Tottenham Hotspur’s 3-1 loss to Leeds United was another painful reminder of the problems this Spurs squad possess.
Apart from two good moments in the first half with one tarnished by VAR, Spurs were completely second best in every regard.
It also renders their Champions League hopes shattered; the last three games are now an active battle not to end up in the Europa League conference. I can’t believe I just typed those words.
Many point the blame towards the faltering defence. That is an extremely valid point – and I completely agree. All three goals conceded at Elland Road were scattered with poor defensive mistakes.
But, in my opinion anyway, Spurs are just as bad on the ball. And that was an issue on show against Leeds, but it’s an issue that has been alive for a very, very long time.
Under Mourinho, Spurs lost all of the good controlled possession structures that were implemented under Pochettino.
The attacking principles of Mourinho’s were that of individual instinct. The offensive play remained dependent on top attackers just coming up with something intuitively, rather than anything coherent or constructed.
It is why they were so painfully dependent on spells of form: Kane and Son’s brilliant form have dragged Spurs through the mud. Of course, goals can be scored — but a distinct lack of attacking identity is clear.
Spurs, under Mourinho, tried to operate in quick, sharp transitions on the counter-attack due to the deep defensive shapes they usually utilised.
The first phase of build-up play was, and still is messy and awkward, especially when up against pro-active teams like Leeds want to engage Spurs high up the pitch.
In order to play possession football and beat a press there is an obvious need to have players constantly available. It is a regular sight to see Spurs players regularly failing to become a passing option.
Hojbjerg’s more suited abilities are when the ball is not at his feet; this is mixed with the lack of ball-playing qualities within the Spurs defenders.
Lo Celso does not do enough in this regard and Tanguy Ndombele smothers the issue slightly but does not have the space or movement around him to overcome the issue all by himself.
The ball, when in the first phase of controlled possession, is so often sent long or just lost in a general turnover. There is a general lack of intent and bravery to progress the ball. Kane, Son, and Bale are often starved: they usually have to come deep to collect.
When the ball gets into a more dangerous position, Spurs are lethal: their quick interplay in the final third is very good. Take Leeds for example: the two times they had space and territory to their advantage in the first half they scored (VAR not included).
The problem is that it is a struggle to get into these positions consistently. Maybe it’s just the Mourinho hangover; a new manager could install good possession principles starting from next season.
Graham Potter springs to mind, his Brighton side are very, very good in possession and create a lot of chances. By the logic of physics, Spurs have better players than Brighton. (I’m not suggesting Potter is my favourite, but I can see the argument).
Every top side are great on the ball: they can beat a press and also can break down low blocks. Spurs can do neither convincingly at the moment, which is arguably just as big a worry as the defensive issues.
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