Opposition Review: Tottenham Hotspur
Middlesbrough host Premier League giants Tottenham Hotspur in the 5th round of the FA Cup.
Chris Wilder's men will enter this fixture in less-than-ideal form, having lost two of their last three outings. This plateau of form comes at an awkward moment for Middlesbrough as they aim to make a charge for the playoff places. However, Boro's current standing as a potential playoff candidate is not small due to Wilder's arrival. Under the former Sheffield United manager, Middlesbrough has managed to turn around middling form, and the playoffs are now a serious possibility.
However, the stresses of the Championship will have been alleviated in this mid-week fixture as Middlesbrough take on Premier League giants Tottenham Hotspur in the FA Cup. The is no doubt that the Teessiders are second-favourites coming into this game. So they can enjoy the occasion in front of a packed Riverside Stadium.
In recent outings, Antonio Conte's side has shown a positive turn of form as they have returned six points from their last three fixtures, including a 4-0 victory over Leeds United. However, this paints a troubling image for Middlesbrough, who would have faced a Spurs side struggling to gain traction in the league. Furthermore, Spur's sparse trophy cabinet and Middlesbrough's recent notable success against Manchester United mean that they will field a solid team in the Northeast.
Naturally, Middlesbrough is massive underdogs coming into this game. Still, it would only need a single result, over 90 minutes, for Middlesbrough to advance into the quarterfinals.
Owner: ENIC Group
Tottenham Hotspur is owned by investment group ENIC Group, mainly owned by Joe Lewis. The multi-billion-pound investor purchased Spurs with expressed desire to sell it along the line for profit. However, as things stand, it remains a proponent of its investment portfolio alongside Oil companies, restaurant chains and property companies. An astute financier, every financial decision that the club makes is through fellow investors and ENIC Group minority owner Daniel Levy.
Daniel Levy has grown into quite a renowned figure in football due to him being a tough negotiator. However, more goes into their playing staff planning than just buying for as cheap as possible and selling them for the highest price possible. This astute financial and negotiating mind has also helped the club tie down talented players to long contracts with monetary compensation that does not reflect their transfer value. This allowed Spurs to function on a wage and transfer outlay while still competing at the very top of the game. In turn, Spurs almost managed to win the league under Pochettino if a late collapse and the impressive form of Leicester City had not halted them in their tracks.
When at their best, Joe Lewis and Daniel Levy's methods can result in some impressive outcomes. But, likewise, when at their worst, they can end up shooting themselves in the foot.
Since the club is run for a profit, Daniel Levy has been unwilling to sanction transfers with several windows passing the club by with few, if any, incoming players. On the other hand, Levy's refusal to cut-price for his most significant assets (the footballers) has resulted in stagnation with players who don't fit in at the club. This transfer stalemate can cause a stagnancy to swell in the Spurs pool, with the side carrying around deadwood. At the same time, those with considerable talent don't feel supported elsewhere or threatened for their position.
This stagnation has been an issue that the owner has repeatedly ignored despite Mourinho, Nunez and Conte all commenting on it as a primary issue.
Nonetheless, in hiring Conte, Levy and Lewis indicate a desire to invest in the club once more. If they fail to live up to that promise to Conte, then it will be another short tenure at the Tottenham Hotspur stadium.
Manager: Antonio Conte
Tottenham Hotspur has had a turbulent managerial record following Mauricio Pochettino's tenure. During this short three-year period, the club has signed deals with Mourinho, Nuno Espirito Santo, and Antonio Conte. Perhaps more alarming, though, is how difficult it was to pin down a manager in the closed season. Numerous names were linked with the club, and multiple managers were interviewed before they eventually settled on Nuno Espirito Santo. However, the former Wolves manager would fail to prove himself in the season's early months, and his sacking would follow. Tottenham then pursued a known winner in Antonio Conte, tying him down to a contract in November.
Antonio Conte may be a serial winner, having won major awards as a player and manager. Still, his current run at Tottenham Hotspur leaves something to be desired as they remain in 7th place some 5 points away from the top four and three points away from 5th. Conte will be hoping to turn things around in such a problematic predicament sooner rather than later, and, equally, the cup grows increasingly important as an avenue into European competition.
Conte is famous for being the pragmatic manager that popularised the back three in England. A formation that has been so widely adopted that he will likely face an adapted version of this formation when he faces Middlesbrough. He has also continued to use his revered 3-4-3 formation at Tottenham. His sides typically play at their best when they utilise their verticality, with Kane pulling the strings from a deeper position, often picking out Son. But, then, it is little surprise that they are the most lethal duo in Premier League history.
Middlesbrough will need to be at their best to beat Tottenham's system. However, playing against a defensive three and a sitting midfielder could help them stifle Tottenham's tactical plan.
One To Watch: Heung-Min Son
Heung-Min Son is an incredibly talented player who has established himself as one of the best players in the Premier League in recent seasons. Even in a season where Spurs have been far from their best, Son has managed to contribute in spades.
First and foremost, Son is leading both the top goalscorer and assists chart at Tottenham, having contributed ten and five, respectively. Furthermore, in his 15 goal contributions this season, the South Korean has been involved in a goal every 1.4 matches. So, in cold hard numbers output Son is undeniably a serious talent.
It is no wonder that he has provided this output either as he delightfully passes the eye test. His off the ball movement is nothing short of excellent, often exploiting spaces that were seemingly not there. He has the close control and dribbling ability to stand up most, if not all, defenders and get the best of them. When he opens up opportunities, his repertoire of finishes makes him a very technical, composed and competent finisher.
Prediction: Middlesbrough 1-0 Tottenham Hotspur
It may seem implausible to most readers, but Middlesbrough could have just enough about them to take it to the next round.