With 100 games to play in the next 21 days, James Harris examines what can be done to help prevent our players burning out.
It is said that the best remedy to a loss is having another game as soon as possible to put things right. Luckily the wait for Spurs after a hugely disappointing defeat to Crystal Palace is only three days. After enduring 90 minutes of uninspired, turgid football, that nobody could see but the 9000 fans at Burnley’s Turf Moor in the FA Cup last week, Tottenham have been rewarded with at least 90 more minutes on Wednesday night.
There are arguments either way as to whether Tottenham’s ever-growing schedule is a blessing or a curse, but it seems the widely held opinion is that an overload on matches is a good problem to have. There are issues to solve for Mauricio Pochettino’s side, but the packed fixture list should be welcomed by everyone at the club.
With Spurs still fighting on four fronts midway through the season, they have played more games in all competitions than any other club in the Premier League. This can’t be a bad thing for any fan of the club; when one game ends, it is not long until another comes along.
However, it does of course propose certain problems. Despite the huge £100 million outlay from the summer of 2013, Tottenham do not have a squad that can be constantly rotated and still guarantee results. Mauricio Pochettino seems to have decided on a key core of players now which is a positive thing, but also has its negatives.
The string of late winners have not been luck, they have been as a result of Tottenham going up a gear in the final 20 minutes
Tiredness is a problem that every team has to deal with, particularly Tottenham, with their vast amount of games this season. Up until the Palace game though, the fitness of the Spurs squad has been extremely impressive. The string of late winners have not been luck, they have been as a result of Tottenham going up a gear in the final 20 minutes of games when the other team are fading and the high intensity training of Pochettino has to be accountable for this.
His methods have taken a while to bed in, but over the Christmas period they certainly came to fruition. With the games continuing to come thick and fast, the endurance of the squad will continue to be tested, but there is no doubt that the fitness levels at White Hart Lane are up there with the very best thanks to the new manager.
Despite the impressive fitness, rotation will still be key for Pochettino and his team. The coach and his backroom staff are better placed to assess who needs resting and when to do it, but the likes of Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen, who run around 10 kilometres a game will surely need to be looked after. This cannot be at the cost of a competition though and so it is important Tottenham are shrewd with their rotation, rather than making wholesale changes for certain matches.
This view seems to be shared by Pochettino, who kept key figures such as Eriksen and Nacer Chadli in the team at Burnley last week, whilst resting certain others like Kane and Kyle Walker. Much like the fans, the manager seems to want to progress as far as possible in every competition and barring any potential mishaps this coming Wednesday, his policy is so far working successfully.
Shrewdness will also be key this month in the form of transfers – in and out. It seems there are certain players that Pochettino has decided are not part of his plans and it would be best for them to move on now to allow for possible incomings. January windows are rarely busy for Spurs, but you feel it could be a pivotal juncture in a busy season this time around. Sales must happen before purchases, but it seems essential that Spurs look for another striker to ease the pressure on Harry Kane.
At this point in time, one bad injury to the England Under-21’s star could be calamitous to Tottenham’s season. The loss to Palace also highlighted the weakness at the base of Tottenham’s midfield with the absence of Ryan Mason due to injury and Nabil Bentaleb, currently in Equatorial Guinea on African Cup of Nations duty for Algeria. These two positions are in most urgent need of recruitment, but reinforcements may also be required elsewhere.
It seems there are certain players that Pochettino has decided are not part of his plans and it would be best for them to move on now to allow for possible incomings
Every year when the crammed Christmas fixture list comes around, fans of English football rejoice; however, every year the same old questions are raised. Why don’t we in England follow suit with the rest of Europe and have a winter break? Why do we risk injuries and fatigue to the detriment of our national team?
The real answer to both is, as it often is with modern English football, money. However, it is a ridiculous argument to say that England under perform in international tournaments due to the lack of a winter break. Only one-third of players in the Premier League are English and the winter break argument is simply an excuse to cover up the lack of quality coaching at grass roots level.
The intense winter period is a test of physical and mental strength that cannot be found in any of Europe’s other top leagues and is part of what makes the English game so special. It is part of our game to be embraced. The challenge is great, but as Tottenham discovered this year, when you start winning games in this period, having another one just days away adds to the excitement and creates a sense of invincibility.
Of course, this period is also disastrous for some and is often where a club’s season can fall apart, but it is this defining test in the Premier League season which clubs have to stand up to if they want to achieve their goals. All very exciting then, especially for keen supporters. Fitness is a key feature of the Premier League, more-so than in most leagues and it is essential to the league’s identity that the Christmas football calendar stays as it is.
Careful and pragmatic rotation is needed and reinforcements are vital if Spurs wish to keep fighting in four competitions
After coming out of the winter period full of positivity, capped off by the inspired win over Chelsea on New Year’s Day, Tottenham have yet more football to look forward to. Despite the performance against Palace, it is still a very exciting time for Spurs fans, with a strong chance of getting to Wembley by the end of the month, as well as exciting possibilities in the FA Cup and Europa League.
Despite some poor results earlier in the season, Tottenham are still challenging well in the Premier League also. As the famous old Blanchflower quote goes: ‘the game is about glory’; so why sacrifice a competition in the hope of keeping the players well rested? This is an opportunity for Tottenham, one which should be taken with both hands.
Careful and pragmatic rotation is needed and reinforcements are vital if Spurs wish to keep fighting in four competitions. Keep fighting we should though, for as another famous old quote from one of our finest goes, ‘it is better to fail aiming high than to succeed aiming low’. Every competition is a chance at glory this season, so aim high Tottenham.