Tag Archives: Tottenham

Never will you see a more loving embrace

Pochettino’s Spursy collapse lauded by pundits who irrationally put them above Arsenal

There have been some fantastically memorable Tottenham collapses in my time as an Arsenal supporter. There was the Lasagna incident of 2005-2006; where most of the team ate the same meal and ended up getting food poisoning. They lost their final match of the season, Arsenal beat Wigan 4-2, and the Gunners pipped 4th by just 2 points. T

here was the 3-2 win over West Brom on the final day of the 2011-2012 season, where Arsene Wenger clutched a gawping Pat Rice as West Brom missed a sitter which would have drawn the match level. Arsenal needed that win to finish 3rd and take the final Champions League spot away from Tottenham, who finished 4th but were denied when Chelsea managed to steal the Champions League.

There was the “negative spiral” finish of 2012-2013; where Andres Villas-Boas boldly proclaimed that Tottenham were in an upward spiral and Arsenal were in a negative spiral after a 2-1 win put Spurs 7 points clear on March 3, 2013. Arsenal took fourth place, again by 1 point on the final day of the season.

But of all the times that Arsenal have finished above Tottenham, a stretch of seasons going back to 1994-1995, this one, where Arsenal finished 2nd over Tottenham was the most dramatic St.Totteringham’s Day in all the years that I have been following Arsenal.

I have heard reports that my local pub has become a Spurs bar. That it was packed with Lilly Whites on the final day of the season and only a few Gunners braved the “banta” and popped in to be the fly in the ointment. Spurs fans were talking all kinds of stuff before the match, boldly predicting a power shift in North Tacoma that mimics the one they think is happening in North London. That must have been a sight to behold. Imagine being one of two Arsenal fans in a Spurs bar on the final day of the season as Tottenham lost 5-1 to 10 man Newcastle and the Gunners beat Aston Villa 4-0. It must have been like being at a poker tournament and your nemesis went all in on trip aces, only to lose to four kings.

Pochettino’s angry rant after the match was the icing on the cake. Blaming the players for having a weak mentality, apologizing to the fans and the families, and calling it his worst ever day in management. It was a Mourinho-esque moment from the young manager and one which may come back to bite him next season if his players decide that he’s too harsh on them. It’s not fashionable to talk about “player revolts” and fans hate that kind of talk but that’s what happened at Chelsea this season and in these days of player power it can happen at any team where the manager throws the players under the team bus.

Suppose, by some miracle, Spurs did manage to win the tie. Is that really in the best interests of the team? The biggest prize on offer this season is Champions League football next season. It’s the Champions League that will ensure the current squad stays intact during the summer transfer window. It’s the Champions League that will guarantee the big bucks TV money. It’s the Champions League which will attract the best players to Tottenham. – John Crace, ESPN

Poch can complain about the mentality of his players but it was another Spurs friend of mine who pointed out that he may have help set up that mentality. Tottenham deliberately tanked the Europa League when they fielded a weakened side against Borussia Dortmund and were spanked 3-0. The punditocracy snidely complimented Poch for his brilliant tactic of focusing on the League (above) but as my friend pointed out, trying to lose one tournament in order to win another is a loser’s tactic. Eventually you’ll have to use those players who you just sent out to lose and you’ll have to rely on them to help you win an important match. That is exactly what happened and their weak mentality shone through against 10-man Newcastle, just like they had practiced against Dortmund.

Pochettino was also oddly specific about the physical fitness of his players saying that they weren’t tired. His clubs have a reputation for falling apart at the end of the season, specifically in the last four games, because they have run themselves into the ground to get to where they are at the end of the season.

I’m not sure whether that reputation is fully deserved or not but it hangs around his neck like an albatross. Coming from the Bielsa school of pressing, another manager whose teams collapse like an old grey nag at the end of a long season, Pochettino asks a lot from his players physically. In his seven seasons as a manger, his teams have fallen apart in the last four games five different seasons. If we aggregate those five seasons, his teams have just 1 win and 6 draws in 20 games. In the previous 34 games in each of those seasons his teams averaged almost 1.5PPG, in the last four games, 0.45PPG.

PPG in last 4 PPG in Previous 34
Espanyol 2009-2010 0.75 1.21
Espanyol 2010-2011 0.25 1.41
Espanyol 2011-2012 0.25 1.32
Southampton 2013* 0.5 1.58
Southampton 2013-2014 2 1.41
Tottenham 2014-15 1.5 1.71
Tottenham 2015-16 0.5 2
Average 0.82 1.52
*Appointed January

Pochettino has also blamed the referees and the League for suspending Dembele and Alli but that too is sour grapes. Spurs have been a dirty team all season and it finally caught up with them. Snide little kicks, Dier’s crazy tackles in midfield, and Lamela’s firecracker temper (he has been subbed out of several games to stop him getting a red card) have been the hallmark of this Spurs team. In fact, Lamela got away with a stamp on Fabregas in that heated Chelsea match as eventually the emotions boiled over. But Spurs couldn’t hold it together and when they were under pressure, they lost the plot first to West Brom and then to Chelsea.

A lot of pundits have been giving Tottenham good marks for this season, even saying that Spurs had a better season than Arsenal. But the table tells a different story and for good reason. Can you truly claim to have had a better season if your team collapses in spectacular fashion in the last four games of the season?

Arsenal were the best team in the first half of the season, topping the table in January for a few weeks as their title rivals all sputtered. Arsenal were also the most creative team in the League, fashioning more shots and more big chances than any other team. But Arsenal dropped off and finished second as Leicester beat all the top teams (except Arsenal!), strengthened their weaknesses, and took the League through superior defense. Saying that Tottenham were better than Arsenal this season would be like Arsenal fans saying that Arsenal were better than Leicester because Arsenal created more chances and had the better first half.

Arsenal, though, shouldn’t get too excited with finishing 2nd. Tottenham’s Spursy finish to the season doesn’t mean that they can be dismissed outright. They have a team that boasts the best young player in Europe (Dele Alli) and the Premier League Golden Boot winner (Kane). Arsenal boast the best playmaker in Europe (Özil), the best right back in the League (Bellerin) and the Premier League Golden Gloves winner (Cech). Arsenal, however, scraped a second place finish while carrying a lot of dead weight and next year’s Premier League looks like it’s going to be one of the toughest tests in years as Man City are getting Per Guardiola, Man U are getting Mourinho, and Chelsea won’t have any pesky European matches to play. If Arsenal want to keep North London red for a 22nd consecutive season they will need to strengthen this summer.

Qq

Nooo-Meme-Darth-Vader-04

Why Tottenham are favorites to win the League

So, I watched Spurs demolish Stoke yesterday and that wasn’t fun. At all. It was about as much fun as that time a few months ago I went back and purposefully rewatched Star Wars Episodes I-III.

If you watch Star Wars IV and see the light saber battles there and compare them to the light saber battles between Anakin and Obi-Wan in Episode III, where they are jumping around on rocks floating on magma, and you don’t want to gouge your eyes out with the sheer illogic of it all, then you probably would have liked Stoke v. Spurs. All I could think of while watching the match was Darth Vader rising up like Frankenstein’s Monster:

Nooo-Meme-Darth-Vader-04Before the match Harry Kane tweeted a photo of some lions on the hunt with the caption, “coming for you Leicester” or something like that. In the match, that’s exactly what Spurs looked like, hungry lions.

Lions I assume for the England/English connection of Kane and Alli. And in the match it was Kane and Alli who pounced on poor Stoke. But the lions metaphor works well for the whole team, they hunted in packs, they were organized and stuck to their game plan.

I know what all the models say. I know that they have Arsenal finishing 2nd and Leicester finishing first. Some of them have Leicester winning the League by 90%+. But there is something in my gut (my database, actually) telling me that Spurs are going to overhaul Leicester.

First, Leicester have lost Vardy for Swansea and Man U for his diving and then telling the referee off. I have a feeling they are going to drop points in those two matches. Second, Spurs don’t look like the feeble Spurs team of the past. Kane’s strike was world class and came at the moment he decided to take over the game. Meanwhile, Alli missed a sitter. The worst miss I have ever seen in a football match. But it didn’t perturb him in the least and he came back and scored the fourth goal, a brilliant volley. Watch the highlights, the 4-0 score line flattered Stoke.

I’ve been telling people for months that Tottenham are a threat. Tottenham take the most shots in the League and concede the third fewest. They have scored the most goals and conceded the fewest. Not only that but they create Big Chances on par with Arsenal now, having put in 74 to Arsenal’s 88 and they have the best SiP saves rate of 65% and the 2nd best Big Chances saves rate.

They are also on a massive run of good form. In the last 14 matches they have created 38 Big Chances, 2.7 per game. And they have scored 31 goals in those 14 matches. In the previous 20 matches they created 36 Big Chances (1.8 per game) and scored 33 goals.

In this run, they have also limited the opposition to just 13 Big Chances, allowed 9 goals, and kept 7 clean sheets. As a point of contrast, Arsenal have created 30 big chances in the last 14 matches, scored 23 goals, conceded 13 Big Chances but also conceded 16 goals, keeping just 6 clean sheets.

Last 14 games Arsenal Spurs
Goals 23 31
Big Chances Created 30 38
Goals conceded 16 9
Big Chances Conceded 13 13
Clean sheets 6 7

This is what it looks like when a team is hunting like hungry lions. Maybe it’s unsustainable? Maybe they will revert to the mean? Maybe they are already reverting to the mean and this is their mean?

Meanwhile, Leicester still haven’t changed. They still allow way too many shots in prime (137 this season, compared to Arsenal’s 86 and Tottenham’s 92) and have allowed 44 Big Chances compared to Arsenal and Tottenham’s 34 each. Schmeichel is saving 57% of the SiPs he faces but also just 40% of the Big Chances.

In their run of the last 14 matches Leicester have been dominated by their opponents: 198 shots to 171. But they have only conceded 8 goals and 15 big chances, kept 9 clean sheets, while scoring 21 and creating 36 big chances.

Leicester is riding a wave of luck at the moment: their opponents have only put 45 shots on target out of the 198 shots they have taken, that’s 23% on frame which is 10% below season average for the Premier League. Can they keep this pace of blocked shots and opposition misses going? I’ve said no all season and they have defied me all season. Maybe they will continue to do so. But from what I’m seeing, Leicester would be the most improbable of League winners.

I think it’s going to be a tight one and we won’t know until the end of the season. But right now, given the form they are in and the underlying stats, I have Tottenham as favorites to win the League.

Qq

 

Arshavin prepares for the North London derby

Defense wins Superb Owls

Good morning from post-Super Bowl America. If you’re not a USA American I wonder, did you watch the game? And if you did, I hope you didn’t find it too boring?

Sometimes, these defense-first teams like the Broncos can be a bit difficult to watch. Kind of like your Sam Allardycian West Hams and every game ever played by Stoke City, yes even the ones under the so-called attacking manager Mark Hughes. Add in all the stoppages for oxygen and commercials and even my USA American friends were tweeting out how boring this Super Bowl was.

For me, I can honestly say that I have never seen a better defensive performance in a Super Bowl. I thought the Seahawks had the best defense three years ago but the Broncos were several levels above that Seahawks defense yesterday.

Despite the few people who were moaning, watching a great defensive performance can be just as exciting and interesting as watching a great offensive performance. Sure, the score might be low but every single Panthers possession was thrilling, not for what Carolina were going to do, but for what the Broncos were going to do to them.

They hit Cam Newton almost from the very start. Von Miller just brutalized Cam, walked in, took the ball, and Denver scored a touchdown. It was at that moment that Cam Newton was rattled. That the whole Panthers team was rattled. From that point on, every time Cam Newton had the ball it seemed like he was rushed, sacked, tackled, or picked off.

At the end of the game there was another fumble, and Cam Newton was the first to see it, he went in to pounce on the ball but instead did something unusual: he jumped back. I don’t know what was going through his mind but he looked scared. It was as if Cam Newton was drawn and quartered by the Denver Broncos. I hear they plan to sew him back together for next season but I don’t think he’ll ever be the same.

If I can borrow a phrase from our sport (I’m talking about football now, not football) Denver played like a pressing team. Denver forced mistakes and pushed the Panthers back nearly every time they had the ball and it was so well orchestrated that they nearly got a safety, which is the equivalent of an own goal.

 

I’m not one of those boring writers who is ready to proclaim that defense is the new way forward but I will point out that in the Premier League there are two teams at the top of the table who play defense first. Though they execute their plans in radically different ways.

Leicester lead the League in interceptions and they are second in tackles, so they have a very active defense. They just play deep in their own half. And they do so on purpose, in order to create space for Vardy to run on to. The result is that they have the most counter attacking goals, the most penalties, and the fewest offsides (well, 3rd fewest).

Tottenham, on the other hand, press high. They have the fewest number of people dribbling past their tacklers, just 7.4 per game and they have the highest number of fouls per game. They try to hem the opposition in in their own half and win possession back. They also have the most number of set play goals this season and just 1 counter attacking goal.

Both of those teams, Leicester and Tottenham, just like the Denver Broncos, thrive on turnovers and causing instability in a team’s attack. And coincidentally, Arsenal are the third most dispossessed team in the League. Sure, that’s because Arsenal tend to have the ball a lot but there again, that plays right into Leicester’s hands this weekend.

More on that later this week.

For today, I enjoyed watching the defense first Super Bowl and I’m starting to worry about Arsenal against Leicester this weekend. Surely I’m not alone in that.

Qq