Central midfield has not stopped being the overarching theme all season and the most recent games are no exception. Last time we checked in things were looking up with Mousa Dembele and also Harry Winks finding fitness at the same time. This was shortly followed by both defensive midfielders, Eric Dier and Victor Wanyama, becoming injured and then Mousa Dembele going down in some pain during the opening two minutes against Wolves.
All this combined to lead Pochettino starting a midfield duo of Harry Winks and Christian Eriksen against PSV midweek, a midfield thinness not seen since Tim Sherwood infamously played Nacer Chadli in the role.
Often, when mentality is discussed, and it is discussed often, it’s perceived as a singular aspect. “He was mentally strong”, “He was mentally weak”, “They had a winning mentality”, “They had a losing mentality”. Tuesday night’s victory over PSV seemed to showcase some of the complexity and nuance around the psychological side of the game.
Having conceded at the very beginning of the match, and failing to convert big chances a few minutes later, panic began to set in to the Tottenham side. They gradually let go of their game plan and shifted to a more direct and desperate style of play at the end of each half.
For the panic and the destabilisation, there was no collapse, Spurs stuck at it as PSV dropped deeper and deeper. Pochettino then shifted his personnel to reflect his team’s play-style, targetman Fernando Llorente’s substitution was vital in the late win.
Harry Winks rightfully picked up a lot of plaudits for his display and how it was recorded via traditional statistics, but it comes with the asterisk that PSV surrendered to him a lot of space in which to play his game.
Up next are Crystal Palace, a club who have largely retained the same deep defending, counter-attacking side through several years and several managers aside from a very brief, five game blip under Frank de Boer.
Over the last year Roy Hodgson has moved Palace away from Christian Benteke, as he continues to underperform xG worse than anyone else in the league. As a result the club have become even more reliant on Wilfried Zaha, though in turn his threat has become more dynamic as he has stepped up into a wider variety of forward roles.
The challenge for Tottenham will be less the conundrum of how how to pick the Selhurst lock and instead focus will be on piecing together a functioning midfield. The Winks/Eriksen duo will be incredibly vulnerable to the increased physical threat that the Eagles pose.
If Dembele, Wanyama and Dier are all still out with injury Pochettino will have little choice but to look to either moving a centre-back into midfield or starting Moussa Sissoko – a solution that, as the Wolves game showcased, comes with it’s own problems.