Connect in the back of the net

From the Tottenham Hotspur side that was battered 0-5 by Liverpool in mid-December 2013, the game that sealed the sacking of Andre Villas-Boas, only three players, Hugo Lloris, Kyle Walker and Moussa Dembele, survived to start Sunday’s 4-1 win over West Ham.

Of the seven players signed during the spending spree of two summers ago provoked by the sale of Gareth Bale, only Christian Eriksen, with Erik Lamela suspended and Nacer Chadli injured, was present to face the Hammers.

Vlad Chiriches, Paulinho, Roberto Soldado and Ettiene Capoue were all shipped out this summer, four of the 17 first-team players manager Mauricio Pochettino has seen through the exit door in his year-and-a-half in charge at White Hart Lane.

12 players have been brought in and have helped to give Spurs their best chance of finishing in the top four since Harry Redknapp managed it in 2010 and then again in 2012 when Chelsea’s capture of the trophy cruelly denied them a spot in the Champions League.

With Chelsea out of the picture and the Premier League revelling in its most unpredictable form for a considerable while, Leicester City sit top if any evidence was needed, Spurs have the perfect opportunity to join Europe’s elite once again.

 

Ironing out the early-season imperfections

Having ironed out the early-season imperfections that made them wait until five matches in to register their first win of the campaign, Spurs have won six in nine Premier League games, drawing the other three.

They have not lost since the unfortunate 1-0 defeat to Manchester United on the opening day and now lurk two points behind third-placed Manchester City.

Pochettino believes Spurs “are one of the most attractive clubs in the world for all players” and that is mostly down to the work the Argentine has done in just 18 months.

In contrast to Villas-Boas however Pochettino’s project has been far more strategic and astute than merely arming himself with a large cheque-book and picking off the globe’s latest en-vogue talents that aren’t quite good enough to be on the radars of the very biggest clubs.

There has been no Soldado (£26 million, sevem league goals) or Paulinho (£17 million for two forgettable years) but there has been Ryan Mason, Eric Dier, Harry Kane and Dele Alli. Two players from Spurs’ youth academy and 2 signed for a combined £7.5 million.

Big money has been spent on Heung-Min Son (£21 million) and Toby Alderweireld (£11 million), albeit to an excellent return so far, but Pochettino’s approach has been largely cost-effective, to the inevitable delight of chairman Daniel Levy, young and mainly English.

Kane hit two in the crushing of West Ham to make it six from his last four league games and also scoring in that win was Kyle Walker who has improved tenfold at right-back under Pochettino’s guidance.

On the opposite flank Danny Rose has seen off Ben Davies to resurrect his Spurs career after being farmed out on loan to Sunderland under Villas-Boas but it is in centre-midfield, where the 19-year old Alli and the 21-year old Dier partner each other, where Pochettino’s England revolution catches the eye.

 

The rise of Dier and Alli

Dier enjoyed his developmental years in the same world-renowned Sporting Lisbon academy which bred Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Figo and spent two years in the Portuguese top-flight with Sporting before moving to London and settling straight into the Spurs first team with 36 appearances in his debut season.

Alli meanwhile received his footballing education with MK Dons, whom he joined at the age of 11, spending two full seasons in League One before his move to Spurs for the £4.5 million that is now beginning to look like a magnificent bargain.

Similarly to Dier, Pochettino was equally fearless to throw Alli straight into his first-team and has started nine of Tottenham’s 13 games, coming off the bench in three more.

Vital goals have come in the equaliser at Leicester and the second to put the game beyond Aston Villa, and in his first north London derby, where him and Dier were calm and measured in dictating the rhythm of the game for long periods, the 19 year old was named man of the match.

A week later and the two youngsters were playing alongside each other for England, Alli, winning his fourth cap, hit the 25-yard effort that looped over his club-mate Lloris to score the first in the 2-0 win over France.

If he was watching, the way he clattered into Morgan Schneiderlin, a trick he repeated again in the second-half, to win the ball back to set the move off, would have pleased Pochettino more.

The Argentine coach likes his teams to press hard off the ball and be direct and assured on it, demands that the midfielder has adapted to immediately; out of the Spurs squad only Lamela, perhaps surprisingly, has attempted more tackles and given away more fouls than Alli, only Walker and Jan Vertonghen have made more interceptions than his 28 (a figure equalled by Dier) while it is only Kane that has attempted more dribbles than Alli’s 39.

 

Pass completion needs improvement, but has plenty in his locker

A pass completion percentage of 78%, ranked 14th in the Spurs squad, is indicative of how Alli can still improve but not due to turn 20 until next April, time is very much on his side.

Under Pochettino, the manager who has produced 10 of England’s last 17 debutants from working with them either at Spurs or on the south coast at Southampton, there aren’t many better mentors in the search to unlock his vast talent.

He can burst past opponents with a swerve of the body that defies his 6ft 2inch frame and he appears to glide across the pitch with a remarkable understanding of the game acting as his guide throughout, an intelligence that makes him seem far more dangerous just by standing still.

West Ham’s Cheikhou Kouyate couldn’t deal with Alli and one suspects many more will have the same problems in the future.

 

Indiscipline punishes Alli and will be missed against Chelsea

The Senegalese midfielder would have been relieved when Alli left the pitch on 71 minutes shortly after receiving treatment for clattering into the advertising hoardings, but before that he picked up a booking- his fifth which means he will miss next week’s game with Chelsea- for tussling with Mark Noble.

The indiscipline of five cautions in 12 appearances is something he will have to work on, but the more immediate issue for Spurs and Pochettino is how they will deal without their new teenage hero.

 

Written by Adam Gray

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250

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