While most fans, myself included, accepted that a point was ultimately a decent outcome for a match against Everton at Goodison Park at the fag end of the Christmas period, during the game the divergence of opinion was quite marked.
On the one hand, many fans on social media were thrilled by the intense pressing, quick movement and the attacking intent of Spurs, until the final 20 minutes when the team tired. On Sky Sports, Graeme Souness and Jamie Carragher — hardly Spurs cheerleaders — waxed lyrical about the exciting young team they were seeing.
On the other hand, a few grumpy pants, myself included, were moaning that, for all the promise, Spurs weren’t actually creating many good chances. In Tim Howard and Ramiro Funes Mori, Everton have a clear weakness at the back, relative to the strength of the rest of their team. Despite some pretty play, and hitting the woodwork twice, Spurs only had four shots on target all game.
Michael Caley’s XG map summed up this lack of dangerzone creativity well, even if this map doesn’t quite do justice to what was a hugely entertaining game of football.
This isn’t the first time in recent matches that we’ve struggled to create “good” chances — the same occurred against Watford, Newcastle, West Brom and Chelsea. Only against Norwich and, to a lesser extent, Southampton did we cut loose.
This period (in which, it should be noted, we’ve kept the points coming in) has coincided with a dip in form by Tottenham’s chief creator, Christian Eriksen.
Aside from taking the corner that Eric Dier nodded home against Newcastle, Eriksen hasn’t had an assist since we played West Ham on November 22. He was dropped for the visit to Watford, but regained his place against Everton.
I’ve pulled together some pass maps from some of the games in which Spurs struggled to create.
First, using the online tools from @footballfactman, it is clear that Eriksen struggled to make key passes against Chelsea, WBA, Newcastle and Watford (he played 45 minutes). That is a very modest contribution from our “number 10” — even if he has generally played from wide due to the strength of the Alli-Dembele combination.
The basic passing information from Squawka shows Eriksen’s struggles quite starkly. Against Chelsea and Newcastle, he barely attempted any passes into the area at all and his passes were coming from relatively deep. Against West Brom and Everton, he made several passes into dangerous areas, and generally from more advanced positions, but none of them came off.
Despite the apparent recent struggles, Eriksen would appear to be having a strong Premier League season statistically. Per Whoscored, he is averaging 3.3 key passes per 90 minutes, up from 2.4 per 90 last season and 3.1 per 90 in his first season with us. He is notching up assists at the same rate as in his first season, 0.4 per 90 minutes — last season was a bit of a statistical fluke as he only managed two all season. He is passing the ball marginally less this season — 52.6 passes per 90 compared with 56.6 per 90 last season.
Eriksen is a classy player. He may not be on the level of Ozil or Silva, in my opinion, but he’s on the second tier in Premier League terms. I’m sure what we are seeing now is just a dip. As I said earlier, Eriksen has predominantly played from the left this season — understandably he may feel he can influence a game less from the left than when he is pulling the strings centrally.
I’d also note that Eriksen’s dip has appeared to coincide with Mousa Dembele’s best form. Perhaps there isn’t enough time on the ball in Poch’s system for both of them to get the touches they need? Eriksen’s performance against Everton, with Dembele out, was his most promising in a while.
But the fact Eriksen was dropped for Watford shows that Mauricio Pochettino is aware the Dane is not firing on all cylinders. Knowing what we know about the head coach, the answer to this problem is going to be even more training rather than a rest — enjoy it, Christian.
Class is permanent, form is temporary. But I’m sure Harry Kane would love to have his primary creator back in a central role and sliding in pass after pass, sooner rather than later.
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