Tottenham Hotspur Showing Encouraging Depth Despite ICC Loss to Atletico Madrid

Thomas CooperFeatured ColumnistJuly 29, 2016

Josh Onomah stands his ground against the experienced Atletico Madrid midfielder Tiago. The youngster was one of several Tottenham Hotspur players highlighting the team's encouraging depth heading into the new season.
Josh Onomah stands his ground against the experienced Atletico Madrid midfielder Tiago. The youngster was one of several Tottenham Hotspur players highlighting the team's encouraging depth heading into the new season.Scott Barbour/Getty Images

"I think that we need to improve our squad," Tottenham Hotspur boss Mauricio Pochettino said in his final pre-match press conference of the 2015-16 season. "This is very clear with me, our supporters, our players, our squad—I think we are all agreeing that we need to improve."

Pochettino went on to talk about the greater balance his playing staff would need for them to handle domestic demands and their return to the Champions League. The manager described the latter as "a different level" to the Europa League football they had played most commonly in recent years.

Mauricio Pochettino and his assistant manager Jesus Perez may have plans to strengthen Spurs' squad, but their options are already pretty good.
Mauricio Pochettino and his assistant manager Jesus Perez may have plans to strengthen Spurs' squad, but their options are already pretty good.SAEED KHAN/Getty Images

Friday's 1-0 International Champions Cup loss to Atletico Madrid was Tottenham's second pre-season taster in a week of the kind of opposition they will need to raise their games for. After a rustier, nervier showing in the 2-1 defeat by Juventus, this was a more encouraging demonstration of their depth for the year ahead.

Evaluating their options right now is tricky.

Players involved in Euro 2016—Toby Alderweireld, Dele Alli, Ben Davies, Mousa Dembele, Eric Dier, Harry Kane, Hugo Lloris, Danny Rose, Jan Vertonghen, Kyle Walker and Kevin Wimmer—were not ready for the trip to Australia to participate in the ICC.

All bar Wimmer were regular starters last season. Without evidence from friendlies to suggest otherwise, the assumption is those places will predominantly be theirs to lose (mid-season cover for Vertonghen last season, Wimmer may get an early shot to start if the currently injured Belgian does not recover in time).

Pochettino has also said Down Under, per Sky Sports' Ed Hutson, "I expect some signings in the next few weeks, we will see what happens but I expect some activity."

Pochettino speaking about his squad and transfer plans at a press conference prior to Spurs' second ICC game.
Pochettino speaking about his squad and transfer plans at a press conference prior to Spurs' second ICC game.SAEED KHAN/Getty Images

The Atletico game showed even without these names, known and as yet unidentified, the strength that carried Spurs to third place last season should not be completely dismissed or forgotten. With a cadre of promising youngsters also looking to do more than just supplement them, Pochettino will have some tough calls to make deciding who will make up his squad.

Both of Spurs' summer recruits so far, Vincent Janssen and Victor Wanyama, started again versus Atletico Madrid.

The striker had a more enjoyable time of things than three days prior. Starved of the ball in the first-half then, Friday's attacking midfield ensured he was more happily involved for the duration of his 75 minutes.

Erik Lamela was a particularly frequent collaborator for the Dutchman as the new man dropped deep and looked to maintain possession at the channel entry points, his control looking far surer here too. One lofted pass in a give-and-go set the Argentinian up for a shot that hit the post.

Vincent Janssen enjoyed himself more against Atletico Madrid than in a quieter outing vs. Juventus days earlier.
Vincent Janssen enjoyed himself more against Atletico Madrid than in a quieter outing vs. Juventus days earlier.Vince Caligiuri/Getty Images

Though penalty box opportunities were limited (Josh Onomah beat him to one, firing against the crossbar), Janssen continued to provide a mobile, reliable target. Taking one Kieran Trippier pass, his strength and awareness setting up Heung-min Son to tee up a Ryan Mason half-volley was excellent. Jan Oblak saved that shot well and also stopped a later low and precisely struck free-kick from Spurs' frontman.

The good intent showed by Janssen in his introduction has already clarified things up front to a certain degree.

He will have to prove himself as a viable marksman at Premier League and Champions League levels, of course. But his willing engagement of and admirable resistance to one of Europe's best defences added to the hope his new team have landed a good alternative to the similarly industrious Kane.

Those positions that lie behind on the pitch feel a lot more uncertain.

Lamela's looking lively again, relishing the involvement afforded him his central role, bodes well for another focused and potentially even better campaign from the previously maligned attacker.

Christian Eriksen captained Spurs on Friday after recovering from illness.
Christian Eriksen captained Spurs on Friday after recovering from illness.SAEED KHAN/Getty Images

Christian Eriksen missed Juventus through illness and naturally looked a little below-par here. Yet, while much of his passing fell short, the intent behind it was familiarly bold.

Alli will be back with them this season, but another precocious talent in Onomah could yet have a substantial say in the shaping of Pochettino's attacking midfield too.

It was the 19-year-old who instigated the move that led to the aforementioned Lamela chance. His comfort in the fluidity of Spurs' work—on and off the ball—in both ICC games has seen him appear all over the pitch, more eager to get involved than the likes of Nacer Chadli and Son, and at least as effective.

Onomah made 19 appearances for Spurs last season. Continue to progress as he has so far and he will, if nothing else, force a response from the senior players whose playing time he is threatening (a proposed new signing like Marseille's Georges-Kevin Nkoudou, per Sky Sports' Dharmesh Sheth, will have to fight for time too).

Between Alli, Dembele and Dier, Tottenham had one of the Premier League's best central midfield units last time out. Barring dramatic complacency early on, they deserve the chance to test themselves against some of Europe's toughest.

Onomah fires a first-half shot against the crossbar. The young attacking midfielder will have impressed Pochettino with his eager display.
Onomah fires a first-half shot against the crossbar. The young attacking midfielder will have impressed Pochettino with his eager display.Scott Barbour/Getty Images

The contest to be in contention to compete with and back them up is looking like one of Spurs' most fascinating this summer.

Wanyama was not needed as much defensively as against the more aggressive Juventus but was once more a valuable and assertive conduit. Signed by Pochettino at Southampton and again now at Spurs, the reunited manager will be pleased he is already setting a good standard.

With Nabil Bentaleb left behind, those midfielders who have travelled have had big opportunities to make sure they remain in their boss's plans.

A half-time substitution, Tom Carroll was again tidy enough in his passing and a willing runner, but not so remarkable he could be termed influential. Much better individually in this regard was Mason, again skipper after Eriksen's interval withdrawal.

Mason played as lifelessly and uninspired against Juventus as he had in an end-of-season mini-run that passed him by. The man back at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Wednesday was more akin to the determined midfielder who grabbed his chance so memorably two seasons ago.

Ryan Mason was much improved from his performance against Juventus. What are his playing prospects at Spurs heading into the season?
Ryan Mason was much improved from his performance against Juventus. What are his playing prospects at Spurs heading into the season?Jack Thomas/Getty Images

With Lamela and Wanyama also substituted, his purposeful runs forward and helpful, if sometimes a little eager, defensive interventions ensured Spurs did not lose complete momentum. He won a couple of dangerous free-kicks on the edge of the area and initiated moves for others too.

It is unclear for now how much leeway Carroll's and Mason's performances over the last year or two have earned them. The again impressive Harry Winks may force Pochettino into a difficult call over at least one of two players who have served him well.

Speaking to Tottenham's media crew after (see below), the 20-year-old was right to be pleased:

Winks was hardly shy in last summer's Audi Cup, one of his most prominent appearances for the club up until now. This week he has looked even more confident, a player almost completely comfortable duelling with experienced performers such as Gabi and Tiago.

Winks struck an understanding with Wanyama where he was allowed to see more of the ball in the opposition half but did not leave his midfield partner isolated. Active and energetic but sensible too, he covered a good distance linking up with his team-mates and was not easily bypassed by Atletico.

Atletico Madrid could not take Harry Winks lightly.
Atletico Madrid could not take Harry Winks lightly.SAEED KHAN/Getty Images

The outcome of the competition for places in central midfield is obviously not yet clear, but what Pochettino wants from it is. The situation at full-back may yet be primed for, if not a surprise, perhaps an unexpected development.

On paper it is hard to look past Davies, Rose and Walker joining Kieran Trippier upon their return as the team's four-man defensive squadron on the flanks. DeAndre Yedlin's steady performance against Atletico—backed by his season out on loan at Sunderland—could, though, contribute to his unsettling this presumed accepted order.

Out at left-back again, Yedlin provided good support for those heading out in his direction and almost got more than a corner kick out of a ninth-minute surge into the box.

The American's pace was on show in Spurs' off-season games last year. A season with new England boss Sam Allardyce at the relegation-battling Black Cats seems to have honed his previously less eye-catching defensive instincts.

DeAndre Yedlin looks to have improved defensively since his last appearances in a Tottenham shirt.
DeAndre Yedlin looks to have improved defensively since his last appearances in a Tottenham shirt.Jack Thomas/Getty Images

He won some battles on his own flank and more than once did well sweeping up inside, beating Fernando Torres to a cross on one occasion and clearing up loose balls on others.

Yedlin may be one of those being deployed practically by Pochettino because of the limited resources, a loan or permanent departure set to follow. If that does prove the case, he cannot be accused of not trying hard enough to change his boss's mind.

The less-experienced Tottenham youngsters out on tour have been endeavouring just as much to be noticed.

Cameron Carter-Vickers was this time joined at centre-back by Anton Walkes. Atletico did not pressure Spurs as much as Juventus did, but the overall calmness of the two centre-backs still deserves credit.

Walkes was unlucky to deflect a free-kick into the path of Diego Godin for what proved the Spanish outfit's winner (see above). He was otherwise on hand to mop up promptly and decisively, Carter-Vickers also sharp in his interventions.

Dominic Ball had a torrid time against Juventus at the back but did better in a second-half cameo in midfield. Will Miller slotted in comfortably at left-back once more, while Marcus Edwards showed flashes of the considerable ability at his disposal, splitting his few individual duels with the Champions League finalists.

Goalkeeper Luke McGee will hope for a more substantial opportunity soon than the 15 minutes he got in place of Michel Vorm. Kyle Walker-Peters, another versatile full-back, injected some good energy to the team's later attacks from and down the right flank.

In his post-match interview with Tottenham, Pochettino was again pleased with these fresh-faced youngsters (see above).

Most of them may be a little ways off reaching the first-team for competitive football. Some will not even get that far.

All will have reminded their manager that improvements to this Tottenham team do not necessarily have to come from outside. Despite the disappointment of defeat, some of the squad's more experienced players showed that too.

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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