Connect with us


Tottenham’s defense is a problem and it could cost Ange Postecoglou and Spurs a place in the Champions League



Tottenham's defense is a problem and it could cost Ange Postecoglou and Spurs a place in the Champions League

LONDON — Ange Postecoglu may think differently, but there is certainly no one else who can convincingly argue that Tottenham have no problem when it comes to defending dead balls. Two of these were relinquished to Arsenal on Sunday, and another two, one of the most basic, were relinquished to Chelsea on Thursday evening. No points achieved. Qualification for the Champions League will depend on the whims of Aston Villa’s home form.

Postecoglu has set his sights on a bigger reset of Tottenham’s culture. On a macro level, it’s hard not to argue that whatever he’s doing is working, even amid the early murmurs of discontent from the Spurs fanbase. A team that no one expected to finish in the top four could at least end the season with the conclusion that they will continue their chase into May, much longer than their conquerors at Stamford Bridge.

However, a low-scoring sport can turn what some managers see as a microscopic mistake into defeats that change the course of a season. About the only thing you could say in mitigation this time was that Spurs would not have earned any points even if set pieces had been taken out of the game. Second to every ball, without the intensity in the press that is a prerequisite for any team playing with a line as high as theirs, they were fortunate not to fall behind before Trevoh Chalobah’s unmarked header gave the Blues a lead of 24 minutes.

A cruel assessment of Spurs’ woes in defending dead balls might ask whether more could have been done to reach the rebound on Cole Palmer’s second-half free-kick ahead of Nicolas Jackson, with neither Heung-min Neither Son nor Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg actually attacked the ball. bounced back from the bar. The reality is that these types of goals will slip through the cracks, regardless of the work someone does on the training pitch. The problem is that when you add them to the totally avoidable problems, you have a big problem.

Postecoglu might argue otherwise. He had already left the post-match press conference before the questions about the dead ball came. He may also have given a sufficient answer on Wednesday. His blunt assessment of set pieces was: ‘I’m not interested, never have been, not in the least.’ His opponents certainly are when Tottenham roll into town.

Chalobah’s was the kind of concession that a specialist permanent coach would surely want to eradicate to some extent. With Conor Gallagher standing by a free-kick from the right flank, Marc Cucurella pressed Brennan Johnson firmly but reasonably and Chalobah slid around towards the back post. It was about the best place a striker could wish to meet a fizzing delivery. Chelsea didn’t need anyone to interfere with Guglielmo Vicario, the Italian never getting close to the header as it ended up in the far post.

There was certainly good execution in goal, a good cross accompanied by the right header. Sometimes that happens and there’s nothing a defensive team can do about it, even if Chalobah is running like a man who knows the ball is coming his way. Shouldn’t someone have spotted that movement or reacted to Cucurella’s screen? The problem for Tottenham is that many of the deliveries they have faced of late end up looking like beautiful execution by their opponents. Kai Havertz gets an unmarked header in the six-yard box. Kurt Zouma outpaced a group of his own teammates to shoot home.

At a certain point, sixteen goals conceded from set pieces, including two own goals, cannot be explained away. It can’t just be a series of coincidences and uncoachable moments that have allowed opponents to score 14.66 expected goals (xG) from set pieces this season, a figure surpassed only by Luton Town and Manchester United. Spurs are not doing well enough to defend the most dangerous places on the pitch. They have allowed 26 headed shots from dead balls in their six-yard area this season. The three best defenses in the league – Arsenal, Everton and Liverpool – have conceded five, nine and eleven.

Adjusting the figures based on the number of set pieces also does Postecoglu little good. Brentford and Spurs suffered a similar number of dead balls. The former have given up 7.2 xG from those situations. They have hired some of the best permanent coaches in the business in recent years, including Nicolas Jover from Arsenal and Bernardo Cueva, who has just been snapped up by Chelsea.

Set-piece shots allowed by Brentford and Tottenham this season, according to expected goal value


Spurs are also hardly a team of Santi Cazorlas and Ryan Frasers. The squad as a whole has an average height of 185cm, making them one of the tallest in the top flight. Spurs had big bodies like Micky van de Ven, Cristian Romero and Dejan Kulusevski back to defend Gallagher’s free-kick. The problem is that they were usually at the front post or in the center of the penalty area, leaving Emerson Royal as the man scrambling across and trying to compete with Chalobah, four inches taller than him and with the wind in his sails thanks to the Cucurella screen.

It’s hard to find many solutions beyond the obvious: Tottenham don’t have a permanent coach. They haven’t even assigned one man on Postecoglu’s staff to deal with them: Ryan Mason dealing with the attacking phase (with Cristian Romero coming close in the first half) and Mile Jedinak the defense. The status quo apparently isn’t working. On the other hand, there was very little to see for Spurs in any area tonight. Postecoglu was unusually furious with his players before the half-time whistle had blown.

“It wasn’t a great night,” he said. “We didn’t play nearly the kind of football and didn’t have the mentality that I expected from us. That’s on me. I have to take responsibility for that. Ultimately, I’m the one who puts them there.” We were so far off, I have to look at myself and see how I am preparing this team.

“We lacked real conviction and a positive mentality in our football. We didn’t really have any fluency, any kind of aggression, with and without the ball. It’s a bit different from us. In any case, we’re always was very competitive. That was lacking today, especially in the first half.”

He has a point. These types of halves were altogether more common under previous regimes than this season. Overall, 35 games into Postecoglu’s tenure, Tottenham are clearly a better team than when he took over. Given another summer of recruitment, a preseason to hone a side that still seems to be learning a style of play that needs to become instinctive, and this side could make big strides forward next summer. Even though they leave so many goals and chances on the table for their opponents, there will always be a limit to what they can achieve.