Opinion: Stale, sloppy and Spursy – Analysing Tottenham’s poor run of form

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Jose Mourinho
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An immensely uninspiring performance at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday triggered mass hysteria from some Spurs fans on social media.

Tottenham’s fall from grace has been truly remarkable yet unsurprising due to the nature of the games played in this period.

The Lilywhites received title shouts from many at one stage this season, with a bonafide winner in Jose Mourinho paired with Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son raising expectations.

A dire performance at Everton sparked an upturn in fortunes as Spurs went twelve games unbeaten before slumping to Liverpool on December 16th.

A series of disappointing performances, including losses to Leicester and Brighton, led to questions regarding the state of the club.

An embarrassing display at home to Chelsea was the tipping point for most, the ‘tactical masterclasses’ had dried up and Spurs were operating like a mid-table team. There is a combination of factors which turned this blip into a crisis, I’ll dive into these below.

The game at the Etihad almost epitomised the gulf in quality between Mourinho sides and those his arch-nemesis Pep Guardiola has managed, post-2015. City dominated possession and waltzed to the victory, courtesy of a few Spurs blunders.

Individual errors can’t be attributed to poor coaching, however, the systemic deficiencies mean Mourinho can’t be absolved of blame. The lineups didn’t fill me and many other Spurs fans with much hope.

The Lucas at number 10 experiment worked at Everton due to the chaotic nature of the game, but City exerted much more control in possession and Moura was inevitably hooked at half time.

A relatively solid defensive display was marred by three errors but Spurs’ toothlessness in possession outweighed this.

Problems:

  1. Imbalance throughout the pitch:

Playing Tanganga at right-back worked very well defensively, as he is arguably the best 1v1 defender at the club and proved this once again on Saturday.

Lamela started ahead of him and this provided a massive conflict of interests. Lamela isn’t a player who provides width, naturally he inverts which left Japh as our primary outlet on the right-hand side.

Whilst he provides powerful penetrative running, he’s not renowned for his crossing ability. Ultimately, this resulted in transitions breaking down and made our attacks very one-dimensional. This reflects a larger issue of squad imbalance, especially in attack.

2. Sloppy transitions:

This issue has come about due to a tactical flaw and the selection of the wrong personnel. An attack of Lamela, Lucas and Son provides lots of guile and aggressive running, unfortunately, this strips you of critical thinking and retention.

Son is a phenomenal outlet, especially in the interior channels, however, he’s not of much use when he’s asked to come deep to collect the ball (as we saw on Saturday and in the game vs Chelsea).

Son and Lucas are players who are phenomenal when provided little or no time to think, as proven by *that night* in Amsterdam. The conservative nature of the full-backs ultimately resulted in Son and Lucas coming deep to join the build-up, with no outlets ahead of them.

This crippled our attacking transitions along with Erik Lamela’s refusal to release the ball on time. Ultimately, this saw us concede possession and kept us on the back foot.

3. Lazy Lloris:

Hugo Lloris had an absolute nightmare but the errors on Saturday weren’t particularly out of character. Lloris should have saved Rodri’s penalty, the weak hand-thrown towards it infuriated Spurs fans.

His failure to keep out either of Gundogan’s goals reflected a laziness and arrogance he’s shown on a few occasions. He regularly opts to palm ahead of catching and he almost seems reluctant to trap balls.

His involvement in Trent Alexander Arnold’s goal, failure to keep out both of Marcel Sabitzer’s goals and performance on the weekend amplified suggestions that it’s time to cut ties.

Lloris doesn’t benefit from the defensive structure in place, which leads me to my next point.

4. Too deep, too slow.

A massive part of our defensive vulnerability can be attributed to our inability to counter-press. As seen in the All or Nothing docu-series, Jose wants to press. The problem with that is, there’re no identifiable pressing triggers; the players ultimately fall back into a low block and invite pressure.

The invitation of pressure results in two things, a chance conceded or possession conceded. The latter comes due to the starting position of our attackers. On far too many occasions, Bergwijn and Son are far too deep to effectively transition.

Our transitions have been crippled on far too many occasions, a combination of poor coaching and lazy decision making from our attackers has kept us boxed in.

These are pressing issues, however, they can be rectified in due course. The returns of Aurier, Lo Celso and Sergio Reguilon will add more penetration from deep.

Spurs need to work on implementing more structure on the ball, which will allow us to have longer spells of possession and exert greater control on the game. This will also reduce the number of chances the team concedes – currently far too many.

How I would like to see the team line up going forward –

This lineup maximises the current personnel at our disposal;

Lloris; Reguillon, Tanganga, Toby, Aurier; Hojberg, Ndombele; Bergwijn, Gio Lo Celso, Son; Kane

The back four isn’t ideal as the current options at centre half complicate matters. Dier and Toby are decent defenders but, like Sanchez, they are errors waiting to happen.

Japh is a superb box defender and his performances at right-back mean Jose could keep him there. I’ve placed him at left centre-back but the biggest worry is his suppleness on the ball which could cripple out build up.

A pivot of Ndombele and Pierre Emile Hojberg will serve us well, especially with Gio ahead of them. Lo Celso has received an unfair amount of criticism from Spurs fans. It is very easy to forget that he played in a pivot for the most part of last season, whilst carrying a major injury.

I’ve opted for Gio ahead of Dele for a simple reason, the Argentine is a much better ball carrier. I can’t see Jose reverting from this current system and Gio will help the team get up faster 

Keeping Son on the left will force him to think quicker, while also preventing him from coming deep, thus improving ball retention and associative play. His defensive work rate will also facilitate Reguillon’s lung-busting charges. Kane speaks for himself, he and Lo Celso have the potential to form a superb partnership. 

In Bale and Dele, we have two players who offer intensity and creativity in short bursts. This will be vital in the run-in.

Dele’s inability to play over large distances has kept him out of the team and his ‘tricks and flicks’ ultimately ruin transitions, something which will annoy Mourinho.

Similarly, Bale’s fleet-footed sequence at the Etihad showed that the talent is very much still there, he simply needs to be more assertive and play in more central zones. He lacks the pace to make those lung-busting runs we once associated him with.

It has been dire and Jose Mourinho and his players have a lot to do to rescue what has evolved into a bitterly disappointing season thus far. A League Cup win could change everything, but if Sunday is anything to go by… we’ll be even further away from glory.

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