Opinion: Spurs set-piece issues happened in Ange’s first year at Celtic – this is what must change

Analysing Celtic’s set-piece struggles: Lack of aggression, zonal marking and Hart not commanding his six-yard box’ is an article from The Athletic published in Ange Postecoglou’s first year at Celtic. Does it not sound familiar?

Tottenham have been punished with defeats against London rivals twice within five days. Both fixtures saw four goals conceded from set-pieces, a clear Achilles heel for Spurs who were generally defending solidly in both games but conceded goals from corners have been costly.

It appears the Spurs head coach is adamant that fixing set-piece problems is not a priority issue at the moment.

The evidence is damning, however. Tottenham are behind their rivals in defending set-pieces. Only Manchester United (11.1) and Sheffield United (11.0) have allowed more expected goals from defensive corners all season than Spurs (10.6).

Additionally, each shot Spurs have faced at a corner this season has had an average xG value of 0.11 – the second highest in the league after Aston Villa (0.14). Spurs have conceded 97 shots following corners compared to just 68 for Villa (Opta).

At the beginning of the season, it looked as if Spurs could do no wrong. What changed between then and now, which has seen such a great defensive decline that continuously punishes Spurs late this season?

Ange Postecoglou
Credit: @shooting.practice on Instagram

What happened at Celtic?

The glaring issue in Scotland was aggressiveness; on multiple occasions, there was no aggressiveness or movement when defending corners or dead-ball crosses.

Joe Hart was a recipient of criticism on numerous occasions when Celtic conceded from these situations. The goalkeeper was often passive, static, and not very commanding of his area.

This sounds very Guglielmo Vicario. The Italian has been unfortunate at times, particularly with the lack of clarification on impeding in the penalty area.

Nevertheless, Vicario has lacked authority on multiple occasions this season. Everton away comes to mind, and of course the North London Derby most recently. Goalkeepers can no longer rely on referee protection clearly, so Vicario must be more aggressive and present if the ball is there to be claimed.

Concentration and awareness were the second concern for Ange. His Celtic side was repeatedly caught out by an absence of individual focus and a lack of accountability through zonal marking.

The lack of focus has been a poignant poisoning in the second half of the season for Spurs. During the honeymoon period’s first ten games, the Lilywhites were free-flowing and relatively errorless, particularly from set pieces.

It is hard to believe that the first Premier League goal Spurs directly conceded from a set-piece was against Aston Villa on November 26th when Pau Torres equalised at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Concentration has faded in the second half of this season. The attention to detail and determination to clear the ball in those situations have not been as pressing.

Whether this is a first-season curse for an Ange Postecoglou team or another naïve tactic which becomes a repetitive occurrence remains to be seen.

Are Mile Jedinak and Ryan Mason good enough?

Ryan Mason has been a first-team coach for many years, but it was Gianni Vio who took care of set pieces under previous long-term manager Antonio Conte.

Just a reminder, Gianni Vio reportedly had over 5000 different set-piece routines (Evening Standard), and Spurs were particularly good from set-pieces in the Conte era, under a specialist set-piece coach.

Mile Jedinak is neither a set-piece coach. You might ask, why would a world-class Premier League team not have a specialised coach when their rivals do?

Ask Ange Postecoglou, mate. In March, he answered while under scrutiny from set-pieces.

“I’ve never had a specific set-piece coach. I’ve always had someone who’s responsible for that. He told Football.London earlier this year.

“I always think it’s better if that’s somebody who’s a part of the coaching staff because then that’s an extension of how we play our football. I don’t separate set pieces from everything else we do, in terms of the team we want to be. It all hopefully links in.

“Here we’ve split the roles between Mile [Jedinak] and Ryan Mason in terms of attacking and defensive set-pieces and they put a lot of work into it with the analysis staff. I’m sure every club does. Some have gone down the specialised route which I understand.

“It’s just it’s not how I work. I always try to create a collective environment for everything we do, so that nothing is separated. I wouldn’t feel comfortable bringing in specialists for one particular area. Just for the way I work more than anything else.”

Great sporting teams never leave a stone unturned. What it feels like is that Postecoglou is not maximising his opportunity to make the team the greatest possible. Whether this changes remains to be seen, but it appears that hiring from the outside would be a backtrack on philosophy from Ange.

The Resolution

A lack of accountability is compromising Spurs overall. There is no doubt that the free-flowing, progressive football translation from manager to the players has been somewhat lost in the back end of the season.

Whether that has translated to set pieces is not obvious information, but it makes the most sense. Derailed is overdramatic, but form suggests that the entire squad has gone off the boil and is therefore much more careless in attention to detail.

Hiring a set-piece coach is the simple resolution, both in an attacking and defensive sense. The analysis clearly shows Spurs are not competitive in that position relative to the clubs they are competing with. At the end of the day, it is a stats game, and the stats show that Spurs are down.

Spurs must also recapture that brave style of football which exuberates confidence, because it has displayed that it works across all facets of the game, during the game.

Whether Ange Postecoglou changes an element of what he believes in to increase his chances of silverware in N17 remains to be seen.

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