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Transfer Rater: Milinkovic-Savic to Tottenham

Football Whispers
 By Ben Pearce

Securing a top-four position will be a challenge for struggling Spurs

Tottenham have had some memorable successes and signs of progress in 2017 -- the club's highest Premier League finish (above Arsenal), the departure from White Hart Lane, the victory against Real Madrid. But as winter arrives, they have taken just two points from a possible 12 in the Premier League, and Mauricio Pochettino has problems in virtually every area of the pitch.

No team conceded fewer goals than the North Londoners in 2015-16 and 2016-17 -- a key factor in each of their title bids. However, Spurs have kept just one clean sheet in their past 11 matches, and in each of their past three outings they have been behind in the 15th minute.

To make matters worse, Davinson Sanchez will now join the injured Toby Alderweireld on the sidelines, serving a three-match domestic ban -- after his red card against Watford. Having correctly decided to move Eric Dier from defence into midfield from the start against Watford on Saturday, Pochettino will now have to move the England man back into the rearguard again. And, with Victor Wanyama also out, that leaves the North Londoners short on central midfielders as well as centre-backs, while Mousa Dembele has a chequered fitness record.

Tottenham HotspurTottenham Hotspur
Apoel NicosiaApoel Nicosia
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Defensive shortcomings can be negated if there is enough firepower at the other end, as Manchester City have shown in their past two outings -- both 2-1 home wins -- yet Spurs have only netted four times in their past six league matches.

Harry Kane has had to overcome hamstring and knee injuries, and in midfield Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli have been inconsistent, with Pochettino admitting the former may be mentally tired. Nonetheless, the trio have started the past five games.

Pochettino is fully aware of the importance of rotation but his offensive reserves, notably Moussa Sissoko and Fernando Llorente, have not been offering enough to show the manager that he can rest any of his top three attackers. Both were poor at Leicester last week and missed good chances.

In the summer, Pochettino stressed the need to bring in players who could genuinely rival Kane, Eriksen and Alli for places in the starting XI: "We need quality and players with the facility to fight with our number one, and to try to help them push their level," he said.

That has not happened and, faced with a lack of strength in depth in the final third, Pochettino has had to rely on the same faces.

On top of all this, there is the Wembley issue. Spurs have only won two of their five home league matches against Burnley, Swansea, Bournemouth, Crystal Palace and West Brom.

Mauricio Pochettino
Tottenham's injuries have forced Mauricio Pochettino to make some difficult lineup decisions.

It is, admittedly, a gloomy picture. But anyone painting this as a new and disastrous situation for Pochettino should remember that there was a similar period at this juncture last year -- Tottenham won one out of 10 matches between Oct. 15 and Nov. 26.

They only had two extra points at this stage last term, after 15 league matches, and were only one point closer to the top four -- lying three points adrift instead of four. Yet they went on to finish second. The problem is that Spurs' top-six rivals are looking stronger now and the challenge of securing a top-four spot rather tougher.

The North Londoners cannot afford to fall any further adrift, and Pochettino will rest a host of players for Wednesday's meaningless Champions League match against Apoel Nicosia, ensuring his top men are fresh for Saturday's home game against Stoke, when the challenge will again be to break down defensive visitors while avoiding further leakages at the other end.

With that in mind, he should save Danny Rose and Serge Aurier for the weekend, even though they have recently been playing in the midweek matches and are theoretically due to come back into the side against APOEL.

Spurs lumped too many aerial crosses into the box against West Brom when they were last at Wembley, which suited their guests perfectly. Albion looked less comfortable when Son Heung-min was running at them in wide areas, but the South Korean was the only player to consistently do so.

Kieran Trippier and Ben Davies both lack the pace to attack the byline against deep-set opponents, so they kept swinging the ball in high -- and Llorente's introduction only encouraged that approach.

Rose and Aurier can pose different problems by acting as wingers against Stoke, receiving the ball in advanced areas and attacking their opponents one on one, in addition to Son.It would therefore be curious if the pair were now selected against APOEL, with the slower and less dynamic duo of Trippier and Davies then returning against Stoke.

Pochettino has plenty of headaches and not enough options because of injuries, suspension and a lack of strength in depth in attacking areas. But he can at least decide how to use his full-backs in the next two matches, and Rose and Aurier look the better choices for the more important match on Saturday.

Ben is ESPN FC's Tottenham blogger. Follow on Twitter: @BenPearceSpurs.


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