After months of flux and frustration, Tottenham Hotspur are starting to look like a serious team again. They are pushing on in the Europa League and the Capital One Cup. If they beat Burnley at White Hart Lane on Saturday – as well they should – they could climb up to fifth in the Premier League.
The challenge, of course, is consecutive good performances. Defender Jan Vertonghen, speaking after the 4-0 defeat of Newcastle United in the Capital One Cup quarter-final on Wednesday, admitted Spurs have struggled to maintain consistency, even as they moved falteringly in the right direction.
“We have a long way to go, but we are on a good way,” Vertonghen said. “Sometimes it is two steps forward and one back, but we are definitely improving.”
Vertoghen was sufficiently positive that he could describe Wednesday’s performance – an especially comprehensive win – as not being Spurs’ best display of the season. “I don’t think so,” he said. “We had a good game, but the best of the season? I would say Everton.”
That comment suggested a new self-confidence at White Hart Lane, and higher standards, as did what happened on the pitch. After months of rotation and experimentation, manager Mauricio Pochettino has found the core of his best team, with Vertonghen and Federico Fazio at centre-back. They have started Spurs’ last six domestic games, of which they have lost just once, at Chelsea.
“Like the team, we are improving every game,” Vertonghen said of this new partnership. “It is about adapting and knowing what the other is going to do. Fazio’s English is very good, and he is a beast in the air. We complement each other in that way. I think we are doing quite well at the moment.”
Vertonghen and Fazio between them are responsible for setting the high defensive line which helps the whole Tottenham team to press. “Pochettino wants us to press high, and that helps the strikers to press, because the gaps are smaller,” explained Vertonghen. “He keeps us on the front foot for 90 minutes.”
In front of Vertonghen and Fazio are Nabil Bentaleb and Ryan Mason, aged 20 and 23 respectively, but already proving better at implementing Pochettino’s instructions than any of their senior colleagues. “I work hard in training to be in the team and he trusts me,” said Bentaleb, who looks more confident with every game. “He tells me to have control of the game, to dictate the pace in the midfield. I take his advice.”
Bentaleb and Mason – along with Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen – are the future of this team and the Algerian midfielder – who will play in next month’s African Cup of Nations – knows that they can get much better. “We don’t know how far is the best,” Bentaleb said. “We always want to improve, we know we can be better but we don’t know the limit.”
Spurs are just four points from fourth place in the table, and for Bentaleb it is a very realistic target. “We are in December, and we are still in the game. We have to keep on going this way.”Reuse content