TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR FC LEAGUE REVIEW (2015 – 2016) BY PAUL LAIGHT
“Icarus flew too close to the sun, but at least he flew.” Jeremy Robert Johnson
As the paint dries on the end of the Premier League season my team, Spurs, finished in third position; having flown high for so long they ultimately imploded in orbit before sadly crashing and burning. However, I am a very proud Spurs supporter today as finishing third in the league guarantees us Champions League football next year, and for a moment, just one split-second moment our young team, under the progressive management of Mauricio Pochettino, just flew; we really flew!
Okay, Leicester’s incredible Premier League win was the sporting story of the year, plus we didn’t win anything and failed to hold on to second to our bitter rivals Arsenal. Still, at least, when compared to the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool, and the under-achieving Mancunian teams we got off the runway and soared. Yes, we burnt out spectacularly in the last two-and-half-games but the future for Spurs remains sonic-powered and solar bright!
While I would have taken third position at the beginning of the season, getting so close to title glory meant failure was a bitter, jagged pill to stick down one’s throat. But we were scintillating throughout the season with some fantastic performances in the Premier League. Fair enough, an unlucky 3rd round loss to Arsenal in the League Cup, unnecessary loss to Palace in the FA Cup and waving the white flag to Dortmund in the Europa League condemned us to a lack-lustre cup exits, we, more often than not, totally smashed it in the League.
During a fourteen game unbeaten run early doors we smashed Manchester City 4-1 at home, Bournemouth 5-1 away and West Ham 4-1 at White Hart Lane. Even after blippy defeats to bogey teams Newcastle United and Leicester at home we strung together a series of wonderful wins including SIX in a row, which would propel us to title contenders. After being out-hustled by West Ham (1-0) we actually were, for fourteen minutes, top of the table when leading against ten-man Arsenal. But the scum equalised and we never hit the top again.
Nonetheless, Spurs continued to battle and chase and harry the formidable leaders Leicester and put real pressure on them when winning 3-0 against Manchester United and smashing sorry Stoke 4-0. Alas, the win in the Potteries was our last of a brilliant season and the ‘Battle at the Bridge’ against Chelsea saw the wheels of our title challenge career off in a pulsating, yet ill-disciplined, performance. Two crushing defeats to Southampton and Newcastle meant our young lions had won hearts and minds and flirted with glory but sadly fell short in the title and runners-up spot.
Spurs had many stand-out players in a highly consistent season. Hugo Lloris was, overall, one of the best goalkeepers in the league saving us many, many times through the year. His form, arguably fell off, like the rest of the team in the last few games but, David DeGea aside, I would not want another keeper in our box. Our defence was mean like a junkyard dog with Rose and Walker bombing up the wings and covering tackles and crosses like demons. In fact, Danny Rose, under Pochettino, is one of the most improved players at the club, embracing the derring-do, action and pace the manager has instilled.
Centre-back, Toby Alderweireld was deservedly voted Spurs player of the season by the fans as his cool, calm persona plus brilliant tackling and exquisite passing range made him the signing of the summer. But, special mention must go to a great young defender, who I thought was unlucky to be dropped for Vertonghen, called Kevin Wimmer. I would make him first choice next year as Jan, while a fine defender, has looked somewhat jaded and short of pace since coming back from injury.
Arguably our most valuable player of the season, along with Harry Kane, was Belgium midfielder, Moussa Dembele. Box-to-box there was not a better footballer in the league in my opinion. Because of his ability to hustle opponents and rarely lose the ball, Spurs struggled when he didn’t play. Another revelation in midfield was Eric Dier, who having been promoted from the back four provided, for the most part, rock-like protection, snarling commitment and also some valuable goals.
Attacking midfielders Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela were also excellent throughout. Great Dane Eriksen especially provided an unprecedented number of assists and often derided Lamela really found his passing and goal scoring range. Find of the season though in a Spurs shirt was the mercurial teenager Dele Alli who scored a series of brilliant goals. Bought for an incredibly low price of £5 million he deservedly won PFA Young player of the Year and what a talent he is! The only criticism that can be aimed at him is his lack of discipline; yet it’s that aggression which drives his winning mentality and something I’m sure he will channel into becoming a world-class player for Spurs and England.
Going forward Harry “He’s one of our own” Kane has provided the fulcrum for a brilliant attack-minded team. In the Premier League alone he scored TWENTY-FIVE goals and pretty much played every minute on his own up front. If he’d been injured I’m not sure Spurs would have been able to challenge as high as they have. He is single-minded in his pursuit of goals, possessing great ability in the air and on the ground. Kane’s skill in tight spots, powerful strength and dead-eye accuracy made him my Spurs player of the year; followed closely by Alderweireld, Dembele and Alli.
An incredible amount of goals to choose from but my top FIVE Premier League goals of the season in date order:
Christian Eriksen – brilliant free kick against Swansea – 4/10/2015
Dele Alli – incredible finish versus Crystal Palace – 23/01/2016
Christian Eriksen – ice-cold winner against Manchester City – 14/02/2016
Harry Kane – amazing strike against the Arsenal – 05/03/2016
Dele Alli – sublime thru ball & finish versus Stoke City – 18-04-16
This youthful Spurs team, most of them in their twenties, played with high-line intensity, hunting in packs, defending in numbers and breaking teams down with a ferocious passion and jugular-gripping power. When they had their best eleven on the pitch they were virtually unplayable and had many Premier League managers and football pundits praising our impressive attacking prowess and miserly defence. While the romantics were rightly willing Leicester FC to win the league, Spurs were a credit to football and it was a damned shame they could not hold onto the runners-up berth their scintillating play richly deserved.
In Mauricio Pochettino (and his backroom staff) Spurs have a fantastic manager who, while still gaining experience, as a Premier League boss is moulding a young, speedy and hungry team capable of challenging for top honours. Pochettino carries himself not only with dignity but also quiet power and determination. You can see a keen football brain ticking over and his passion is undeniable. I admire his ability to get a tune out of an inexperienced team and create a winning spirit which will hopefully lead us to greater things in the near future.
NEXT SEASON – 2016-2017
With Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool under-achieving plus Manchester City being below par generally throughout the season, next year will be tough for Spurs to maintain a top four place. Also, who’s to say another team won’t do a “Leicester” and come from nowhere to win the Premier League? Indeed, Leicester themselves won’t want to give up their title easily.
Obviously, we will need to bolster the squad as we severely lacked strength in depth when our first-team eleven were not playing. Plus, the intense, closing-down football we play, and the Europa League campaign, meant we were stretched mentally and physically by the end of the season; thus culminating in our final game draws and capitulations against West Bromwich Albion, Chelsea, Southampton and sadly, Newcastle.
By shaving some of the players Pochettino deems surplus to requirements and bringing in, at the very least, another quality defensive midfielder, top-draw midfield playmaker and a couple of strikers, Spurs can take the overall positivity of this season to new heights. Moreover, tactically I would like us to add a bit more match-play nous to our speed and skill next year. We threw away points from a number of advantageous positions and feel with better discipline and tactical ability to close a game out we would have been even higher up the table.
It was ultimately a brilliant season from a marvellous young squad who did the Spurs supporters proud throughout the year. I thank the players and manager for giving me an enormous amount of footballing pleasure and excitement this season. It’s true to say that Icarus flew too close to the sun but at least he flew; as did Spurs this year.
2015 – 2016 – STATISTICS (select)
Premier League Top Scorer – 25 Goals – Harry Kane
Premier League Best Goal Difference – 34+
Premier League Longest Winning Streak – 6 games
Premier League Most Assists – (2nd place) – 13 assists – Christian Eriksen
Premier League Goals – (2nd place) – 69 goals
Club Record Unbeaten Run – 14 games
PFA Young Player of the Year – Deli Alli