If you asked a Tottenham fan to grade their season so far, most answers will range between a B- and a C.
Sure, Spurs are into the last 16 of the Champions League and remain in the Premier League’s top four, but the intangibles about their wins and progress haven’t been as enjoyable as those at the end of last season.
There’s still a long way to go in the campaign, however. They have a solid base to build on and if they can make small margins of progress, they can still have a memorable year.
Here’s four things Antonio Conte’s men can do to improve once they return from the World Cup break.
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What has been an underlying subplot with very scarce air time to this point could become quite the major storyline one way or another in the new year.
Conte’s contract expires at the end of the season, and while Spurs retain the option to extend it by 12 months at their discretion, the Italian’s long-term future will remain questionable until he pens a fresh deal.
Harry Kane remains under contract until 2024, with Spurs also trying to tie him down to a new deal. If they are unsuccessful, they could be forced to sell him next summer.
If they are to have an inspired second half to the season, they need to definitively hush the noises about Conte and Kane’s futures.
What helped Tottenham win the race for a top-four finish last season was there ruthlessness at both ends of the pitch for 90 minutes. Seems like that’s their job, right?
Well, it hasn’t quite been the same story this term. Spurs have become notoriously slow starters and late finishers, but these are characteristics feeding into each other – they conserve energy, fall behind, then return to maximum capacity to try and rescue themselves.
That trend is rather unsustainable and cannot continue. Admittedly, this strategy might be at least partly down to Conte’s lack of trust in the entire squad. Speaking of which…
A team continually relying on the likes of Emerson Royal, Eric Dier and Ben Davies isn’t going to reach the heights that Conte wants, and Spurs have to find immediate upgrades in January.
It’s a hard ask because the mid-season transfer window is trickier to navigate, but Fabio Paratici has had quite the knack of picking out good deals to suit Conte’s needs. A centre-back and right wing-back are musts next month.
New signings only need to raise the floor rather than the ceiling – the attack should sort itself out (as long as Dejan Kulusevski remains fit).
Look, Tottenham and Arsenal’s fortunes and feelings are intertwined when they’re in direct competition. There’s no getting away from that.
Part of the reason why the perception around Spurs has been so negative this season is because their neighbours from the other end of Seven Sisters Road are exceeding all expectations.
Tottenham have made adequate progress off the back of last season’s victorious duel against Arsenal, but the Gunners have found another gear and are worthy Premier League title contenders, making the mood a little sourer in comparison across north London.
With Gabriel Jesus out for the foreseeable future, Arsenal could experience a little bit of a wobble. Spurs must find a feel-good factor of their own and take back this season’s bragging rights, particularly with another derby day just over the horizon.