Opinion: What to make of Nuno’s start at Spurs and tweaks that could be made

Nuno Espirito Santo
Tottenham Hotspur FC/Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images

Life under Nuno has gone pretty well so far in terms of results. In the Premier League, 3 games, 3 wins, 3 clean sheets, and top of the table. In all competitions, 4 wins, 1 loss, 4 clean sheets, and Europa Conference League group stage qualification was achieved.

However, a lot of Spurs fans have been scared to get too excited, with flashbacks to when we were top of the league last season in December and looked like a team that would definitely finish in the top four, and could push for the title. Back then, our style which wasn’t sustainable, became less effective, we weren’t able to adapt accordingly, and our season fell apart from there.

That said, I’m here to give fans reasons to be optimistic about what might happen this time, but also, be honest and admit some reasons for concern (and how we can fix them)

Reasons for optimism

The defence and the number of clean sheets

Spurs only managed 3 clean sheets in a row in the league last season once. To start the season off with 3 clean sheets in a row is extremely impressive. The fact that the backline has looked relatively organized and we haven’t even added Romero and Emerson to the equation yet is pretty exciting. Sanchez looks more confident and assured, even Dier looks pretty decent.

Our fitness as a team already seems to be improving

Last season, Spurs gave up a lot of goals and dropped a lot of points in the latter stages of games. A lot of people believe this falls at the feet of Jose Mourinho, whose Manchester United team supposedly had similar issues with fitness and dropping off.

Nuno already seems to be making better fitness a priority, as he has reportedly been looking to add a strength and conditioning coach to his staff to help work on the team’s fitness. We are already starting to drop off less late in games, you’d think with time this will only continue to improve.

The lack of production from Harry Kane

You have to hear me out on this one. Eventually, we obviously need Kane to get firing and be productive. However, last season we were extremely reliant on Kane, we rarely won a game where Kane didn’t contribute a goal or assist.

Meanwhile, this season, Spurs have won 3 out of 3 in the league and Kane’s not managed a goal contribution as of yet. The fact that we are finding ways to win games where Kane is either not at his best or not playing at all is a reason to be optimistic.

The atmosphere Nuno is trying to create at the club

I know a lot of people are frustrated with Nuno’s stance on Tanguy Ndombele (more on him soon), however, personally, I like the type of atmosphere Nuno is trying to create at Tottenham overall.

He’s trying to create a family-type atmosphere in the dressing room, a feeling of togetherness around the club, and wants players to be committed to the club. That was something we very much had in our best years under Mauricio Pochettino. Bringing that family feeling and togetherness can only help.

The fact that Spurs are winning games on xG

A lot of people think xG is a useless or overrated stat, however, the fact of the matter is, it hinted early in the season that the way we were playing just wasn’t sustainable and turns out, it was fully right, and our form plummeted accordingly.

This season, we have won 2 of our 3 games on xG (see @xgphilosophy on Twitter) with the only xG loss coming to Manchester City, who beat almost everybody on xG so that’s nothing to be ashamed of. Obviously, it’s a small sample size, but it’s nice to see that, so far, despite the fact that at times we don’t necessarily dominate possession, we aren’t leaking a ton of high quality chances, which shows we are defending better.

It would’ve been nice to have a more dominant performance against a team like Watford, however, we limited them to very few real quality chances, whilst also creating a fair few of our own.

We could’ve easily scored 2 or 3 if we were more clinical, as you’d expect the likes of Kane to be once they shake off the rust. The fact that we are winning games on xG is a good sign and needs to continue (as well as actual wins of course)

Concerns and possible solutions

The lack of creativity in midfield

There’s no denying the work rate of the midfield trio we’ve used so far. Dele, Skipp, and Hojbjerg have all done their share from that standpoint. However, there’s a real lack of a creative presence there. Especially against teams who sit deep, I can see this midfield trio being not so effective (we saw this at times vs Watford)

Potential solutions to that issue

Tanguy Ndombele; the French midfielder certainly divides opinion, however, there can be no denying his talent.

This is a player capable of making magic happen with the ball at his feet. Now that the transfer window is shut and he is remaining at the club, he and Nuno need to bury the hatchet and get on good terms for the better of everyone.

Some of the qualities he has in terms of technical ability and gifts, quite simply no one else has at the club has, we’re going to need a player with his type of skillset against teams who are going to sit back.

Continuing to freeze out Ndombele and not give him a chance on the pitch to redeem himself would be a daft choice.

Also a mention for Bryan Gil, who is the type of creative livewire that eventually will be a big help to our team once he’s fully settled and adapted to life in the Premier League.

Is the form of Dier, Sanchez, etc sustainable?

The defence, as mentioned above, has been quite good so far. The real question is, will these defenders continue to keep up good form? If you are worried about that, I certainly cannot blame you.

Potential solutions to this issue

You’d expect Cristian Romero will eventually be integrated into the team, and, based on his time at Atalanta that will only help. Now, with the arrival of Emerson, you could even move Japhet back into a centre back and form a new pairing if it really reached that stage. Spurs do have a decent amount of options in the backline, even if one more centre back would’ve been nice to have had this window.

The depth

Having no senior backup striker isn’t ideal, despite what I mentioned about our ventures without Kane playing/firing so far. There are a few places we could be in big trouble if injuries come rear their head.

The potential solution

Spurs’ only other chance to tweak the squad further this will be in the January transfer window. If we do manage to get another striker in at the start of the new year, that’d be fantastic. We could do with another midfielder too. If the chance to revisit the Adama deal arises I’d love us to do that, among other potential targets.

Overall, I’m pretty satisfied with our start under Nuno so far, even if there is room for improvement. I think the tweaks that could be needed hopefully shouldn’t be too unrealistic to ask for, and I’m hopeful that this year, we won’t fall off as badly as we did last year.

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