LONDON, ENGLAND – AUGUST 27: Vincent Janssen of Tottenham Hotspur warms up during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool at White Hart Lane on August 27, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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Wednesday night’s 2-1 loss to Monaco throws calls into question just about any supposedly easy assumption we can make about Tottenham’s probable lineup for Sunderland.
Mauricio Pochettino defied expectations and named what was almost his strongest possible squad for Tottenham’s first Champions League match in over four years.
The occasion perhaps called for a show of strength, but that the result was so underwhelming somewhat calls into question where Tottenham’s actual “strengths” lie.
If that team couldn’t break down a team from Ligue 1, who’s to say they can break down your average Premier League side?
Thankfully, that’s not a question Pochettino will have to get an answer to just yet. Sunderland are decidedly not an average Premier League side. Rather, they’re something close to the worse team in the league at the moment. While hubris stung Tottenham on Wednesday, it would be a pretty exceptional thing for the Black Cats to pull off anything close to what Monaco did.
In which case, Sunderland’s visit to White Hart Lane on Sunday represents an opportunity for Pochettino to actually implement some rotation. Not just to rest some players that have played in every match of the season so far (that would be every outfield starter on Wednesday except Heung-min Son and Ben Davies) but also to test the quality of Tottenham’s upgraded bench.
Will Pochettino take that opportunity though? So far this season he’s appeared reluctant to rotate when it wasn’t absolutely necessary. A poor result on Wednesday could force him to call into question the mentality, if not the ability, of his supposed starters however.
More importantly, Tottenham’s spent a king’s ransom on players this season that they have yet to utilize properly.
Vincent Janssen, the first of this summer’s signings, has spent the vast majority of his time on the pitch paired with Harry Kane — far from the ideal tactical formation for either player. He is overdue for a start alone at the top of the formation, though Pochettino might not feel comfortable with benching Kane so soon after the striker scored his first goal of the season.
Perhaps a more likely scenario is that Moussa Sissoko gets his first start in Spurs colors. Doing so would mean dropping Érik Lamela, but there will be no better time to give Tottenham’s record signing his first meaningful minutes at the club.
Elsewhere on the pitch should be as expected. The backline is more or less set, with Kevin Wimmer only just coming back from a hamstring injury and Danny Rose still out himself.
More so than anyone else in the squad, Pochettino probably has faith that Eric Dier can keep chugging along without a rest. He will likely be joined in the center of midfield by Mousa Dembélé, just coming off a six match ban.
The importance of the Belgian’s return cannot be overstated. Spurs have missed his unique talents in the center of the pitch, particularly when it comes to coordinating that once-lethal attack.
Ahead of Dembélé should be some combination of Sissoko, Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli and Heung-min Son. Whether Pochettino is feeling daring enough to play two such direct players as Sissoko and Son together is still worthy of some doubt, but it would certainly be an exciting thing to behold.
All of this speculation will, of course, ultimately mean that Pochettino makes no changes and continues on with that “strongest” XI. Perhaps that’s the right strategy, but as we said above he’s not going to have a better opportunity to test out his bench again this early in the season.