Tottenham: The problem at hand

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Just briefly, because not everyone will have had the chance to see this afternoon’s games yet…

Tottenham drew with Leicester City at King Power today and, while superficially a creditable result, it highlighted a couple of obvious deficiencies which will prove to be very troubling if they’re not corrected.

The graphic below shows the visitors’ distribution in the final-third throughout the entire ninety minutes:

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(Courtesy of FourFourTwo).

The obvious point to make is that Spurs really struggled to penetrate their opponent’s penalty-box but, maybe more pertinently, they also failed to infiltrate the areas around Leicester’s area.  The completed passes were - and the graphic reflects this - very formulaic, very safe and, largely, highly ineffective.

Leicester played very well and Claudio Ranieri and his technical staff have had a quick, visible impact on their defensive discipline and that’s been evident across all three of their opening games.

Still, that doesn’t provide full mitigation. Rather than being restrained by defensive rigidity or handicapped by an overly-cautious approach, Tottenham were really a product of their own squad composition.

No, Christian Eriksen wasn’t available today and that was obviously to Pochettino’s detriment, but even had he played the graphic above would likely have been much the same.  Spurs don’t possess any back-shoulder threat; as fine a forward as Harry Kane is, his initial instinct will always be to come towards the play and to drop deep.  Similarly, while the supporting players behind him all have individual merit, none of them show any real urgency going forward and all three of them - both this afternoon and in general - are far too eager to remain in shallow positions.  Again, that’s not even really a criticism: as a collective, that is what they habitually do.

Today, Pochettino’s side faced a defence comprising two relatively immobile centre-halves who are both in their thirties, a vulnerable right-back in Ritchie De Laet, and a left-sided full-back who is more comfortable in an opponent’s half than he is his own.

Yet how many times did they look uncomfortable?  How often where they turned around?  How many times where any of them forced into isolated situations?

Because Tottenham have so little movement at the top of the pitch - no real pace, no elite one-on-one ability - their build-up phases are not only typically quite slow and subsequently easy to defend against, but they have to be incredibly intricate and accurate to be successful.

There’s nothing wrong with that and when it comes off it can look very impressive, but there still has to be a viable alternative.  Spurs are not blessed with a lot of match-winners and they are not a Manchester City or a Chelsea, so they have to compensate for that with variety - not hordes of £25m players, but a flexible squad which can ask opposing defences a broader set of questions.  A more physical player perhaps, or someone who is willing to consistently make the kind of runs which pull centre-backs out of position.

The defence is well-stocked and the midfield is reasonably eclectic, but the top of the formation has been neglected over the Summer and today was clear evidence of that.

Clinton N’Jie may help in time, but it’s not fair or realistic to expect a twenty-two year-old who has played fewer than fifty professional games to provide an instant solution to such a big problem.  When fit, Alex Pritchard might also provide some welcome variety, but he too is more theory than reality and another player who must be allowed time to grow into relevance.

Most of the club’s supporters seem to accept that their side will be quite limited over the next few years - rightly so - but there’s a difference between being financial responsible and being recklessly cheap.

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For FourFourTwo on Jonjo Shelvey’s growing maturity and influence.