This summer saw Tottenham Hotspur move forward and stand still simultaneously.
Spurs ended an 18-month transfer drought by bringing in their record-signing, Tanguy Ndombele, as well as adding Giovani Lo Celso and Ryan Sessegnon to an already impressive squad.
At the time, those acquisitions appeared to be dependent on others leaving. The likes of Toby Alderweireld, Christian Eriksen and Danny Rose were expected to move on, but they all ended up staying put – and it’s done Spurs more harm than good.
Mauricio Pochettino has in part put the team’s poor form down to “different agendas in the squad”, identifying the January transfer window as a period in which the club will attempt to solve some of the prevailing personnel issues.
Reports have picked up on those comments, suggesting Spurs are set for a ‘squad overhaul’ in January.
But what exactly are the problems Pochettino needs to solve? Which areas of the team need repairing? Who should be sold and who will Spurs target?
We’ve picked out five issues and suggested how Pochettino should go about finding solutions to them.
1. Ship out the rust and buy a right-back
A number of players were said to be up for sale at Spurs over the summer, but the club failed to move most of them on. This combined with Pochettino’s unwavering loyalty to most of his players – regardless of whether they are struggling to perform – means Spurs are suffering from an overcrowding issue.
The likes of Serge Aurier and Victor Wanyama continue to be given chances despite disastrous cameos, while Eric Dier can’t seem to rediscover his form of old. The midfielder supposedly heads a group of players who will be shown the exit door in January, but the club must work harder to push them out this time.
Even the once brilliant Danny Rose is showing signs of rust. His departure would speed up the integration of Ryan Sessegnon, though right-back is a bigger priority; Nice’s Youcef Atal is thought to be a target.
Given that Moussa Sissoko is Pochettino’s best option right now, Spurs must sign a right-back whether they manage to sell players or not.
2. Move Alderweireld on, keep Vertonghen
The most concerning area in which rust is beginning to form is at centre-back. Considered one of Europe’s best defensive partnerships as recently as last season, Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen have shown their age so far this this term.
At 30 and 32 respectively, the Belgians are edging towards the end of their Spurs careers having entered the final year of their contracts. But Alderweireld, who was the shakier of the two during Tottenham’s Bayern-Brighton double-whammy defeat, is the player Spurs should look to move on in January.
Despite the obvious quality he has shown in the past – and perhaps as a result of that quality – it feels like Alderweireld has always had one foot out of the door, while Vertonghen is a long-serving fan favourite who arguably deserves either a free transfer or a contract extension.
Young deputies Davinson Sanchez and Juan Foyth will graduate into regulars one day, but Spurs need one elder statesman to stick around during this transitional period – and it should be Vertonghen.
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3. Sell Christian Eriksen
When it comes to Christian Eriksen, Spurs have two choices: sell him in January or lose him on a free transfer next summer. Retaining the Dane looked like the logical decision at the beginning of the season with Spurs’ Champions League hopes debatably reliant on his presence. But that no longer seems to be the case.
Bar a couple of vital contributions, most notably his game-changing cameo from the bench on the opening weekend of the season against Aston Villa, Eriksen has been playing far below his usual standards since failing to seal a move to Real Madrid in the summer.
In fact, it is no longer a stretch to say Spurs would be better off without Eriksen. His languid playing style has always drawn questions about his commitment from some quarters, but those questions have now turned into genuine concerns.
Spurs may still be able to command a relatively large fee for the 27-year-old, whose sale would allow Pochettino to give summer signing Lo Celso the responsibility of being the team’s new midfield talisman. It could be a pivotal moment in the club’s next phase.
4. Go all out for a Dybala
There is a case to be made that Spurs would not appear as disjointed as they do now had they managed to get a deal for Juventus forward Paulo Dybala over the line on deadline day. The Londoners missed out on drastically improving their attack because of image rights, by all accounts.
Of course, Pochettino’s frontline isn’t in desperate need of a refresh like other areas of the squad are. Harry Kane and Heung-min Son have remained productive through the current rough patch, while Lucas Moura is an enviable substitute option, albeit one Pochettino doesn’t use as often as he could.
That said, signing Dybala – or a player of the Argentinian’s ilk – would have taken Spurs to the next level. The club might have tried harder to sell Eriksen had they brought in Dybala, a player who would have made up for creativity lost through Eriksen’s exit with his own set of unique traits.
Reports claim Spurs are still keen on Dybala. But even if they cannot lure him in January, Pochettino should pursue an alternative marquee signing to finish the repair job Spurs started in the summer, though the club must be careful if forced to choose between spending big on a Dybala or solving more urgent problems.
5. Draw up a long-term plan
“In five-and-a-half years, in every single press conference we’re talking about my future,” Pochettino said earlier this month. “I hope [because] we are still talking, it means that I am going to spend five more years here, at least.”
The Spurs manager’s job security has been the source of speculation amid recent results, but there are still strong signs both the club and Pochettino want to move forward together. If that’s the case, it’s time to start properly planning for the long-term.
That means starting the search for a replacement for Hugo Lloris, and Vertonghen. It means identifying other areas of the squad where rust is beginning to form. It means changing tack in the transfer market, avoiding brinkmanship and going into each window with a pre-conceived strategy.
Much of this rests on the shoulders of chairman Daniel Levy. Yet while it is vital the long-term future is something Spurs get right, they must first get through what could be an intriguing January.