Tottenham (not so) Hotspur

Listen to Episode 6 (published 4th December) of The Hit Row Z Podcast – now on iTunes – subscribe and share!

Find out more about the Hit Row Z ‘Shots in the Box’ Metric, and what it means for team performance.

Where has it all gone wrong for Spurs this season?

Andre Villas-Boas suddenly looks like a man under pressure. Following the spate of sackings this week the odds on AVB being given the boot are shortening. After a fairly impressive start to the campaign built largely upon being solid at the back and grinding out 1-0 wins, the winds around White Hart Lane have started to change and are at risk of blowing ever stronger.

More than anything, the real concern that fans have is that this season will be unsuccessful. Success for Spurs this season would be for them to wrestle the 4th Champions League spot from their rivals. This article therefore evaluates Spurs’ performance in the context of those it is competing with for this position. It is argued that Spurs’ biggest problem this season is their lack of goal threat, caused primarily by their (relative) inability to create chances in the opposition area, and a failure to stick away those that it does create.

The focus on the attacking aspect is driven by the fact that defensively, and barring the debacle against Manchester City, Spurs are arguably as good as any of their peers – while they have conceded 15 goals this term, of their rivals Manchester United have conceded the most (18) this season and Arsenal the least (10). Hugo Lloris is integral to Spurs’ defensive system, with his style of goalkeeping allowing AVB to play the high-line he prefers.

Offensively, the absence of a significant goal threat is perhaps surprising. Spurs invested heavily in attacking talent over the summer. Moreover, they have had the most shots in the league (247) this season. However, despite this, it is in the final third that the difference between Spurs and their rivals becomes so pronounced. Some of Spurs’ key deficiencies include:

Chance conversion rate

Spurs have the lowest chance conversion rate in the league (5%). By way of comparison, Manchester City – who have had just four fewer shots than their North London rivals – have the highest chance conversion rate in the league (16%).

Table 1Not enough shots in the box

One reason that might explain this is that Spurs do not create enough of their chances inside the opposition’s penalty area. Given that 80% of all goals scored in the Premier League this season originate from shots inside the box, this would appear to be a key weakness for Spurs.

At a rate of 46%, Spurs’ ability to create quality chances more closely resembles that of Crystal Palace and Fulham than Manchester City (68%), Arsenal (64%), or Manchester United (64%).

Table 2Lack of efficiency scoring with the chances they do create

Based on a very simple model using league-wide averages for chance conversion from inside (seven shots to score a goal) and outside the box (twenty-four shots to score a goal), it would be reasonable to expect Spurs to have scored 22 goals this season. Instead they have scored just over half that amount.

Given these assumptions, Spurs may be some way behind their rivals in terms of efficiency. While it is possible that the likes of Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal are over-performing to the extent that it will even out, this may still be a cause for concern for AVB. The likes of Roberto Soldado, Andros Townsend and Gylfi Sigurdsson must all take their share of the blame for this.

Table 3The intention of this article is not to suggest that there is a simplistic relationship between this analysis and Spurs’ chances of success this season.

However, the general observation is also an intuitive one – Spurs need to improve their attacking play if they are to challenge for the top 4 this season.

Some practical ways in which they might look to do this include instructing the likes of Andros Townsend to stop lashing the ball at goal from distance so often – this is a far less efficient way of scoring than working the ball into the box to create a better quality opportunity.

Of course, converting these quality opportunities into goals is something that Spurs also need to work on. Roberto Soldado has not become a bad player overnight. However, it is increasingly apparent that Soldado is not coping with the hefty price tag and expectation on his shoulders. It must be a worry for AVB that due to lack of options, he can ill-afford to take the Spaniard out of the firing line. Surely recruiting a new centre forward has to be a priority for the Spurs manager.

If they can do this, and if the rest of the team can continue to gel and Spurs can add more to their game offensively without compromising the generally sound and solid defensive aspects of their game, perhaps they can close the gap on their rivals to give fans something to get excited about….

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