Manchester United defeat shows that Spurs' big challenge will come in the summer
Manchester United are a team that trounces one and all away from home, and Spurs’ form has resembled a Joss Whedon movie - you get an Avengers every now and then, but you also get Justice League, not the Zack Snyder cut.
See, Justice League had all the ingredients of a great movie, but somehow, when he put it all together, it just sucked.
Now, traditionally, after a match like this one, the usual finger pointing starts. It’s the players’ fault because they had no fight in them. It’s Jose Mourinho’s fault because he took out two attacking players for two defensive ones at 1-1. It’s Daniel Levy’s fault because he didn’t let loose the purse strings and buy Kylian Mbappe. It’s the tea lady’s fault because she didn’t spike the United players’ tea and so on.
WATCH: Mourinho says Spurs didn't deserve to lose to Man United
There’s no point to any of that. Spurs’ season, barring a Herculean effort in the Carabao Cup Final, is pretty much over. I’m not being pessimistic, as the ever hopeful would point out there are seven games and only six points from fourth, and the ball is round, whatever that means.
It is the fact that there are three (four, if Everton win their games in hand) teams ahead of them in West Ham, Chelsea and Liverpool that Spurs will have to leapfrog in order to finish fourth, and that’s an order taller than Everest. If Spurs were fifth, and six points from West Ham, I would still hold out some hope, but to expect four good sides to all drop points while Spurs win them all is like hoping Emma Stone remembers my marriage proposal shouted from an audience while she was in Singapore.
So yes, it’s pretty much down to the Cup Final against the most in-form team in Europe. And while stranger things have happened, let’s all agree that football is rarely like a Netflix hit show.
Let’s be honest, Spurs, for all their world class players, are simply not good enough. While no one doubts the quality of players such as Harry Kane, Son Heung-Min and Tanguy Ndombele, the majority of the squad is bang average or worse.
While Mauricio Pochettino took these players to dizzying heights, it’s ridiculous to expect that they can do it year after year without fixing the fundamental problems of the squad. In that regard, it’s not entirely Mourinho’s fault. While a workman shouldn’t blame his tools, there is only so much one can do when the tools are blunt.
So let’s look ahead, Mourinho needs a good summer if he is to take Spurs back to the top four.
WATCH: Emotional Son Heung-Min reflects on Spurs' loss to Man United
Last night’s match against the Red Devils, to me, should represent the final nail in Eric Dier’s coffin. Don’t get me wrong, Dier is Spurs through and through and every time he plays, he throws his body on the line, as seen by his last ditch block to prevent Marcus Rashford’s shot from going in early in the match, and another block to stop Paul Pogba’s cheeky backheel late in the game.
But if Spurs have any ambitions to win the league title, Dier’s not the defender to get them there. The whole match, Edinson Cavani lost Dier time and again and it’s only thanks to VAR that the Uruguayan scored only one goal. His sense of defensive positioning has been found wanting throughout the season, but if you can’t even keep track of a 34-year-old striker who was out of work for six months prior to signing for United, you have to question his defensive know-how.
Comparatively, his relatively inexperienced defensive partner Joe Rodon looked like a seasoned pro.
To be clear, the loss was not down to Dier. The likes of Moussa Sissoko, Serge Aurier and Erik Lamela, for all their willingness, are simply not the class of players a team needs if they are to challenge for trophies.
Mind you, United didn’t even play that well, but moments of individual brilliance were enough once Spurs gave up the initiative in the game.
WATCH: Solskjaer lauds impact of Cavani on Man United
So, the summer is where Spurs’ hope really lies.
Not so much that they need to go out and buy or loan another seven new players like this season - that’s not going to solve the club’s problems. Rather, with two to three clever purchases, coupled with returning loan players and promoting from within, we could get a fresh Spurs side next season that might surprise a few people.
It’s time to let the four mentioned above move on, but that doesn’t mean Spurs needs to buy four world class replacements. Who has that kind of money in a Covid-19 world?
So what can Spurs do?
For one, they need to solve whatever problem Mourinho has with Toby Alderweireld. At 32, the Belgian is still world class and is exactly the experience Rodon needs to guide him to reach his full potential. There’s something going on which is keeping him out of Mourinho’s side, but it’s surely not a footballing reason, given that Davinson Sanchez and Dier haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory.
The Alderweireld-Rodon partnership looks good for at least one season, if off field problems can be resolved.
Then, Sissoko can be replaced by the blossoming Oliver Skipp, who is churning out weekly man of the match performances on loan at Norwich. The last time a Spurs player went to Norwich on loan, he came back as Harry Kane. So it’s a no-brainer that he has to be in Mourinho’s plan next season. There’s also Ryan Sessegnon, whose game time in the Bundesliga would have toughened him up to at least be a back-up to Sergio Reguilon at left back.
WATCH: Skipp keen to kick on after signing new Spurs deal
And then there’s plenty of buzz about 17-year-old Dane Scarlett, whose 22 goals and five assists this season at youth and u-23 levels have lubricated many Spurs fans’ dreams with the hope that he has the signs of a world class striker in the making. We’ve not seen much of him at senior level, but from what we’ve seen, he’s fast, physical and has good feet. Mourinho already said that there’s no doubt Scarlett will be with the first team next season, so Spurs might finally have that back-up striker to Kane without spending a single cent.
So what purchases do Spurs need? Firstly, creativity. Gareth Bale has some of that, but it’s clear that his best days are on the golf course these days. Lamela, as I mentioned, isn’t good enough, and neither is Steven Bergwijn. You still have Dele Alli, of course, but even on his best day, he’s more a finisher than a creator.
If Spurs look at the teams behind them, it’s clear that one man stands out as a world class player who needs to move to a bigger team - Jack Grealish. Yes, Spurs have been down that road and passed, and he’s probably going to break Levy’s transfer record. But with six goals and 10 assists in just 22 Premier League matches this season, there is no one better at creating chances who would realistically come to Spurs next season. Signing Grealish would be a signal to Kane and Son that Spurs are ambitious and prepared to match their ambitions.
WATCH: Guardiola admires 'exceptional talent' Grealish
And then, there needs to be a proper right back and a younger goalkeeper that is ready to take over from Hugo Lloris, who can’t have that many more years in him.
Anyway, the point is, if Spurs want to match the likes of Manchester United, then the summer is where they need to win their battles. And given the talent that is coming through, it could just be down to moving on some average players and making one world class purchase.
And of course, finding a way to hang on to Kane, Son and Ndombele.
That’s not asking too much, right?