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Nuno’s Build Up Problems Against Wolves

Tottenham struggled with the midfield against Wolves. But Giovani Lo Celso can help

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League Photo by Visionhaus/Getty Images

For a more in depth look at this topic, check out the video below.

Tottenham Hotspur came out of the first two games of the season with two wins - an incredible performance on both ends of the pitch against Manchester City and a stout defense to see out a 1-0 win against Wolves.

Although hardly anyone can argue against Nuno’s results so far, Tottenham’s performance against Wolves was left a bit wanting. No Tottenham fan would expect to stomp on Wolves, especially given our recent matches with them, but throughout the game on Sunday it was clear that Tottenham could not manage Wolves’ pressing system.

Empowered by this system, Wolves never let Spurs get into the flow of the game, forcing countless passes towards the back or turnovers. But Tottenham’s system played into their hands too.

Spurs’ Build Up Play

Contrary to many reports, the back three is alive and well in the lilywhite part of North London. On paper Spurs line up with a back four, but in practice one of Hobjerg or Skipp line up alongside the back two, allowing the fullbacks to station themselves high and wide, and using a midfield pivot (or two) as an outlet for short passing.

Hobjerg creates a back three with Skipp and Moura the only real options for a short pass.

Wolves’ pressing setup meant that Skipp was constantly covered or harassed if he received the ball - when wingers would drop for a short pass, they would be followed as well, being allowed absolutely no space to do anything except pass the ball backwards.

An example of Wolves’ pressing. They cover the Tottenham midfielder and wingbacks with their cover shadows high up the pitch.

With no way to progress the ball consistently through short options, Tottenham opted for building through the flanks or sending the ball long (both Dier and Sanchez only completed two long passes.) Out of 32 long passes, 15 were accurate - a success rate of 46%. Wolves, on the other hand, completed 60% of their long passes, which might indicate a couple of things:

  • It was part of their game plan
  • They have better long passers on their team
  • They found better situations for a long pass

I would imagine that the last point is the most reasonable to assume.

Regardless, let me drive the point home on Tottenham’s build up play - both Skipp and Hobjerg only managed three passes into the attacking third. Dele had one dribble, and zero progressive carries - same as Skipp. Clearly something is missing from Tottenham’s midfield. Although a certain Frenchman would absolutely be the answer to all these problems, the drama surrounding his stay at Tottenham means he probably will not make an appearance in the near future. Where else can Tottenham look?

Enter Giovani Lo Celso

When Lo Celso came on as a substitute, he replaced Moura as a forward on the right side. It’s a curious place for someone who’s an out and out midfielder. Lo Celso averages 5.50 progressive carries and 5.71 progressive passes per game. His defensive stats are also quite similar to Dele Alli’s. Could Dele and Lo Celso share a spot in Tottenham’s midfield? I think so, and it fixes some of Tottenham’s issues without compounding others.

For a more in depth look on this topic, check out the video below.