Wednesday, 18 January 2017

The latest building block in Pochettino's Tottenham empire

Character. That was the buzz word when Tottenham's season fell apart at the end of last season. Well, now it's back at the forefront of the Spurs vocabulary but for entirely different reasons. 

In May, we were questioned for failing to end our 26-year Stamford Bridge hoodoo and for letting Arsenal nip ahead of us once again on the final day.

This season the big fear was that, despite Spurs' new-found reputation as the stylish troubadours of English football, those nagging old habits might continue to die hard. 

But with Saturday's thrashing of West Brom - a team we had not beaten at home since 2012 - it seems this squad are facing up to the shortfalls of the previous campaign and hitting them head on. 

Not just hitting them, but bludgeoning them. 

Southampton, Chelsea, West Brom. Each week seems like a new opportunity to right the wrongs of last spring and each week these guys are coming up trumps.

Records are mounting, hoodoos are lifting and, truth be told, I really don't know what to do with myself.

That's six wins on the bounce in the league that have seen 19 goals scored, just three conceded.

Of course, as we all know, these runs do not last forever and don't necessarily tell us much. Looking back to October 2011, Shola Ameobi's last-gasp equaliser for Newcastle slaps an ugly D (for draw) right in the middle of what would have been a massive ten-game winning run. Still, by the end of that season we were only fourth.

You just get the feeling these players are learning from mistakes and developing that "character" needed to really challenge.

Dele Alli missed last season's run-in after lashing out at Claudio Yacob, you could have forgiven him for wanting revenge when we faced the Baggies this time round. Instead he got his own back with a stand-out performance and a terrific assist to lay on Harry Kane's hat-trick finish.

Mousa Dembele lost his head against Chelsea in the Battle of the Bridge, gouging Diego Costa's eye (who wouldn't?), but this time round he kept his thumbnails to himself and even stayed out of the ref's book.

Heung-Min Son came close to leaving over summer after struggling to settle during his first year - but having got his head down he has now already matched last season's tally of eight goals.

Throughout the squad individuals are winning personal battles and showing progress in matters that maybe let them down last season. And you have to give the manager credit for that. 

Mauricio Pochettino showed his own character in encouraging a squad to bounce back from May's capitulation in the run-in.

Although he hardly nursed his players through the tough times. He did quite the opposite, in fact, laying the players wide open to criticism and challenging them to prove their worth.

In August he revealed he was "ready to kill" them for losing 5-1 to Newcastle on the final day. Poch has never been scared to reignite the title talk and in September he even compared 18-year-old (then 17) Marcus Edwards to Lionel Messi.

Pochettino is only too happy to apply the pressure to these players because he needs to know they can take it. He is building a squad that has to win home games regularly at Wembley next season, and must hit the ground running in a brand new 60,000 seater stadium. 

The gaffer is eyeing the top and he is not messing about. You only have to look at Ryan Mason and more latterly Tom Carroll to see that, while Pochettino is determined to show faith in young homegrown players, but he will also admit when it isn't working and move forward.

His patience clearly does have limits. Hopefully his character does not.

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