Greetings, B&B faithful. In case anyone forgot, we have the early game tomorrow against Tottenham over at the Etihad. Spurs have had a decent start to the campaign and they currently sit in 6th with 11 points from their first 7 matches.
To get caught up on the current state of affairs at White Hart Lane, I had a quick chat with Uncle Menno from Spurs' excellent SB Nation blog, Cartilage Free Captain. They are probably my favorite SB Nation blog outside of ours, so do check them out. You can find my answers for his questions here.
- B&B: Give us your thoughts on Tottenham's season so far.
CFC: This was always going to be a bit of a transitional season for Tottenham, mostly because as a club we’re still recovering from a combination of high turnover after the Bale sale and the managerial tire fire that was the whole of last season. Mauricio Pochettino has come in and, I think, done a perfectly adequate job thus far. My sense is, if you ignore the mouth-breathers on Twitter, most Spurs fans are willing to give Pochettino the time to implement his system and get his own players in. This may take a couple of years, but thus far we’ve seen some decently good results. Nobody’s expecting us to win the league or even seriously challenge for Champions League this season, so the expectations feel just a bit lower than they have the past few seasons. That’s refreshing.
- B&B: How do you see Spurs faring this season? Will there be any greater emphasis on winning the Europa League this season, due to the new rule allowing the winner to make the following season's Champions League?
CFC: The Cartilage Free Captain writing staff did a pre-season table prediction and not one of us predicted Spurs to finish higher than fifth. That’s not to say that we don’t hope for better, just that we don’t expect it. It’s also not that we think we’re a crap team — it’s more that, while we have improved and gotten a good coach with a good tactical system in place, almost all of our competition clubs have also improved. It makes top four a daunting task. We’d be thrilled if it happens, but we don’t really anticipate that it will. Fifth or sixth place would feel about right while we get Poche settled in.
You make an interesting point about the Europa League — it’s difficult to tell how seriously Pochettino takes Europa this season thus far. We’ve seen some pretty strong, but rotated, teams in action thus far. Champions League qualification for the Europa winners is a pretty big carrot. My guess is Pochettino will see where the club is after group play is over (assuming we progress) before deciding whether to double-down on Europa League or not. Winning the Europa League is really hard, especially with the Champions League cast-offs parachuting in late.
- B&B: What are the strengths and weaknesses of the team?
CFC: I think we’re a team with a pretty good attack, though our striker situation is still unsettled. Our midfield is quite good with Etienne Capoue and Ryan Mason performing quite well as a team in the pivot, and Erik Lamela, Christian Eriksen, and Nacer Chadli ahead of them. Adebayor hasn’t been all that fantastic up top, and many of us are hoping that Poche gives our academy product Harry Kane a shot this weekend either at striker or wide left if Nacer is injured. Also, we can’t mention strengths without talking about Hugo Lloris, who has been our best player by far so far this season. As for weaknesses, defense is a problem. Due to injuries we still haven’t really seen our first-choice back four this season. We have good ball-playing defenders, but they’re not the quickest, which can come back to haunt you if you play a high line like Pochettino prefers. I hope some of it works itself out once we get Kyle Walker healthy and Federico Fazio settled, but for now it’s a concern.
- B&B: How's life been with Mauricio Pochettino? Have Spurs finally found their man?
CFC: After the clown-college managerial situation we had last season with AVB and Tim Sherwood, I think most Spurs fans find Pochettino a breath of fresh air. He’s got a proven record at Southampton and Espanyol, and he’s saying all the right things. The performances have been a little bit hit or miss, but we put in good matches against QPR and Sunderland and it looks like the team’s starting to figure out how he wants them to play. With the club looking for stability ahead of building a new stadium in the next 3-5 years, I would be utterly shocked if Pochettino isn’t given the time to adapt and thrive in the EPL. But you know, this league is a meat grinder, and it’s a tough job. Who knows?
- B&B: What lineup do you expect Pochettino to put out on Saturday, and would you change any of it? Any areas of concern with this lineup?
CFC: I expect you’ll see a strong lineup, but maybe tweaked a little due to injury. Ahead of Lloris I think you’ll see Eric Dier, Younes Kaboul, Jan Vertonghen, and Danny Rose. I’d guess Etienne Capoue and Ryan Mason in the pivot. Nacer Chadli is questionable after picking up a knock so we could see Andros Townsend or Harry Kane stepping in at left midfield, along with Eriksen and Lamela. Adebayor has started every league match thus far and I don’t see that changing. When visiting the Etihad I would go more defensive, with Capoue and Benjamin Stambouli in the pivot, Townsend wide left, and Harry Kane up top. Adebayor I’d send to the bench since he tends to disappear when confronted with muscular defenders. Tactically, there’s no way we can go toe-to-toe with City and survive, so I think you have to try and park the bus, press high situationally, hope you can force a mistake, and hit back on the counter.
- B&B: Prediction for the match?
CFC: My only sincere hope is that we don’t get embarrassed. City are stupid good, and while I don’t see us getting a result, I’d like to think we might be able to keep it somewhat close. I’ll say 2-1 City.