Boring, boring Tottenham Hotspur. That has been the overall assessment of this season’s performance so far from fans, rivals, and critics alike, and it’s hard to argue against this assessment. While Spurs have been amongst the league leaders in possession all season, the return for this on the ball dominance has been almost non-existent. The only teams to post worse scoring records than Spurs currently dwell in the relegation zone, a very worrisome fact for us supporters which has led all of us to wonder what needs to change in order to start producing the exciting attacking form we are used to.
There has been much debate as to what the problems are with the team and tactics and what can be done to fix it. When watching the team play, it is clear that there is still a lack of cohesion between players and uncertainty as to what our style of play actually is. Are we a counter-attacking team focused on being defensively solid and breaking quickly? Or are we a possession based team focused on ball retention as defence and quick inter-changes and short passing in attack? Or to put it in a different way, does AVB want to be Mourinho or Guardiola? Our performances so far would suggest the latter, but our formation and type of players we have brought in suggests the former.
Perhaps asking if AVB wants to be Mourinho or Guardiola is too simplistic, as each manager wants to be his own man, but even the best managers in the world have been influenced greatly by those who have come before them. AVB was undoubtedly influenced by Mourinho while working under him, as he himself has admitted in the past. But, he has also said that Guardiola is a constant source of inspiration for him. After winning the Europa League final with Porto, he praised Guardiola saying,
"I should pay a compliment to Pep Guardiola. He was always an inspiration for me because of his methodology and the way Barca plays fantastic football. I had the chance to meet him this year. He is an inspiration every day."
But how have these inspirations influenced the Tottenham side we’ve seen on the pitch this season?
Over the past two seasons, AVB has brought in players that would fit best into his system and the style of play which he has envisioned. The question has become, however, what is his style of play? Bringing in big, physical midfielders such as Dembele, Paulinho and Capoue (not to mention Chadli on the wing) combined with the purchases of quick attacking players such as Eriksen, Lamela and Soldado led one to believe that we would set up this team in a Mourinho-esque style. This entails powerful defensive mids who shield the defence and break up attacks and then quickly move the ball forward to our quick attacking players who would fire out on the counter. Very quick, very disciplined, and very direct, with possession not being a defining characteristic of the team. However, we seem to have gone in the opposite direction, into a style of play that is much more Guardiola than Mourinho. Our attack is based off of patient build up, and as we have shown this season (to the annoyance of many supporters) we will pass back to our defensive mids or centre-backs in order to recycle possession and begin our attack anew if there is not a clear opportunity for a decisive move. This in itself is not a problem, but the team selection and set up has to match the style we want to play.
Currently we are lining up as a team that looks more suited to break quickly on the counter and play very direct, but our actual play is just the opposite, and it is clear that the team is not comfortable in it. Could this just be that the players have not yet gelled? Possibly. After all, transitioning seven new players into a team is very difficult, and despite what some might say, does not happen quickly. But the desire to play two defensive midfielders in a possession based team is proving to be ineffective in breaking down a defence and cries out for a change to be made.
Where do we go from here?
If we are going to continue to focus on dominating possession, which I believe we will, then I would like to see the team set up as such;
Walker, Dawson, Super Jan, Rose
Lamela, Eriksen, Paulinho, Townsend
Sandro will be the lone holding midfielder, freeing up Paulinho to play in a more advanced position where he has shown that he can be dangerous making passes and getting into goal scoring positions. It might even serve to play Holtby up along Eriksen, with Holtby being much more energetic in closing down opponents and defending.
With Lamela starting to hit form he needs to be given starts in the league. With his dribbling and shooting/passing ability he will provide much more on the right than Townsend, who in my opinion is more suited to playing in a true winger role than an inverted one, and he still has the strength in his right foot to come inside and shoot.
We desperately need to work on our movement within the box. Too often are 4 players just standing in the area or just outside of it, standing completely still. This is the main reason it becomes so compact and difficult to score, because we have no players moving to try and drag defenders out of position to open up space.
Not much to say on defence, besides the fact we desperately need Danny Rose back. Him and Walker will, for better or for worse, prove to be pivotal to our style of play, with the full backs extremely involved in the attack along the flanks. Also, Vlad "Beckenbauer" Chiriches has been a joy to watch. Top lad.
Despite the team’s shortcomings so far this season, we sit just 5 points back from the scum with two massive fixtures coming up that provide us a fantastic opportunity to show our top 4 quality. Despite what some believe, possession football can be very exciting and enjoyable to watch when it is played at a high level, and we have the talent to do just that. I believe AVB can be a top manager and will really show his ability in the coming months. We are a young team with a young manager, and they will both make mistakes, but I have full confidence in both to improve greatly during the rest of the season. COYS