Tottenham Hotspur manager Ange Postecoglou addressed the media following his side’s first friendly match of the preseason, a 3-2 loss to West Ham in Perth, Australia. It was an odd match — Tottenham dominated shots and possession, should probably feel unlucky that they didn’t score more than two goals, and gave up three goals on four shots from their opponents.
It was an fascinating first look into what a Postecoglou-managed Tottenham will look like this season and in future seasons. Tottenham looked positively electric going forward at times in this match, but at times a little defensively suspect, especially on set pieces. One shouldn’t take too much out of one preseason performance after just a couple of weeks of work, which is exactly what Postecoglou said to the media.
Ange was quick to caution that it’s still ludicrously early to start talking about getting the system right, but he was pleased with the effort Spurs’ players put in. And he did start to see glimpses of the tactical style he’s trying to implement against West Ham, with Spurs outshooting the Hammers 30-5 and dominating possession.
“From my perspective that’s what we were looking for tonight. We’ve obviously been working really hard in training and I didn’t expect the lads to be super sharp because this is the stage where you’re getting your conditioning but we have been working on stuff.
“We want to see some of that out there and I think in both halves there was a real willingness from the boys to try to put in place the stuff we’ve been working on. At times it looked good but we’re still very much in the infancy of trying to establish the way we want to play and our structures.
“For me the key thing is are they trying out there to implement it and for the most part it was really good.”
One of the talking points in the immediate aftermath of the match was the defense — the general consensus (myself included) was that the defensive performance left a lot to be desired, especially in the first half. But West Ham only four shots in the match, scored three times (only one from open play), and put up less than 1 xG for the match. Spurs’ goals conceded had more to do with positioning on set pieces than anything during the run of play. Postecoglou was quick to take responsibility for that, and said it’ll come with time.
“The goals we conceded are partly on me - we haven’t done loads of work on those kind of defensive areas and structures around set-pieces and stuff. I can’t expect the guys to take everything on board. I thought for the most part defensively the pressure was really good and we didn’t allow too many chances as you said. But we don’t want to be conceding goals with them producing a small number of chances.
“But that’s not the sort of stuff worked on. There are still things in our structure where we could have moved the ball quicker and guys aren’t in exactly the position they need to be. And there are a few things we need to keep developing, as is only natural as they get fitter to play this kind of football. We’re still in the early stages. At the same time we only have three or so weeks to get ready for the first game so we’re working hard.”
One of the hallmarks of an Ange Postecoglou side is that they are committed to playing out of the back, and getting ball forward quickly. The press noted that there was a real intent to do so in this first friendly, and while it didn’t always work, Postecoglou noted that both defensive lines were making the effort, which at this stage is the important thing.
“Yeah that’s what I’m talking about with the intent. You know there are consequences if we don’t get that right but I’m trying to provide a security and a structure to the players to encourage them to release that fear and play that kind of football. That’s the kind of team we want to be. At the moment there will be missteps along the way - that’s only natural. But I’m trying to make sure the players understand that veering away or shying away from that will mean us playing the kind of football that I don’t want us to play.
“So we have to be all in on this stuff. For the most part I think they were trying to be that, but obviously at times it didn’t flow as well because we weren’t really sure about what position to take up, but the good thing is that at least we’ve got moments there where we can show them that under extreme pressure, you can get these kind of outcomes, which allows us then to work on it.
...When you’re trying to play the kind of football we want, it is a lot about relationships between certain parts of the field, whether that’s the left side, right side, the centre-backs, the full-backs, and you only get that relationship by playing with each other, training those patterns over, and at the moment it’s fair to say that we haven’t done enough of it. Ivan and Destiny, all our internationals arrived less than a week ago – it was last Thursday I think that they all got together, so you’re talking about five days’ work, so there isn’t going to be those [relationships], but when I see them trying – and it’s a bit mechanical at the moment rather than natural, because they’re going because I’ve told them to go, rather than because they’re feeling it – it’s a good place from for me, and it’s about me now trying to keep giving them the information, with the other coaches, setting up training so that it does become an instinctual thing, and a relationship thing, where they work together.”
Postecoglou was asked about Tottenham’s new signings, and he singled out a few for praise, while noting that, for him, they’re ALL new signings.
“Yeah I thought Manor [Solomon], Destiny [Udogie], [Guglielmo Vicario] and [James Maddison], they all; adapted well. But to be fair it’s like I’m working with 30 new signings because they’re all kind of new to me. I’ve just arrived at Tottenham, they’ve been here for a while but they’re doing things a bit different.
“I’m obviously looking at things from a collective perspective but they (the new signings) have been showing good stuff in training in terms of we identified them because we thought they had traits that we thought would complement our football.”