Category Archives: Analysis & Data

Away results, not Wembley, will shape Tottenham’s season

Poch frustrated

By Charles Richards / @spurs_report

If Spurs win all 18 remaining Premier League games at Wembley, Mauricio Pochettino’s team will improve on last season’s home record. Any other scenario — even one single draw — will mean that Tottenham’s home record will be worse.

The curse of Wembley, it appears, is unavoidable.

Last Sunday against Chelsea had the feeling of a one-off — a Cup tie or a big European second-leg encounter. All that pre-game cranking up of the crowd, those flags, that sodding drummer, the feeling of abject finality when Marcus Alonso’s late shot inexplicably found its way past Hugo Lloris, ending Tottenham’s season (or at least that’s what it felt like for a minute or two).

My theory on the supposed “Wembley curse” is that there’s no escaping the narrative, win, lose or draw. It’ll be a bit like Brexit — if things go well, it will be despite Wembley; if things go badly, it’ll be because of Wembley.

The reality, of course, is that the success of Tottenham’s season will be shaped by a far more complicated mix of factors, some internal, others external. But Wembley is such an obviously different factor that the narrative is irresistibly juicy. We’re just going to have to stomach it through the transitional period — and hopefully it’s just a year, unlike the three or four years Chelsea are facing at Wembley while Roman’s monument to himself is built — until the new stadium opens.

This Sunday at Wembley will be about “the real season starts now” — it’s Burnley at home, as bog-standard a Premier League home game as they come; no flags, no Jamie Redknapp lurking weirdly in a gantry for Sky Sports. The only reason this isn’t at 3pm on Saturday, and last on Match of the Day, is because there’s some rugby league on.

Pochettino should know exactly what he’ll get from Burnley — a dogged away performance, a team looking for a point. It’s normality, and if Burnley manage to come away with anything, then Pochettino has more serious problems than the choice of venue.

Spurs were never going to repeat a home record of 17 wins and two draws: Spurs were sensationally good at White Hart Lane last season.

It wasn’t a fluke — Spurs earned those points, and the only “fortunate” result that really springs to mind was the point after being largely outplayed, as always, by Liverpool. (It was a year ago, so of course memories vary). But the law of averages would suggest we’ll come down to earth a bit, even if we play equally well.

Pochettino has achieved a lot in his three years at Spurs — a transformation of club culture, instillation of a clear playing philosophy and tactical advancements each season. The result has been season-by-season improvement.

However, in one area, he has not yet been able to move the needle — Tottenham’s away record.

Here are the home and away points records for the past five seasons, since the start of the AVB era.

Home: 53, 36, 33, 36, 38
Away: 33, 34, 31, 33, 34

Those away records are remarkably similar, no? All within the margin of a single victory over the course of a 19-game campaign.

This is hardly a revelation, and no doubt Pochettino is aware of the failure to improve away results. However, he might argue that away performances have improved, even if the points accumulated haven’t.

Here are the total number of draws, home and away, in the past two seasons:

Home: 2, 6, 3, 3, 5
Away: 6, 7, 4, 3, 4

Spurs have arguably become a more stubborn away outfit — although it appears to be a double edged sword, with both victories and defeats being turned instead into draws. That would certainly fit with how it “feels” to watch Spurs away from home — they do seem to play better, it’s just that the results haven’t gotten better.

The key for Pochettino this term will be finding two or three more away wins. How does he do it? Time will tell. Certainly, improved squad options can’t hurt — I can’t recall a more frustrating away performance than at Sunderland last season, when a tired-looking Spurs team couldn’t find a way past a dreadful home side. In that game, Pochettino turned to the bench and saw Moussa Sissoko and Vincent Janssen, rather than players he could trust to send on and change the game. It’s felt for a couple of seasons now that Spurs miss a quality attacking option — ideally one with real pace or ball-carrying ability — off the bench, beyond Son Heung-min.

But transfers are just one solution — i’d be curious to read any home vs away tactical analysis, to see if there are obvious tweaks that Spurs could make with existing players. A consistent theme from Pochettino has been the scope for improving the mentality of squad — it sounds fluffy, but it’s about the expectation that Spurs will win, no matter the adversity. Pochettino succeeded in transforming the mentality in home matches last season, and so now the question will be if he can transform it when Spurs travel. His work is far from done — there is still the issue of consistently poor European performances to address in due course. The good news is, Poch seems well up for it.

For Pochettino and Spurs this season, the goal is simple: increase the number of away points by more than the decline in number of home points. Or at least, reduce the impact of a likely drop in home points with an increase in away points.

Does that make sense?

OK — now I see it: it’s way easier to write about Wembley being cursed.

Thanks for reading. Please follow me on Twitter for more Spurs chat.

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How do Spurs get better?

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By Charles Richards / @spurs_report

The Premier League is a show that never ends, and with the 2016/17 campaign done and dusted, attention moves immediately to 2017/18.

While players enjoy a well-earned summer holiday (after the dreaded post-season tour), planning for the next campaign will intensify: the transfer market waits for no-one.

For Spurs, after a magnificent season in which only the sustained excellence of Chelsea denied the club some much-wanted silverware, the question that will be asked by the likes of Mauricio Pochettino and Daniel Levy is a simple one: “How do we get better”?

Unlike the Manchester clubs, Spurs have few gaping holes to fill in the transfer market; unlike Chelsea and Liverpool, there is less need for an extensive deepening of the squad to cope with enhanced demands of European football.

But does that mean Spurs can stand still? Absolutely not. The club only needs to look at Arsenal to see the dangers that complacency can bring.

Speaking before the White Hart Lane finale, Pochettino made clear that he wasn’t going to let the summer drift by: “We are so ambitious and always want to improve. We are building step by step for our future. We are preparing for the next season in all the areas we need to improve, and we believe we can improve and be stronger.”

By way of perspective, Spurs got a LOT better from 2015/16 to 2016/17.

  • Spurs gained 16 extra points — increasing from 70 to 86
  • Spurs cut down the number of draws from 13 to 8
  • Spurs scored 17 more goals, increasing the total from 69 to 86
  • Spurs increased goal difference by +26, from +34 to +60
  • Spurs were unbeaten at home, and won all home matches against top six rivals bar Liverpool

This is impressive for a variety of reasons. For starters, Spurs were improving from an already strong base — a 3rd place finish, not an artificially low mid-table position. Also, Spurs didn’t have the same luck with injuries as in Pochettino’s first two campaigns. Harry Kane, Toby Alderweireld, Mousa Dembele and Jan Vertonghen all missed more than a month worth of games; while Harry Winks, Danny Rose and Erik Lamela missed substantially more.

By nature of how good Spurs were in 2016/17, improvements in 2017/18 are likely to be more incremental in nature: we’re highly unlikely to improve by 16 points again. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t clear areas for improvement:

  • Spurs won just 9 away games, joint lowest among the top six
  • Spurs won just two points in away games against other top six sides
  • Spurs won only 10 points out of a possible 21 in October and November, during the Champions League group stages
  • Spurs failed to advance from their Champions League group, and embarrassed themselves in the Europa League

There was also the issue of the lack of silverware — it is nine seasons and counting since the last trophy, which is far too long.

But winning silverware is harder to plan for: Spurs reached the FA Cup semi-final, played well, and somehow conceded four to an utterly ruthless Chelsea. This is now seven FA Cup semi-final defeats in a row — which is a record, and a freakish level of futility. The aim must be to continue to build a squad for which reaching the latter stages of the FA Cup is an expectation, rather than a hope. The hope comes later — namely hoping that Nemanja Matic doesn’t wonderblast it into the top corner from 30 yards, and that whatever other agonies we have endured over the years don’t repeat themselves.

The areas the Tottenham hierarchy will identify as having scope for improvement will be away performance, especially in “big” games, and better balancing of domestic and European schedules.

In particular, you suspect improved away form is essential: going unbeaten at home is unusual and unlikely to be repeated. It’s going to be tedious, next season, when every home setback gets put down to Spurs not adjusting to Wembley: Spurs won 53 out of 57 points at home in 2016/17, a level accumulation that we wouldn’t repeat if we were still at White Hart Lane. It’s as freakish as the run of FA Cup semi-final defeats.

The goal will be to pick up more additional points in away games than we drop in home games.

All sounds simple, no? But here’s the hard part: how exactly are Spurs going to do this?

Here are some ideas.

Sort out the mess on the right flank

Let’s be frank: the right wing position (or whatever the correct term is for the roaming/backtracking/creative equivalent in Pochball) was a garbage fire in 2016/17. Moussa Sissoko started just eight Premier League games, and totalled 901 minutes, contributing zero goals and three assists. Erik Lamela appeared in nine league games, scoring once and assisting once, before missing the rest of the season with a hip injury. GK Nkoudou played 47 minutes of league action in total, and his sole contribution was to not look quite as appalling as Clinton N’Jie.

After the 6-1 demolition of Leicester, Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher offered a well-measured diagnosis of Tottenham’s needs — or rather need — this summer, identifying the difference a quality and pacey wideman, such as Sadio Mane, could make. The signing of Sissoko, and gambles on N’Jie and Nkoudou, suggest Pochettino agrees. These three all failed in their first campaigns to show they are the answer, and all may be sold rather than be given more time to prove their worth. They’ve been so bad it’s not clear they’ve earned another shot, unlike, say, Vincent Janssen, who has at least hinted at some modest footballing ability. It is unclear if OM have already activated their option to make N’Jie’s loan move permanent.

However, there are questions of whether this need for pace and ball-carrying ability is really required. Simply put, if Spurs signed a player such as Wilfried Zaha (who is likely staying with Palace anyway, but he’s just an example), would he be used? In big away games, sure, it would be nice to have a player like this — but you rather suspect, when push comes to shove, this player is likely to be benched in favour of an additional midfielder such as Harry Winks as Pochettino seeks to assert control. There is also the question of Son Heung-min — he may not be a ball-carrier like Zaha, but he’s fast, direct and scores loads.

You rather suspect, the decision on what to do in this position will be made at the same time as the decision on what to do with Lamela. If Lamela moves on, this opens the door for a more creative type of player; if Lamela stays and returns to fitness, expect Spurs to look for pace and dribbling ability.  Either way, Spurs are pretty much upgrading from nothing in this position — the only way is up.

Deepen the philosophy

After the Leicester game, Pochettino spoke about his philosophy and how, after three years, it was now deeply ingrained. The 2016/17 campaign saw significant development with the addition of a back three as a tactical alternative to the back four used in his first two seasons. However, this new tactical approach came after the mediocre early October form that saw consecutive draws against West Brom, Bournemouth and Leicester.

As James Yorke noted in his round-up of the season, Spurs continued to play the same basic Pochball as the previous season: dominating the ball, conceding few and taking a ton of shots. There are questions, though, about whether Spurs ran “hot”.

This year they shaved a couple of shots per game off their defensive end, got the breaks at both ends and happily rode the positive variance all the way up to second place. That’s maybe frustrating, and Pochettino knows it, judging by his reluctant acceptance of praise that has come his way.

It certainly sounds like there is some scope for improvement here, in terms of creating better shots, not just taking even more of them: a bit more nuance in the passing and movement, so that every match isn’t just a case of trying to batter the opposition into submission. Some of the football in 2016/17 was sensational — the first half at home against West Brom was perhaps the purest example of Pochball, utterly breathtaking. The goal will be to find that level of performance more often. It won’t happen every game, but it doesn’t need to: it just needs to happen a little more often.

The other thing Spurs should do, in addition to fine-tuning the tactical approach, is to deepen the culture.

Pochettino has assembled a tremendous team in terms of talent, but there is a togetherness to the camp, and a connection between players and fans, that can’t be matched. It’s hard to put a number on the value of homegrown players, but we can all feel that it exists.

With top six rivals all likely to spend between £100m and £200m this summer, Spurs may feel the pressure to also “show their ambition” in the transfer market — whatever the hell the pundits mean by that. Are the current Spurs players really going to walk away if Spurs don’t sign people to replace them? Whatever it means, Spurs should resist and keep the pathways to the first team open, as both Levy and Pochettino have stressed they will continue to to.

The emergence of Harry Winks was the latest example of this process working. After biding his time and learning to play the Pochettino way, Winks’ opportunity finally came this season — and he seized it with both hands. He proved a calm midfield presence, trusted to provide control in key games. Before injury struck, Winks was moving into England senior contention and appears set to be a mainstay in the Spurs midfield for years to come. He is a boyhood Spurs fan who is now living his dream: you simply can’t buy that. It helps Spurs achieve a unity of purpose that all the money in the world can’t match.

So who is the next cab off the rank? Many fans will say Marcus Edwards, or hope that Josh Onomah kicks on after appearing to stall somewhat, but most likely it is Cameron Carter-Vickers. Spurs shouldn’t bother replacing Kevin Wimmer: between Ben Davies and CCV, his minutes are more than covered plus absences for Alderweireld too. If CCV does emerge, this could also have the knock-on effect of allowing Eric Dier to play more games in midfield, or just fewer games overall given the huge workload he shoulders.

While Spurs are integrating young players who’ve had a year or more learning the system in training, other top clubs will continue to introduce three or four major new signings each season and hope they work out. Spurs don’t need to do that: if we can add one homegrown player to the mix each year, that’s the sort of incremental, organic improvement to an already-strong squad that will lead to titles. We’re already good! We just need to keep getting even better.

Throw off the shackles in Europe

Pochettino has done very little wrong in his time at Spurs, but the one area he has consistently struggled to find improvement is in European competition. In three years, there has hardly been a single European performance of note, and crashing out to Gent — or was it Genk? — in February summed up the malaise.

There’s something off about the performances in Europe. Spurs look tense, constrained, unnatural — the press is mechanical, there is a lack of movement, we barely create good chances and look shaky at the back. Spurs look like a team that fears failure, rather than sees Europe as an opportunity to shine.

Instead of amping up the pressure to perform better, you wonder if Pochettino may be better reducing it: more rotation, more attacking line-ups, and unashamedly offensive tactics. Just go for it — dare I say it, like ‘Arry did in that excellent European campaign — and get the opposition out of the players’ heads.

There was something about the performance against Leicester — Spurs revelled in the freedom of playing without pressure, and the movement was a joy. Can Pochettino and his team capture that spirit? It may have consequences for the league, too. Less inhibition in Europe may make that gruelling October/November period less of an ordeal, and maybe turn one or two draws into wins. Remember, it’s just incremental improvement we need.

Avoiding key injuries and better scheduling that ends the draining clustering of London derbies would also help, but that’s beyond Spurs’ control.

Improve the options off the bench

There were a number of occasions this season — Sunderland and Manchester United away jump out — when Pochettino looked to his bench for help in vain.

Quite simply, Spurs got virtually nothing in direct production from substitutes all season long. Spurs substitutes scored four times, and created six assists in total. Of those, three of the goals were by Son, who also assisted twice.

Some caveats: Spurs have had a long injury list, meaning the bench was often weaker than it should have been. Think back to the Autumn when Kane, Dembele and Alderweireld all missed time — take Costa, Kante and David Luiz out of the Chelsea team, and you can bet they would have dropped a few points as well. Furthermore, given the strong performances, particularly at home, Spurs didn’t “need” to go to the bench all that often. Spurs subs played an average of 42.5 minutes, well below the average of 51.6 minutes in the Premier League. The two teams with the lowest average number of substitute minutes? Chelsea (34.7) and Liverpool (37.6) — not being in Europe helps.

But, there were still moments, without doubt, when a stronger bench may have helped Spurs. Again, we’re looking for incremental improvement. In 2017, when you are a Spurs fan and you’re still thinking “I wish Jermain Defoe was on the bench and not playing for Sunderland”, it’s fair to suggest we lacked a bit of punch.

Transfer blueprint

I was going to write a separate piece on transfer strategy, but time is limited. It’s all a crapshoot anyway — who knows what will happen over the next two months. Here’s what I would do, if I was in charge and was being (almost) sensible about who is leaving and potentially coming in:

OUT

Kyle Walker (£40m), Kevin Wimmer (£15m), Moussa Sissoko (£20m), GK Nkoudou (£5m); plus loanees Clinton N’Jie (£5m), Nabil Bentaleb (£18m) and Fede Fazio (£2.5m)
Total: £105.5m

IN

Ryan Sessegnon (£15m), Dani Alves (£0), Gylfi Sigurdsson (£28m), Christian Pulisic (£40m)
Total: £83m

By the time you factor in the £20m we’ll lose on Sissoko, Nkoudou and N’Jie, that’s about breaking even: Net spend is for wimps.

Good thing I’m not in charge, huh?

Thanks for reading. Comments welcome. Please follow me on Twitter for more Spurs chat.

How many people actually watch Spurs on TV? Audience analysis of the 2015/16 season

Through the course of this campaign, I have been tracking the audience figures for Spurs matches.

This was an exercise born out of curiosity: I wanted to know how many people were actually tuning in to watch Premier League matches involving Spurs.

The tables contain the full data (explanatory notes are below) for the 2015/16 Premier League season, and also for the 2014/15 campaign. Green denotes matches with an audience over 1 million, red are matches below the threshold for the precise figure to be reported.

201516audience

201415audience

A few key numbers:

  • Spurs were shown 21 times on UK TV in 2015/16, compared with 18 in 2014/15.
  • The average audience for Spurs matches in 2015/16 was 1.13 million, up from 1.04 million in 2014/15.
  • The average audience for Spurs matches on Sky Sports was 1.23 million in 2015/16, up from 1.05 million in 2014/15.
  • The average audience for Spurs matches on BT Sport was 717,000 in 2015/16, down from 1.02 million in 2014/15. The figure for the home match against Chelsea in November on BT was not available.
  • The highest audience for a Spurs match in 2015/16 was 1.79 million against Arsenal (a). In 2014/15, the highest audience was 1.44 million against Manchester United (a). Not our best match, that one…

A few other thoughts:

*The audience varies greatly depending both on the opposition and the timing, as you would expect. The most watched match is normally the prime Sunday 4pm slot. Manchester United and Liverpool attract far more viewers than other teams — after 20 years of Mauricio Pochettino-inspired domination, Spurs will no doubt have a similar pull.

*The sample size is of course far too small to draw any big conclusions in terms of whether the Spurs audience has “increased” or not. But one thing I would note is that Spurs beat the 2014/15 maximum of 1.44 million on four occasions in 2015/16 — Arsenal (a), Man City (a), Man Utd (h) and Chelsea (a).

*Spurs were shown in the Sunday 4pm slot six times in 2015/16, averaging 1.57 million. In 2014/15, Spurs were shown seven times in the prime spot, averaging 1.07 million. Did the fact that Spurs were challenging for the title, rather than drifting around in Europa League contention, make a difference to neutral fans? Certainly, this average of 1.57 million is impressive and must encourage Sky to increase the number of Spurs games next campaign.

*Spurs were shown 21 times on UK television, up from 18 in 2014/15. Under the old TV deal, every extra match that was shown (above the minimum 10) earned an additional £747,176 in TV money (these facility fees account for 25 percent of the total TV pot). This campaign, Arsenal were shown more than any other team, in total 27 times. So simply for being chosen for broadcast, they earned £4.48 million more than Spurs in TV money. The Europa League hurts here, as it means Spurs can only be selected for the slots on Sunday or Monday after European matches, reducing the chances Spurs can secure additional facility fees.

*There were a couple of audiences that appeared disappointing. For BT to draw just 880,000 for a North London derby in March with title implications, and heralded as one of the biggest ever, seemed poor. Likewise attracting just 660,000 for the home match against Liverpool — Jurgen Klopp’s first in charge. The same channel’s failure to crack 590,000 for Spurs v Man City (this one was so low I don’t have the real number) was also below what may have been expected. Sky’s decision to show Spurs three times in a row on Monday night down the stretch didn’t really work for them any more than it did for Spurs. While the Battle of the Bridge was widely viewed, the matches against Stoke and West Brom did not capture the imagination. I hope Sky reconsiders such an unconventional choice should Spurs be competing for the title again in 2016/17 — it can’t have helped.

*The data doesn’t include pubs. However, this may change soon, if developments in the US are a guide.

*As those who follow me on Twitter are aware, I am a big critic of the TV rights system. I believe it short-changes UK fans of Premier League teams, and gives us a far inferior product to what is available everywhere else around the globe. The final day summed up the farce: The match at Old Trafford was abandoned, and instead of offering British viewers the chance to watch, say, Chelsea v Leicester or Newcastle v Spurs, which were being broadcast around the world, Sky Sports showed Swansea v Man City on two channels. I wrote about this issue extensively here — my feelings on the subject have not changed.

My comrade in audience figure monitoring, @Spurs_US, has shared his data for US viewers.

As you can see, the numbers are impressive and are part of a widely reported upward trend. As an unashamed Yankophile, I am delighted to see the English game making such huge strides. I will respond in kind by, erm, watching even more NFL in seasons to come.

Thanks for reading. Please follow me on Twitter for more Spurs chat.

* I use the seven-day data published by BARB, the body which monitors audience figures. The public data only encompasses the top 30 programmes per week, from ALL channels aside from the five main terrestrial ones, which are counted individually. This means certain matches (mostly European ones) don’t rate. If anyone has access to full BARB data, please get in touch. I use the threshold audience for the week in the averages, but it may be much lower.

This data averages the audience through the length of the programme, rather than the peak. It doesn’t include pubs, but it does include legal streaming. You can find out how it is gathered here. It isn’t perfect but it is the best data that is freely available for people like me without a corporate subscription. It enables consistent comparisons.

The Weekly Max: As well as Spurs, I list the most-watched match in that week among all teams, for purposes of comparison.

Good problems: Five questions facing Spurs this summer

nabil

Nabil Bentaleb is a problem — but a good one.

A full-blooded draw at Stamford Bridge ended Tottenham’s slim title hopes, but the point ensured that Spurs will finish in the top three for the first time in the Premier League era.

Various mathematical possibilities remain, but at the very least Spurs have secured qualification for the Champions League qualifying round. A win on Sunday against Southampton and we will wrap up second place given our unassailable goal difference.

It has been an extraordinary season, and once the disappointment of being pipped to the post by Leicester fades, I’m sure we will look back on the campaign as one of the finest in the history of the club.

While us fans drink it in, and mull over what might have been, there is no time for Premier League clubs to rest.

The combination of the new TV deal and new eras at some of the richest clubs threaten an arms race the likes of which we haven’t seen in the Premier League era. Spurs and Leicester have usurped the elite, and they will be gunning for both clubs. At Spurs, we are used to it, but you sense Leicester are going to be in for an almighty shock next time around.

Champions League was the hope for Spurs in the 2016/17 season, but not the expectation. The potential to now compete for higher calibre players adds both potential, and pressure, to the business ahead. Meanwhile, Champions League football may necessitate new contracts, wage bumps or bonuses to ensure the players and their representatives are happy and focused for the campaign ahead.

As far as problems go, these are brilliant ones to have.

Put yourself in Daniel Levy’s shoes. What would you rather be doing this summer — fending off calls from Ed Woodward and Florentino Perez, or topping up a few contracts and shopping for a couple of new stars?

The wage issue is just one of a number of “good problems” facing Tottenham’s key decision makers. With such a young team, the scope for natural progression is evident. The strong team identity — the philosophy, if you will — provides a framework for strengthening that certain other teams lack.

This summer offers an opportunity to make a number of smart moves that can push us to the next level. In most cases, the choice will between something good, and something potentially even better. We are in a strong, and happy, place right now — that perspective is important in the months ahead.

I am going to sketch out a number of these “good problems” below. One thing that isn’t a “good problem” is the striker situation — we’ve walked the Harry Kane hamstring high wire once, but there is no way we can risk it again. Our forward options are just a problem, pure and simple.

Do Spurs stick or twist with Nacer Chadli?

Of the “Bale money” signings, if there is one who continues to defy judgement, it is Nacer Chadli. What is he? Is he a productive player who contributes when given the chance — seven goals and five assists this season in limited minutes? Or is he a player with tremendous physical and technical gifts who has never quite found the intensity to reach his potential?

After showing little promise in his first season at White Hart Lane, Chadli was widely accepted as having a fine campaign in 2014/15. He played just under 3,000 minutes overall — the amount a first-choice player would play — and contributed 13 goals and five assists in total, one every 163 minutes.

This season, he started the first five games — in which Spurs secured five points out of a possible 15 — and played 90 minutes in each (against Everton he was subbed off just before the end). But since then Chadli hasn’t played the full 90 minutes in a league game.

In all competitions, Chadli has played just 1,650 minutes — although an ankle injury in the autumn meant he was unavailable for two months. When he has played, he has often appeared off the pace and even listless. And yet, he has been extremely productive — with seven goals and five assists in total, one every 137 minutes.

Chadli is a walking, talking “good problem”. On the one hand, he is a squad player who has proven that he can produce goals and chances when called upon. On the other hand, he has done nothing in the past six months to put pressure on Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela for a place in Pochettino’s strongest XI.

With his scoring record and the fact that, at 26, he is in his prime, Chadli is sure to have suitors. Spurs paid £7 million for him from FC Twente — given Andros Townsend, a far less productive player, went for £12 million, Spurs should comfortably command something in the £15-20 million range for him. This is money that Spurs could re-invest in, say, a young talent with a far higher ceiling.

On the other hand though, Spurs need productive squad players. The Europa League campaign highlighted the shortage of quality options in the squad, but Spurs did not need to prioritize the competition. There is no such room for easing off in the Champions League, and certainly not if the club is trying to sell out Wembley. A player like Chadli — who seemingly is happy to be part of a squad and playing limited minutes, yet contributing when he does — may be far more useful for Spurs next season.

It is a “good problem” if ever there was one.

How to add a new dimension to the central midfield?

Against Bournemouth and Liverpool, Spurs fans watched every Eric Dier tackle with trepidation knowing that he was one yellow card away from a two-game ban.

Dier’s transformation from makeshift to mainstay has been extraordinary, and is a testament to both Pochettino’s coaching and Dier’s intelligence and technical ability.

His adaption to the role is illustrated by the yellow card issue. In his first seven games as a Premier League central midfielder, he was booked five times, ruling him out of the home match against Liverpool. He has been booked five times In the 28 games since.

Dier has played 35 out of 36 games in the league this season, racking up 3,088 minutes. Along with Toby Alderweireld and Hugo Lloris, he has been the rock this miserly Spurs team has been built on.

In Dortmund, a Spurs midfield anchored by (and I still can’t believe Pochettino tried this) Ryan Mason and Tom Carroll was brutally and predictably taken apart. It showed that we sorely need at least one other strong midfield option in case of injury, suspension or need for rotation.

This isn’t a straightforward task though. The midfield trio of Dier, Mousa Dembele and Dele Alli offer a wonderful balance, and whoever comes in is likely to see limited minutes as a starter. In particular, both Dier and Alli have proven themselves durable in their early careers. More likely, the minutes will be in place of Dembele, who is never at his best playing back-to-back games.

While someone like Victor Wanyama is frequently linked, and would appear to offer value entering the final year of his contract at Southampton, Spurs would still be spending a lot in transfer fees and wages on a player who may see strictly limited action as a Dier replacement, or someone brought on alongside him to stiffen up the midfield and preserve a lead in certain games.

Likewise, Spurs may not want to sign a midfielder who primarily plays “forward” as this player may not offer quality cover for Dier when needed. Spurs already have Ryan Mason in the squad offering cover in that sort of box-to-box role.

You may be thinking, just buy two. But we have been down the road of expensive squad players, and it wasn’t pretty. Pochettino spent most of his first 12 months clearing out the likes of Etienne Capoue, Paulinho and Benji Stambouli.

Pochettino doesn’t want depth for depth’s sake, judging by his statements on wanting a smaller squad than he inherited. He wants first-team quality options, and if there are minutes going spare, he would rather give them to youngsters. The days of the “Mourinho mantra” of two experienced players in every position may be over — Spurs have tried it, and not only did it fail but it was expensive. Spurs will be looking at highly-targeted versatility, rather than a Redknappian “we need to get a few more bodies in”.

Spurs ideally would be looking for someone who can play in the deep role, but also provide some of the attacking thrust of Dembele (there won’t be anyone exactly like Dembele, he is a one of a kind). This isn’t an easy piece of recruitment by any means.

But if I was Paul Mitchell, this is exactly the sort of recruitment puzzle I’d get out of bed for. There will be quality players out there who can do both. It’s just a case of finding them.

Why is this a good problem? We already have a midfield that works, and there are all sorts of interesting ways Spurs can approach the task of making it even better without breaking the bank.

What do Spurs do with Nabil Bentaleb?

Of course, it may be that Spurs already have the central midfielder they need to cover Dier and Dembele in the squad. Step forward…Nabil Bentaleb.

In his first 18 months at Spurs, Bentaleb showed serious potential. While far from the finished article, he showed tenacity and looked like he may in time develop the tactical nous to be a quality defensive midfielder in the league. With that beautiful left foot and athleticism, he also offers something going forward.

However, something has gone seriously awry in the past 12 months. Do we even know what? Public demands for a new contract? Concerns over his representation? A falling out over an injury? None of them, in isolation, seem anything more than run-of-the-mill issues and far from enough to discard a young talent. Along with facts, what has also been noticeable in its absence is any significant leaking from Bentaleb’s camp about his unhappiness and desire to move on.

It is all highly curious. It makes me wonder, perhaps, if an olive branch, or promise of a blank slate, has been quietly offered. Maybe, it has all been some jedi-style mind training from Pochettino, a deliberate crushing of Bentaleb’s soul in order to harden him for the dreary defensive work that lies ahead as a deep-lying midfielder.

Honestly, I have no idea, like everyone else. But either way, Spurs are winning. They’ve either got a quality midfield prospect hungry to get his career back on track, or they have a midfield prospect with huge potential who will fetch millions in the transfer market. That’s a “good problem” alright.

Where should Spurs look to find an understudy for Eriksen?

If Eric Dier has been irreplaceable at the base of the Spurs midfield this season, so has Christian Eriksen at the pointy end. After a mid-season dip, Eriksen has hit top form in recent months.

Eriksen has played 33 out of 36 league games this season, notching 2,762 minutes. He has also played seven Europa League games. Last season, Eriksen played in all 38 Premier League games.

Spurs are a physical and intense team capable of blowing the doors off an opposition defence. But when more subtlety is required, Eriksen is the man to pick the lock.

He is comfortably the most creative player, averaging 3.7 key passes per 90 minutes, according to WhoScored. The next closest is Erik Lamela with 2.7 per 90. Chadli in limited minutes has 2.3 per 90.

We don’t really know what would happen to Spurs if Eriksen was out for an extended time, or needed to be rested in a big match. This season, the three games he missed came during Spurs’ slow start to the season — against Leicester (a), Everton (h) and Sunderland (a). But the team was in the early stages of its evolution then, and there were myriad reasons for the underperformance.

As previously mentioned, the Champions League won’t offer the same chance of rotation as the Europa League. Eriksen, surely, will not be able to play every Premier League and European game season after season. We will need another creative midfield option. The question: Do Spurs look to the academy, or do they use Champions League qualification to attract a world-class talent?

The three most likely contenders to fill Eriksen’s shoes as creator-in-chief in the current squad are all homegrown — Tom Carroll, Josh Onomah and Alex Pritchard. Onomah would appear to have the most “upside”, but has yet to provide any real end product. Pritchard was surely the understudy-designate before walking under a ladder and enduring a year from hell that last saw him lumping it about in the West Brom U21 squad.

A driving principle of the Pochettino philosophy has been about giving homegrown talent the same chance as expensive imports. But let’s not be naive: with Champions League football on offer and money to spend, Spurs could have some serious fun shopping for an attacking midfielder.

Go and Google “best young attacking midfielders in Europe” — you’ll land on a bunch of clickbaity galleries full of future superstars. Now, because of what’s been achieved, Spurs may be able to buy some of them — we’d be crazy to rule it out.

Do we need to talk about Kevin?

One of the many benefits of a strong season like Spurs have had is that it makes retaining key players that much easier. Of course, if Real or Barca coming knocking, that’s one thing, but the entitled talk coming from Old Trafford sounds frankly delusional.

http://www.espnfc.co.uk/club/manchester-united/360/blog/post/2853621/man-united-face-critical-summer-as-supporters-grow-impatient

If there is one player that I am concerned about keeping hold of, it is Kevin Wimmer. I should probably explain why.

When Jan Vertonghen went down against Crystal Palace, Wimmer didn’t so much as blink upon stepping in as his replacement. In the 10 Premier League games Wimmer played, Spurs conceded seven goals (0.70 goals per game). With Vertonghen at the back, we conceded 18 in 24 (0.75 goals per game).

Is Wimmer better than Vertonghen? I don’t even begin to know how to judge it — defensive stats such as tackles and interceptions seem pretty meaningless, especially in context of a high press.

Vertonghen’s ability to carry the ball and his distribution may give him an edge, but in pure defensive terms, Wimmer perhaps is better in dealing with aerial balls and physical strikers.

Paul Mitchell obviously had Wimmer up his sleeve from the moment he arrived at Spurs, black box in tow. While the club was cautious in doing business early on, presumably waiting for as much data as possible to be gathered before making decisions, Spurs were always moving for Wimmer.

So why am I concerned about keeping Wimmer? It is a combination of the fact that he has proven his quality, the fact that he is unlikely to unseat Vertonghen as first choice, and the fact that there is a shortage of ball-playing, left-sided centre backs in the Premier League.

If you are wondering why Spurs are where we are, Wimmer is a pretty good illustration. He is our back-up left CB, yet would be first choice in that position at Man City, Man Utd, Chelsea and Liverpool.

The way Spurs split the CBs is oh-so trendy, and works a treat, and every Premier League side is going to be trying to do it next season if they aren’t already doing so. Wimmer has proven he can play out that way, while keeping things tight coming the other way. This makes him an extremely valuable commodity in the Premier League in 2016/17.

Why is this a good problem? Because if you are worried about losing a player, it is way better that it is your back-up centre back than, say, your only striker. And this whole potential scenario arises from the fact that Wimmer has been such a successful signing,

I hope Spurs keep hold of him, and use him more. The last thing we want to be doing is messing around with a settled and solid defence. But if that is not possible, we will at least get a massive wodge of cash — far more than the £4 million we spent.

Thanks for reading. Please follow me on Twitter for more articles. This article was first published on Spurs Stat Man.

Did Spurs leave points on the table? Lessons for 2016/17 from the failure to keep pace with Leicester

SpursWBASandro

Spurs were sucked into the Tony Pulis vortex on Monday night, and the failure to emerge with three points means that the Premier League trophy is almost certainly heading to Leicester. The Foxes only need three points from their final three games, and even that is assuming Spurs win their remaining three.

After the game, Spurs fans were understandably downbeat. Spurs have not seriously challenged for the title in the Premier League era, and it hurts to fall short.

It should be remembered, Spurs led the league for a grand total of 13 minutes all season. The title was always just out of reach, as Leicester rolled remorselessly — and freakishly — on. Spurs clung on longer than anyone else, an impressive enough feat. We didn’t “lose” the title: it was never our title to lose.

Once the initial disappointment fades, cause for pride and optimism abounds. This Spurs team is just scratching at the surface of what it can achieve. Does anyone seriously think we’ll be back to contending for fifth of sixth next season?

A key to success in the future is learning from the failings of the past. You can be assured, Mauricio Pochettino and his staff will be looking back at certain moments and certain decisions over the course of the season with a view to improvement next time around.

So, did Spurs leave points on the table? And what lessons can the team take to ensure the title challenge is even stronger in 2016/17?

I will sketch out some of the scenarios that I believe may be in play. As you will see, there is overlap — it would be wildly oversimplifying the situation to claim there was one reason, and one reason alone, why Spurs came up short.

The “second striker” shortage

While Harry Kane has banged in 24 Premier League goals (and counting), proving conclusively that he is a world-class centre forward, the rest of the goals have been spread around the team.

The next highest scorer in the league is Dele Alli with 10, followed by Christian Eriksen with six. No other player has scored more than four.

This is no great surprise, given Kane is the only out-and-out striker in the squad. The other players identified as forward options — Son Heung-min, Clinton N’Jie and, at a push, Nacer Chadli — have five goals in the league combined.

I was curious to see if any recent Premier League winners have been as reliant on a single goalscorer as Spurs are with Kane. The following table shows the champion’s top scorer, “second scorer” and others who notched more than 10 goals.

Second Scorers

As you can see, every Premier League champion, going back to Arsenal in 2003/04, has had at least two players score more than 10 goals. The majority have at least three, and more often strikers than midfielders (although the names “Ronaldo” and “Lampard” appear repeatedly).

Spurs are more like last season’s Chelsea, or the 2003/04 Arsenal team, with their reliance on one striker and one goalscoring midfielder. Leicester are similar, although Mahrez’s 17 goals makes him the joint-second most prolific “second scorer”. Alli’s 10 — and that may well be it given a potential suspension — makes him the least prolific “second scorer” on the list.

WIth the best goal difference in the league, a whopping +39, it can be argued that this lack of a second banana up front hasn’t been an issue for Spurs. But, there have undeniably been games — Everton at home, West Brom home and away, Swansea away– when another forward option may have been the difference between one point, and three. Per The Telegraph’s Matt Law, in 19 games Kane has failed to score, Spurs have failed to win 13 times.

Monday night was a case in point. With West Brom lining up with four centre backs and three defensive midfielders, they built a formidable wall. After a while, Spurs’ attacking play became predictable, and West Brom were very comfortable in the final 30 minutes.

Once the equaliser was conceded, Spurs had no need for a defensive midfielder given West Brom’s lack of attacking intent. Another out and out striker, while Kane went deep and wide in search of space and the ball, may have posed a different problem for the West Brom defence. Pochettino simply doesn’t have the sort of goal poacher he may want to call on in this situation. You don’t think an in-his-prime Jermain Defoe wouldn’t have bagged a dozen or so goals in this Spurs team?

Spurs evidently were unable to identify and secure a second out-and-out striker in the summer, most notoriously Saido Berahino. Pochettino opted to keep his powder dry in the January window — laudably refusing to compromise future recruitment for a roll of the dice on a face that may not fit.

But, if Spurs had been able to secure another striker, that may have made the difference in a number of tight games.

Struggling to grind it out

Leicester’s ability to grind out narrow wins was extraordinarily. Out of 22 wins (with three games to play), Leicester won by a single-goal margin 14 times.

By contrast, just six of Spurs’ 19 wins have been by a single goal. When Spurs win, the wins come in some style — hence the +39 goal difference.

A common complaint this season has been that Spurs draw too many games, but is this true? Spurs have drawn 12, but Leicester have drawn 10, a fair number. Both teams are very hard to beat — you rather suspect the settled centre back situations (both teams have only used three each all season) may have an impact here. By contrast, Manchester City drew seven while losing nine — Leicester and Spurs have lost seven combined.

This ability to see out narrow games will surely be a focus of Pochettino’s tactical training over the summer. This Spurs team is fundamentally an attacking one — it’s what the fans demand — but being able to see out 1-0 win is something every champion needs in its locker.

While Spurs lack attacking options, they also lack defensive midfield options off the bench. Monday night was a good example where this may have been needed.

In the second half, Spurs struggled to create, but with West Brom posing a limited attacking threat, if ever there was a game to take a 1-0, this was it. The danger from West Brom was always physical, fielding four centre backs, and there was always going to be at least one set-piece where the delivery was perfect. Another tall central midfield player, capable of contesting aerial balls, may have made a profound difference.

From a different viewpoint, this may be an area where “experience” — or rather Tottenham’s lack of it — comes into play. The way Spurs ran out of ideas and ceded control against West Brom carried a sense of deja vu, as it was almost identical to how things played out against Newcastle. West Brom’s Darren Fletcher certainly thought experience was an issue, and he is clearly an intelligent player.

Pochettino has always spoken about trying to kill the game through scoring a second goal, rather than locking down the defense and midfield and seeing it out. I’m sure he would like to be able to do both, depending on the situation.

Slow start

Spurs opened the campaign with a narrow defeat at Manchester United, followed by draws against Stoke (H), Leicester (A) and Everton (H).

Spurs may not have been expecting 12 points from these fixtures, especially in light of what Leicester would become, but the home draws against Stoke and Everton were disappointing, as was failing to secure a point at Old Trafford. These fixtures warranted more than just three points.

Spurs are often labelled slow starters. Is this fair? And are there any underlying reasons for this that can be addressed?

I’ve pulled together some data to try to illustrate this. You can see the number of points dropped in the games before the first international break, how many points we finished behind Arsenal and/or the top four, and any major signings Spurs made between the opening day of the season and deadline day.

Leaving it late

As you can see, for more than half of the campaigns, we’ve finished a long way short and have had all manner of problems. We’ve had our fair share of bleak moments in the last decade.

But in 2005/06, 2011/12 and 2012/13, we started poorly, without key signings in position, and finished within a win of where we needed to be for Champions League football.

2011/12 is the one that sticks in my memory — we took a hammering at Old Trafford and at home against Manchester City, shipping eight goals, and then decided we needed to bring in Scott Parker to stiffen the midfield. The blame for failing to finish third that season gets laid at Harry Redknapp’s door due to his flirtation with the England job and the failure to strengthen in the January window, but we’d given everyone else a head start in August.

By contrast, in 2009/10, Spurs came flying out of the gate, and secured Champions League qualification by three points. That season, the only late arrival was Nico Kranjcar — who was only ever a squad player, albeit a handy one.

This time around, we started the season with zero striking alternatives to Harry Kane. Son Heung-min and Clinton N’Jie would arrive after opening day. Would this have made a difference? The team was still in the early stages of its evolution at that point. But it wouldn’t have hurt.

One thing we shouldn’t forget: In the week before the match at Old Trafford, we played two games in two days versus Real Madrid and AC Milan. In hindsight, this was utterly insane. No amount of commercial income can be worth the cost to preparedness for the Premier League opener, surely?

I appreciate, it is not always simple to bring in targets early in the transfer window. There is a chain, just like in the housing market, and Spurs are never at the top due to the financial constraints. But, without wishing to disappear too far down the rabbit hole, it’s not so simple as just saying “it’s not so simple”. Spurs could bid relatively more aggressively, Spurs could take more risk in terms of bringing in new blood while outgoing players were still on the books.

Ultimately, the financial benefits of having the squad ready for the start of the season may outweigh the financial gains of the extreme prudence typically shown by the club.

If ever the calculation tipped in this direction, it is this summer coming up. With Man City and Chelsea starting new eras, Spurs have a chance to come flying out of the blocks while other challengers find their feet. It bears considering, at the very least — although, I say this more in hope than expectation.

The curse/mild irritation of the Europa League

Earlier in the season I looked in some detail at the impact of the Europa League on Premier League performance.

In the past three seasons, Spurs averaged 1.50 points per game after Europa League matches, compared to 1.91 without. While home or away matches made no real difference, the distance travelled for away matches did (albeit in very limited sample size). After Spurs travelled further than the median distance of 2,280 miles, the record was appreciably worse than when Spurs played closer to London.

The table below shows our record after the Europa League this season.

Post Europa

Spurs average 2.0 point per game after Europa League games, compared to 2.13 point per game without Thursday night football. This is only modest underperformance — but, Baku aside, we didn’t have any long trips, while our slate of Sunday games was generally very soft.

Why does the Europa League make a difference to league form? There are two reasons above all: long distances mean fatigue, and also the Thursday to Sunday cycle always means that there is less time to prepare for the upcoming Premier League match. In the Champions League, half of your games will be Tuesday to Saturday (if not Sunday), meaning more preparation at least half of the time.

Does preparation time make a difference? Just look at West Brom on Monday night. After a rough outing at the Emirates in midweek, they arrived at White Hart Lane in perfect order and drilled to perfection. Those two extra days on the training ground with the game on Monday rather than Saturday had been put to productive use by Tony Pulis — the shape and pressing were superb.

More time between European and Premier League matches also means more rest. Against Arsenal at the Emirates, Spurs played superbly for 70 minutes before tiring. Against Chelsea, after the long trip to Baku, Spurs were never able to find any intensity.

After years of struggling with Europa League commitments, the boot should be on the other foot next campaign. I have faith in Pochettino to put the extra time on the training pitch before Premier League games to full use.

Shit happens, and other explainations

There are a few other obvious areas where Spurs have lost points that need mentioning.

  • Our record against Leicester: We drew at the King Power, despite scoring a late goal, and contrived to lose at home despite dominating. If we end up five points behind the Foxes, there’s your margin right there.
  • Our record against “bogey teams”: Spurs failed to beat Arsenal and Liverpool this season, and lost points at home to a struggling Chelsea. There is room for improvement still against our bogey sides.
  • An inconvenient truth about our captain: Hugo Lloris is, by a margin, the finest Spurs goalkeeper I have seen (I date back to Erik Thorstvedt…), and he has led this young team with aplomb. But he has also made some errors. In both North London derbies, he conceded “soft” late equalisers. They weren’t howlers, due to the way the ball bounced, but he would have liked to keep both out. Against West Brom on Monday, while he was impeded, he would have expected to do more on the cross. For the late Newcastle winner in December, that was just an old fashioned clanger the likes of which all keepers let through now and again. Lloris makes very few mistakes, but the ones he did make this season were very costly.
  • Shit happens: Spurs hit the woodwork against West Brom three times before letting the lead slip. Sometimes in football, we’re talking about fine margins, and it is understandable how a team can lose confidence if they feel the ball isn’t bouncing their way. We’ve only played “badly” a couple of times this campaign — against Newcastle at home, West Ham away — and when we have played badly, we have been punished. Leicester were dreadful against Southampton recently, but won the game regardless. There is skill in grinding it out, for sure, but there is luck too.

Thanks for reading. I welcome any suggestions on where you think Spurs lost ground. As I say, there is no right or wrong answer here, just a number of areas where Spurs can look to improve.

Please follow me on Twitter for more Spurs chat.

Can Spurs win the league? An analysis

kanebournemouth

We’ve rounded the final corner in this crazy Premier League race, and with just seven games to go, Spurs are handily positioned for the sprint to the line.

Leicester, a 5000-1 shot, are a couple of lengths in front and showing no sign of weakening. But there are still hurdles to be cleared before all but the most publicity-hungry bookmaker starts paying out.

After an impressive 3-0 victory for Spurs against Bournemouth, I have one question in my mind, and one question only: Can we do it?

I’m going to mull over this question in a number of ways — both statistically, but also psychologically. Not there is anything obsessive about this, oh no.

 

The basic numbers

Here is the top of the table:

Table with 7 to go

There are seven games left, with a total of 21 points on offer for Spurs and Leicester. Arsenal (for it is them) are hanging in there. Spurs (+32) have a far better goal difference than Leicester (+23) and Arsenal (+18), and it would take some bizarre results for that to change in the final seven games.

If we finish level on points, we most likely win.*

The odds are in Leicester’s favour. Sky Bet have them at 8/15, while they have Spurs at 11/4. Arsenal are 6/1, and no-one else is a realistic chance.

It’s not huge money either way — these are odds that say “a two and a half horse race”.

I follow a number of analytics guys on Twitter, because I find it both fascinating and frequently illuminating. Here’s the view of three of them on the title race:

As you can see, the race, from this perspective, would appear Leicester’s to lose. But is it that simple?

 

The psychology and randomness of the title race

While this sort of statistical analysis is far more accurate at projecting future performance than the Ask Lawro school of “they’ll beat them this weekend, I can feel it”, it doesn’t necessarily quite fit with how I view the run-in.

I don’t know what “Leicester have a 72 percent chance of winning” actually looks like in reality. But if someone tells me, if Leicester win six of their next seven they win, that makes sense.

One of the hoariest old cliches is that “every game is a cup final” at this stage in the season, but there is an element of truth. Every football game, in isolation, turns on a relatively small number of key events — a missed penalty here, a wonder save there.

Leicester have won 11 of their 19 games by a one-goal margin — I’m not saying it’s luck, but I am saying their matches are often close. Spurs have won six out of 17 games by a one-goal margin – more often, when Spurs win, the matches are not all that close.

Over the course of the season, it all stacks up, but in just one game, there is hope. Maybe I’ve just heard the Spurs players say “we’re taking it one game at a time” so often that it has started to seep into my psyche, but I’m genuinely starting to see it like that. Does momentum exist? Are we beyond the point in the season where form means anything? Do players really feel any pressure when they step over that white line, and does it change the way they play? Do Leicester’s results actually have any bearing at all on Tottenham’s performances?

That’s a boat load of variables to chuck into the already seething pot of randomness that every Premier League game presents: the fact that in 2016 we still have linesmen trying to look in two places at once to call offside, the fact that no-one knows what handball is anymore, the fact that underperforming teams like Everton and Chelsea have superstars that can turn a game, the fact that an opposition’s motivation may be affected by upcoming cup competitions, not to mention the fact that, ultimately, football is 22 people running around a pitch for 90 minutes, and really anything can happen.

That’s where the hope lies. And yes, it’s the hope that kills you, but football without hope is Newcastle, or Aston VIlla, and I don’t want to lose it. I believe Spurs can still win: but for that to happen, Leicester are going to have to stop winning.

 

The path to victory

These are the remaining fixtures.

Leicester fixturesSpurs fixtures remaining

Leicester were often described as having an easy run-in, after a tough mid-season period, but when I look at these fixtures for both teams, I don’t see much in it, frankly.

Like most fans, I have now stopped expecting the sort of dramatic Leicester implosion I’d long assumed was coming. It turns out they are just a good team. They aren’t going to lose all seven of their remaining games.

Likewise, while Spurs are an excellent team that are very hard to beat, it is unlikely we are going to win all seven of our remaining games. For starters, we’ve drawn 10 out of our 31 games. Only West Ham, with 11, have drawn more, among teams in the top half.

So what, bearing this in mind, would a realistic path to victory look like?

I made a chart with all the possible outcomes, comparing the results Spurs would require to win, depending on what Leicester achieved.

Spurs run in

If Leicester win six of their final seven games, or win five and draw two, they have won. At the other end, it is really hard to see Leicester getting anything less than eight points — that would be one heck of an implosion.

But looking at the results, and the fixtures, there is a small “sweet spot” where you could feasibly see Leicester giving up just enough that Spurs could go on and win, with some leeway of their own.

The “sweetest” to me is a scenario where Leicester only manage 10 points. They beat Southampton, Swansea and Sunderland, but drop points, nerves kicking in, on the penultimate match of the season against Everton. West Ham continue their run for the top four with a win at the King Power, while Leicester also lose at Old Trafford and at Stamford Bridge.

Under this scenario, Spurs would “only” need to win four and draw three. So Spurs could draw at Anfield and Stamford Bridge, and play out a mind-numbing 0-0 draw at home against Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United, and still be champions if we won all the other games.

Is this realistic?

Certainly, you feel Spurs need some leeway, not least because of our dreadful records at Anfield and Stamford Bridge. We’ve won just twice in the Premier League era at Anfield, and are yet to score a Premier League win at Chelsea. These places, not the Emirates, the Etihad or Old Trafford, are our bogey grounds. We’ll slay a few ghosts if we manage to win at either, and in any other season, you’d take a point and move on.

But at least that part is in our hands. For the rest, we’ll be relying on the work of others to slow Leicester.

 

Arsenal and St Totteringham’s Day

Everyone is ruling out Arsenal, and certainly the dip in form for both Leicester and Spurs would have to be considerable for them to sneak the title.

But until it is mathematically impossible, I refuse to rule it out. This isn’t superstition, but rather acknowledgement that Arsenal, in recent seasons, have been phenomenal finishers. After their annual Champions League last 16 exit, they invariably turn on the afterburners in the league.

Last season, they won 10 of their last 14. In 2013/14, they won their last five matches in a row. In 2012/13, they won 10 of their last 12.

Under the scenario I outlined above of Leicester only taking 10 points out of a possible 21, if Spurs failed to get the required 15 points, Arsenal could take the title if they won all their remaining games and improved their goal difference over Leicester. Surely, you would think, they will drop some points at some stage, but their record suggests they come on strong.

On this note, what do Spurs need to do to avoid “St Totteringham’s Day”? To guarantee it, with the GD advantage, we’d need 18 points out of 21. If Arsenal were to slip up just once, it would 14 or 15 points required.**

We should be able to do it, but I want to hear fat ladies warbling before I can celebrate finally finishing above Arsenal for the first time in the Wenger era, and truly enjoy the sight of Arsenal fans in meltdown.

 

A final note

In his post-match interview, Hugo Lloris provided cause for optimism, but also perspective.

“We understand perfectly the philosophy of our manager,” he purred. “We will be ready (for the run-in), we’ve worked all season to get this possibility.”

It may have been an extension of the “one game at a time” mentality, but his next comments were a reminder of just how far Spurs have travelled.

“The first thing is to get the Champions League,” he said. “This club deserves to make one step forward. And after we never know. We just need to be focused on ourselves, and we know in football anything can happen. We need to be ambitious to the last day.”

I warned recently of the “narratives” surrounding Tottenham’s title bid, particular the ideas that Spurs will never get a better chance, or that if Leicester win, Spurs have somehow failed. I’m continually impressed by just how realistic and calm most Spurs fans are being, even as the tension builds.

Above all, the sense on my timeline is that this has been a remarkable season, and that Spurs have outperformed even the most sunny of pre-season predictions. Impressively, we seem to be enjoying it.

Of course, we are all desperate for Spurs to win. My early football memories coincided with the start of the Premier League era, and we’ve never been in this position in that time. This is new territory for me, as it is most Spurs fans given we’ve not won the league since 1961. I can’t begin to put into words what it would mean to me if we won it.

But I firmly believe we are building something special, and if we don’t win it this season, we’ll challenge for it the next. All the building blocks are there. There’s a difference between being unambitious, and not freaking out when something you never thought would happen doesn’t happen.

I’m with Hugo. Let’s get the Champions League, then let’s finish above Arsenal, and then let’s get Leicester.

So can we win? It’s a possibility, rather than a probability, as it isn’t in our hands. But yes, we can win the league — and that really is quite something.

Thanks for reading. Please follow me on Twitter for more Spurs chat

*Updated this part to remove the lunatic maths.

**Updated this part at 13.30pm the bump required points up by one across the board. Maths…

Notes with 10 games to go: A desperate search for perspective

kanemask

A few thoughts on West Ham, Arsenal, Leicester and the title race…

A bad day at the office against West Ham

A poor performance against West Ham team meant Spurs failed to take their chance to climb to the top of the table with 10 games to go.

But while the football media portrayed this as a sign that Spurs were cracking under the pressure, or running out of energy, the result was greeted with little more than a shrug by most fans on social media. We’ve been on a superb run in the league, but a bad performance was bound to come along sooner rather than later: better against West Ham than Arsenal.

Personally, I find the asymmetry between West Ham and Spurs fans quite amusing, knowing that those late winners by Stalteri, Bale and Dier caused far more pain to them. It sounded like a cracking atmosphere at Upton Park last night, and I daresay the Hammers fans are going to miss it once they are in the Olympic Stadium and watching through their binoculars.

Before the game, I felt a draw would be a decent result. It was a horribly timed match just three days before the main London derby. You can’t help feel that some players may have been saving themselves a little for that. In the cut and thrust of the Premier League, there is no room for such compromise. Our other “worst performance of the season” came on that miserable Thursday night at Anderlecht before the previous NLD: I don’t think this is a coincidence.

I must also admit that I rather like Slaven Bilic. It’s galling to lose in this way, but it was hard not to respect his tactical set-up and how he got his team fired up after they were trounced earlier in the season at the Lane. There’s no shame in losing to a good team playing well, and Spurs, at the very least, kept it tight in defeat. Goal difference may matter.

Was it a bad performance? Yes. Was it a bad result? Quite — a dropped point, rather than a dropped three. Will it be forgotten if Spurs beat Arsenal on Saturday? Absolutely.

 

Is this the biggest North London derby ever?

I’ve been racking my brains and trying to think of a bigger North London derby: Has there ever been more at stake, this late in the season, than this one?

Arsenal have had a horrific run, failing to progress in the FA Cup against Hull, being comfortably beaten at home by Barcelona, and then slumping to poor defeats against Man Utd and Swansea. To the insult is added the injury, comically, of Petr Cech when he came up for a corner.

Spurs are just three points and goal difference ahead of Arsenal with 10 games to go. The result, whatever happens, won’t be decisive mathematically. But it will feel like that.

Arsenal may be on a nasty run, but they are still dangerous customers. Mesut Ozil is still the league’s best chance creator, and Alexis Sanchez is deadly, even if he isn’t in the best of form. We’ll need to start well — something we’ve not done against Swansea and West Ham.

I thought the performance at the Emirates in November was one of the best I’ve seen by a Spurs team, even if we didn’t manage to go on and win. The intensity and organisation were superb, in no small part thanks to the midfield trio of Dier, Dembele and Alli. Pochettino must be tempted to break his usual rule and rush Mousa back into contention for this one.

Last year, Harry Kane hype hit fever pitch with his late headed winner. He’s looked a shadow of himself in recent weeks, especially since having that face mask fitted. I suspect, he is dropping too deep again, like he did early in the season when he went looking for goals. It’s almost like Kane needs to work LESS hard, and focus on being in the box ready for the chances when they come. Of course, Pochettino is as likely to declare his belief in unicorns as tell a player to work less hard, but we need Kane’s goals.

 

Can Spurs win the league

We are three points off Leicester, and with a better goal difference, with 10 games to go. Can we win the league? Absolutely.

Here are some projections from smarter people than me

 

The bookies aren’t offering much either way between Leicester and Spurs, but Arsenal and Man City are starting to drift.

Leicester 13/8

Spurs 15/8

Arsenal 4/1

Man City 6/1

Personally, I think this race is going right down to the wire. There’s nothing in it really, and the winning points total is going to be low. There’s never been anything like serious separation.

Leicester have lost just three times, and Spurs just four. Arguably, you’d say Leicester have an easier schedule, but you wonder if “easier” matches are more of a test for them. There comes a point where David prefers fighting Goliath than another dude with a slingshot and a dream of an upset. As for Spurs, that trip to Stamford Bridge on May 2nd…yikes.

 

Some realism amid the great expectations

With all the talk about titles, I think a little perspective is required at this critical point.

Every match seems so huge that the coverage becomes more about how much clubs have to lose, rather than how much they have to gain. Leicester’s success, the narrative goes, means every other club has failed to some degree.

But be honest now: where, at the start of the season, did you think Spurs would finish?

Me, I was deeply concerned by the lack of signings and inexperience in the squad, and thought we would struggle to even hit sixth, and instead risked being sucked into mid-table with teams like Stoke, Southampton and Everton looking strong.

What Leicester have achieved is utterly preposterous. It is straight out of Roy of the Rovers. For years, teams are going to get themselves into deep trouble trying to somehow emulate them. It has been a perfect storm, defying logic and gravity.

The judgement on Spurs shouldn’t be made through the prism of Leicester. With Champions League qualification looking highly likely, we have already surpassed expectations. On Saturday, we have a chance to kick Arsenal when they are down, and if we do we’ll have the best chance of finishing above them in the Wenger era. We may win the title, we may not. But this is no fluke — Spurs are going to be even stronger next season, and the season after.

Thanks for reading, please do follow me on Twitter for more Spurs chat.