Tottenham have come less distance than any other Premier League side this season – but is it lethargy or style and when did it start?
Spurs boss Nuno Espirito Santo’s honeymoon period ended abruptly last month after winning the Manager of the Month award after three successive 1-0 wins over Manchester City, former club Wolves and Watford.
Those three wins with clean sheets were followed by three losses against Crystal Palace, Chelsea and Arsenal, but it was the manner of those losses that sounded the alarm – outclassed, scoring nine goals and scoring only once .
The Tottenham Hotspur Supporters’ Trust (THST) have requested a meeting with the club’s board to discuss their “short and long term strategic vision” in the wake of the North London derby – which was reportedly turned down by President Daniel Levy.
A 2-1 win over Aston Villa before the international break quelled the discontent, but questions remain about Harry Kane’s commitment to the club following his summer transfer saga and a scoreless start to the league.
However, a less blatant statistic than results and goals also raises eyebrows: Spurs rank at the bottom of the division for distance traveled – by some distance.
The table above could also pose questions regarding other clubs, such as Aston Villa, Wolves and Palace, while Chelsea and both Manchester clubs rank in the bottom half – but there are explanations for these teams. .
The latter trio play with high lines and compress opponents into smaller spaces with superior possession – reducing the distance to cover.
Against Villa with less possession, newly promoted Watford has very little ball, while Wolves traditionally covered low league distances with deep style under Espirito Santo – which raises other questions which we will address next.
Decline in progress and change of style
What is most striking about the drop in distance traveled by Spurs is how the team went from second in the division for three consecutive seasons under Mauricio Pochettino at the bottom of the stack in just two years. .
The graphic above suggests that the fall began during Jose Mourinho’s reign at the helm. Spurs sacked Mourinho in April this year and Levy demanded ‘fluid, offensive and entertaining‘ Soccer.
But the club named Espirito Santo two months later – a manager known for his deep, conservative style – the exact traits Levy had sought to abandon.
We are keenly aware of the need to select someone whose values reflect those of our great Club and to return to football with the style for which we are known: fluid, offensive and entertaining.
Looking at the average positions of Espirito Santo’s sides over the past year, Tottenham actually have fewer players stationed in the opposing half than Wolves got last season – so Spurs’ desired style remains. elusive at the moment.
What about the players?
In terms of players, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg has covered 68.1 km leading the team in the Premier League, but, taking into account the minutes played (including stoppage time), Dele Alli comes out on top with an average 10.2 km every 90 minutes – the same player Mourinho referred to as “lazy” in training.
The graph below poses many ‘chicken or egg’ dilemmas, such as full-backs covering less than average distances – but that could be because the team is playing deeper and therefore not covering the full length. from the ground as frequently.
Midfielders and Heung-min Son appear to be below par for physical exertion – but it’s hard to definitively isolate the source of the problem when team style of play plays such an important role.
For context, team leader Alli still only ranks 59th in the Premier League out of all players recording 90 minutes or more this quarter (including stoppage time) – a damning indictment for the teammates lagging behind the former English star.
It might be easy to blame Kane after the summer transfer saga and fruitless league run, but the England captain remains consistent with last season’s physical exertion – recording just a 0.24km dive every every 90 minutes. Indeed, Alli recorded the biggest drop of 1.1, followed by Ben Davies, Giovani Lo Celso, Steven Bergwijn, Lucas Moura and Hojbjerg.
In particular, each player has averaged less distance this season.
Earn more by running more?
There is also a clear link between distance covered and results: the graph below reveals that Spurs have passed all opponents in their three-game winning streak, but have been significantly lower in three of their four games since. .
Indeed, Burnley midfielder Ashley Westwood recently told Sky Sports: “We always have to work more than the teams. If you don’t, you usually don’t win the game.” The Clarets are currently at the top of the rider classification but occupy the 18th place in the classification.
The numbers suggest it. In fact, the correlation with winning percentage is an increasing trend: Teams that overtake opposition this season are 11% more likely to win than those that run less, compared to just a 2% difference in 2019/20.
Tottenham have the opportunity to claim two rebound wins when they face Newcastle at St James Park on Sunday, live on Sky Sports Premier League.
The new dawn in Tyneside will dominate the pre-match headlines following PCP Capital Partners’ takeover of Newcastle last week, but Spurs will want to quash any idea of polarized trajectories – and running the big yards could be rewarded.