In the aftermath of Newcastle United’s 1-0 victory at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium today, there was a realization following a third consecutive below-average performance. Tottenham Hotspur’s problem with pace needs to be addressed. Spurs have aspirations of challenging for trophies this season. They are looking to finally reward Mauricio Potchettino’s building process with hardware. Their first three Premier League matches have shown a glaring flaw in how this team is operating. It is a flaw they must correct before it becomes a recurring theme.
Dissecting Tottenham Hotspur’s Problem With Pace
Tottenham Hotspur’s problem with pace has hampered their performances, and it is a multifaceted issue. In the draw away to Manchester City, the defending champions’ team pace and pressure bothered Spurs. They struggled to hold possession and move the ball forward. City’s speed on the flanks wreaked havoc on the Spurs backline. The matches against Aston Villa and Newcastle saw Tottenham’s problem revolved more around the pace of play. Slow build-up play allowed their opponents to stay compact and structured in defence.
Pochettino’s squad has also struggled to begin matches in the correct gear, starting them far too slowly. The manager’s team selection has come in to question in regards to these slow starts as well. Veteran defender Jan Vertonghen has yet to feature this season, and Christian Eriksen has come off the bench in two of three matches. Sloppy defending has seen Spurs allow a goal within the first half-hour in each match. The attack has also sputtered, looking sluggish and lacking creativity. So both veterans’ absence in the starting 11 has been felt.
Eriksen provided a spark when subbed on against Aston Villa. Spurs looked bright, scoring three times in the final third of the match. The team looked more dangerous with him on the pitch in the loss to Newcastle as well but to no avail. Allowing early goals and starting games lethargic in attack is not a valid strategy. Tottenham have to come out of the gate much faster. Smaller clubs will continue to be compact in defence all season. Scoring an early goal means the opponent has to stretch itself more while allowing a one leads to them becoming more compact defensively.
Pick Up the Pace
Tottenham’s problem in matches where their opponent sit back in defence is they get lulled into a slow game. Too often Pochettino’s men become content with a slower pace of play. This results in them becoming predictable and ineffective in attack. The lack of urgency in the build-up is alarming at times. This is especially true considering they have been behind for the bulk their all three matches thus far. Spurs have made far too many sideways and backwards passes in possession. They seem to lack ideas at times, and the midfielders and attackers don’t appear to be on the same page.
The most frustrating part is, for the brief periods where Tottenham has looked to speed up play, they have been dangerous. They have the creative and finishing talent to break down compact defenses but seem to lack an urgency in their play. Harry Winks and Moussa Sissoko need to do a better job of challenging defenders with quick forward passes and one v one dribbles. The attacking threats can’t be so stagnant and need more runs to pull defenders out of position. When Spurs play faster, with quick decisions and decisive passes, they have created chances. The urgency to increase the pace with which they play has been lacking.
Tottenham isn’t the only club whom opponents will “park the bus” on. They are, however, short on the one thing the other big clubs have to combat this. Aside from Son Heung-Min, this squad is lacking an abundance of pace. They have a versatile set of attacking players, but they need someone with the speed and aggressiveness to run at opposing defenders. When the defence is packed in tight around the 18-yard box, having a player who can just burst past an opponent creates openings for everyone.
Spurs need the likes of Lucas Moura, Giovani Lo Celso, and Son to attack defenders more aggressively. They also must force the defence to shift with runs and passes, in order to create more space for Harry Kane to operate. The English striker has seen far too little of the ball through three matches, despite scoring a brace in the opener.
There is no time for Tottenham Hotspur’s problem to linger, with the North London Derby at the weekend. Pochettino needs to figure out how to shift his team into high gear. It is a long season, but dropping points with uninspired performances hurt even early on. The return of Dele Alli from injury can boost Spurs, and help with some of their issues. His decisive runs at opposing back lines and one-touch passes and flicks are just the sort of things Tottenham’s sluggish attack has been lacking. However, there isn’t a simple solution to cure all that ails them. Spurs need to be sharper at every position and bring a higher focus and sense of urgency from the opening whistle. The margin for error is thin in the Premier League, and Pochettino’s squad needs to find their form quickly.