a 3-4-3. Tottenham switched then, back to a four-man-defence, brought Son Heung-min off the bench to provide width and pace and, in doing so, started to resemble their 2015/16 season selves.
The short story of the season, then, is that injuries forced Spurs to take a small backwards step both in terms of tactical approach and overall performance.
Moving forward, Spurs are preparing for a summer in which they may well lose Toby Alderweireld, Mousa Dembele, Danny Rose and possibly even Victor Wanyama all from their ideal first XI.
Given those dramatic losses it seems reasonable to set this summer’s bar at matching last season’s inaugural squad.
Here is an overview of the squad as it stands:
(Red = likely to leave. Bump Son up and drop Alderweireld down for the 4-2-3-1 version.
The operation starts with clearing out the deadwood. The club will likely move on Fernando Llorente and Kevin N’koudou this summer. They will probably attempt to do the same for Moussa Sissoko but may have a hard time finding bids that offer much of a return on investment.
The 'Ins' get complicated with Wanyama rumoured away from the club this summer. This leaves us unsure whether Tottenham will be building the squad for a three- or four-man defence. That level of uncertainty may well be matched inside the club if his future is currently uncertain.
That uncertainty might explain the clubs public interest in both centre-backs and winger-forwards, pulling the squad in two different directions.
This lack of single focus is amplified by apparent interest in Ryan Sessegnon a player who could develop in an attacking or wing-back role depending on focus and performance in and out of training.
Sessegnon’s assist for the lone goal in the Championship play-off final saw his club launched into the Premier League and probably secured his future at Fulham for at least another season, which throws that problem-solver out the window.
With the stage fully set, it is time to look at the transfer focus areas in rough order of priority.
1. Replace Mousa Dembele
Position: Central Midfield
Requirements: Safety in Possession, ability to progress the ball, defensive output, high-energy
Top Options: Jean Michael Seri, Mario Lemina, Tunguy Ndombele
The time to replace Mousa Dembele is well overdue but, according to the rumours, is finally here and of the highest priority with the Belgian heading off to China or Italy.
This is something we looked into in depth at RealSport but a few more names have been thrown into the hat since then.
2. Retain or Replace Toby Alderweireld
Position: Central Defence
Requirements: Defensive solidity, suitability to high line, comfort on ball under pressure, creative and long-range passing
Top Options: Toby Alderweireld, Matthijs de Ligt
Losing the best defender in the league is slightly less dramatic than it could be due to the fact that Tottenham also boast the second-best defender in the league and the best young defender in the league.
Still, it’s hard to avoid a dramatic step down. Matthijs de Ligt offers the best alternative to finding a way to patch things up with Alderweireld.
There are considerably stylistic similarities between the two, as well as club history. The only doubt over de Ligt is his physicality and, therefore, suitability to the Premier League.
After him, there are other good young centre-backs: Alfie Mawson, Jamaal Lascelles, etc. but each would equate a noticeable dent in the quality of the squad.
3. Supplement the Attack
Requirements: Versatility to play wide, central or up top, willingness to accept bench time, take-ons/speed, suitability to high-pressing
Top Options: Anthony Martial, Wilfried Zaha, Christian Pulisic… surely not Gareth Bale?
Given January’s addition of Lucas Moura and the general lack of available minutes for various attacking player who aren’t Kane, Dele or Eriksen, this one seems a little surprising.
This seems to carry the mindset of ‘just add versatile attacking power and worry about how it all works later’.
4. Retain or Replace Danny Rose
Position: Left (Wing) Back
Requirements: Complete athleticism, attacking output, ‘coachability’ (looking at you Serge)
Top Options: Danny Rose, Ryan Sessegnon, Kieran Tierney
Danny Rose has had all season to patch things up with both his manager and the Spurs fanbase by performing at the standards he previously set the last three years. He failed to do so.
That failure, though, has also resulted in a lack of interest from other teams and the club and player may be stuck with one another for a while longer. Especially with the first choice replacement off the market.
5. Retain or Replace Victor Wanyama
Position: Defensive Midfield
Requirements: Elite defensive output, athleticism, technical comfort on the ball, ability to split the centre-backs
Top Options: Victor Wanyama, Amadou Diawara, Yves Bissouma
An injury worse than admitted, contractual fallout or just base level speculation based on appearances: we can only guess why Wanyama is being linked with a move away from the club.
The potential turnover does present Spurs with the opportunity to find a player who dominates a lose-ball situation like Wanyama can without giving the team some of the downside that he does but would likely require another big dip into the kitty when there are several higher priorities in the squad.
6. Improve Right Back
Position: Right (Wing) Back
Requirements: Complete athleticism, attacking output, throw-ins
Top Options: Ricardo Pereira, Benjamin Henrichs, Eder Militão, Kyle Walker-Peters
With Serge Aurier fitting into the Spurs squad about as well as homophobic slurs on 2018 social media and Kieran Trippier playing his absolute heart out to reach the level of an acceptable squad player and nothing more, there is a clear weakness in Spurs’ first XI.
With a lack of clear choice between the two players, who are roughly middling for two very different reasons, it’s hard to pick out one to swap. Given Aurier is entering his first full pre-season there is at least a shred of hope for an uptick.
However, with the best option on the market, Ricardo Pereira, already gone, and again, with several higher priorities in the squad it seems like this position is a low priority.
There is light at the end of the tunnel though, Tottenham can use this opportunity to provide promising youngster Kyle Walker-Peters with game time, develop the player and create a three-way-battle for two places.
7. Retain or Replace Erik Lamela
Requirements: Chance creation, ability to control tempo of game, intelligent pressing
Top Options: Erik Lamela, Manuel Lanzini, James Maddison
Though Christian Eriksen is wheeled out to play just about every minute of football, it is inevitable that he will miss one or two games a season. When he does it is evident how reliant Spurs are upon him.
It looked as though Tottenham would finally have a back-up for him this season once Erik Lamela returned from yet another long-term injury but his mixed bag of performances have left him a bit of an unknown, especially with regards to how suitable he is to playing a squad role.
Lamela has been divisive in the fanbase and, with that divisiveness, gained a cult following in the more youthful areas. But to still have that question mark despite being about to enter the second option year in addition to his original four-year deal is a perplexingly bad look.
8. At least try to move Moussa Sissoko on
He’s a hard worker with a lot of stamina. He appears to respond well to instructions. He can play in central midfield or on the wing. He doesn’t seem to mind not being first XI.
Moussa Sissoko is the perfect squad player except for the fact that he cost £30,000,000, is likely on corresponding wages and possess the first touch of a semi-professional.
A slight upgrade on those final two points can really thicken a squad out, though it’s possible that the same result could be achieved with a number of academy players.
What are you thoughts? Who should Mauricio Pochettino move on? Who should stay? Let us know by commenting below.