The past week has been one Tottenham Hotspur would no doubt like to forget. Following a 2-7 drubbing at home against Bayern Munich and a comprehensive 3-0 defeat away at Brighton and Hove Albion and with an EFL Cup elimination against League Two Colchester United still fresh in the mind, there has been speculation regarding Mauricio Pochettino’s future at the club, something which would have been almost unthinkable when he was guiding them to the Champions League Final earlier this year. Is this just a particularly poor spell, or is there a bigger problem going on at Spurs?
The answer comes in two parts, because Spurs at home are currently a very different proposition to Spurs away. The Bayern result can be viewed as something of an anomaly, because Spurs’ record at the refurbished White Hart Lane is strong, picking up 19 points across their 9 Premier League matches there. If their away form matched their home form, Tottenham would be 2nd in the league and talk of a crisis would be laughable.
Instead, Tottenham find themselves in 9th, closer in terms of points to the bottom of the table than the top. Spurs’ away record in the Premier League during 2019 is nothing short of awful. They have picked up just 2 points from their last 10 Premier League away matches and their last away win was against Fulham on 20th January. The Brighton result was therefore arguably more of a concern than the Bayern defeat, as it suggested that Tottenham are no nearer finding a solution to what has now become a long-standing issue. But why have Tottenham struggled so much away from home of late?
If you look through the Premier League’s team stats, Tottenham rank pretty well in almost every attacking statistic. Some of their defensive statistics are good too, though there is one glaring exception. Tottenham currently top the rankings for most saves made this season, a statistic you would normally expect to see dominated by clubs at the bottom of the league. This ranking is a consequence of how many shots Tottenham are allowing their opponents this season. In total, 129 shots have been fired at Hugo Lloris and Paulo Gazzaniga, comfortably more than the 105 shots Tottenham have attempted, despite the fact that Tottenham have generally enjoyed more possession than their opponents.
If you break down shots faced between home and away, the contrast is again stark. At home, they are facing exactly 10 shots per game on average, yet away from home, that more than doubles to 22 shots per game. Whilst this figure is inflated somewhat by the 30 shots Manchester City managed at the Etihad in August, the lowest number of shots faced away from home was 16 shots against Leicester City. Brighton managed 17 shots on Saturday.
For the most part, this is the same Tottenham team who recorded the 2nd best away record during the 2017-18 season, a campaign where they picked up 34 points on the road. That season, they ranked 17th (i.e. the 4th fewest) in the league for total saves, their 3rd consecutive season ranking in the bottom 5 for that statistic. Last season they rose to 8th in that ranking, and when searching for the answer as to what has changed, the departure of Moussa Dembele is hard to overlook. And whilst the Belgian was someway short of his best form at the start of last season, it would be fair to say that Pochettino is still looking to find the right midfield combination this term.
Pochettino has used 8 different central midfielders this season, the same 8 he used last season other than replacing Dembele with Tanguy Ndombele. Dele Alli, Victor Wanyama and Oliver Skipp have all been restricted to cameos off the bench however, whilst Eric Dier has only played 119 minutes in the Premier League this season. The quartet of Christian Eriksen, Moussa Sissoko, Harry Winks and Ndombele have generally filled those central midfield berths, normally in a midfield 3, though a diamond midfield has also been employed at times, most notably against Bayern.
A different formation may prove to be the solution, or perhaps the answer is to give Dier, the only truly destructive midfielder Spurs currently have available, an extended run in the team in the hope that he can rediscover the form which once made him a regular for club and country. What is clear is that Spurs need to find a way to reduce the number of shots their opponents are having away from home, and if they can answer that problem, there is every reason to think that their away results will also improve.
Fantasy Football Tip – Will return after the international break.