Analyzing the Struggles of Tottenham Hotspur
Usually, when I set down to research and write one of these statistical analysis articles, it doesn’t take too long to find the numbers that tell the story of whichever given club is my topic. However, Tottenham Hotspur’s 2022/23 statistical data is difficult to unpack. After the theatric departure of Antonio Conte, the club finds itself in 5th place, 3 points behind Newcastle United who also have a game in hand.
It’s been a disappointing season for Spurs thus far, as they now only have a 7% chance of Champions League qualification according to FiveThirtyEight. However, the root of their problems isn’t easily discoverable through either quantitative or qualitative methods. Let me demonstrate what I mean: this season, Spurs have scored 57 goals, which ranks third in the league only behind title dog-fighters Manchester City and Arsenal. They’ve managed that tally from just 45.4 xG, which shows the class of their attackers. Only City’s +14.5 G-xG differential betters Spurs ’impressive tally of +9.6.
Although Heung-Min Son has regressed substantially from his Golden Boot-winning campaign last year, Harry Kane is the second-highest scorer in the league with 23, and attacking quite simply isn’t Spurs’ problem. They rank within the Top 6 in the Premier League in shots, shots on target, goals per shot, pass completion percentage, progressive passes, assists, and completed crosses. Although there’s room for improvement in many of these categories, Spurs’ weakness does not come from ineffectiveness going forward.
So then, it must be the defense, right? Well, it’s really not that simple. Although the 45 goals that Tottenham have conceded places them 14th in the Premier League in that metric, their xGA is only 37.4, which ranks 5th in the league above the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool. They are allowing a joint-best 0.09 xG/shot taken against them, and although they are allowing the 8th-most shots per game, those shots have been taken from an average distance of 18.6 yards, which is the second furthest in the Premier League. So what is causing them to concede so many goals?
Well, the consistently sub-par play of their goalkeepers certainly doesn’t help. According to post-shot xG, Hugo Lloris and Fraser Forster have combined to allow 3.3 more goals than expected. That figure ranks 13th in the league, yet is above the likes of Manchester City and Brighton, so it clearly isn’t the be-all and end-all. What the stats do suggest, however, is that Spurs are quite simply unlucky.
Across all their matches this season, Tottenham’s opponents have scored 7.6 more goals than xG would suggest, which is the most in the league. In layman’s terms, teams are overperforming in front of goal against Spurs more than against any other team in the division. That being said, they don’t feel like a team that is unlucky. They feel like a team that manifests their own bad luck and finds ways to drop crucial points in the most creative of fashions.
Their recent late collapses against Southampton, Everton, and Bournemouth are examples of that. But then what, other than some bad luck, is to blame for their failure? I talked to my good friend Patrick Mantoani, a lifelong Spurs supporter, to find some more qualitative insights into the situation. He told me, “The coaching has not put our best players in a position to succeed, namely Heung-min Son and Ivan Perisic. Watching Son play this season, it’s hard to overstate how bad he’s been. The role he’s being asked to play is the epitome of his weaknesses, and Perisic’s positioning takes away his strengths. That’s just one example of the many structural issues in the team.”
I went on to ask his opinion about why Spurs’ defense has been conceding so much more than they should. He said, “ We play five defenders and only two of them actually know how to defend. That’s when it becomes about the players. This supersedes everything. The attitude and mentality this year have been shameful. Conte this, Conte that, but the players play the game. The urgency is rarely there, and the lack of respect for paying fans is incredible. It’s downright shameful. It’s the same spine of players that has choked everything for the last ten years, and you can sense it.”
I’d be lying if I said I was surprised to hear him voice his frustrations in this manner. In recent times, Tottenham Hotspur have had the path to success laid out perfectly for them: A brand-new world-class stadium, one of the best players in Premier League history, a record-breaking attacking duo, a World Cup-winning center half, serially successful managers like Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte, and the list goes on. Yet the success they have found has been no more than losing in cup finals and avoiding St. Totteringham’s Day for the last few years.
Where Spurs go from here is a difficult question. Their search for a new manager will be critical, but the Daniel Levy-shaped head of the snake will remain regardless. Until he relinquishes his power, it’s hard to see Tottenham Hotspur providing their fans with concrete success.
By: Garrett Post / @ParrettGost
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Paul Childs – PA Images / Mike Egerton – PA Images