Friday, 3 October 2014

Shooting helps: Tottenham

Tottenham's season has so far been characterised by its sheer averageness and their ability to create good and regular shooting chances has been poor.  After a promising start in which they won their first 4 competitive matches, they have only recorded 1 win in 7.  Apart from the tame defeat against Liverpool, they have been reasonably difficult to beat but have struggled to create clear opportunities.  There was a similar complaint charged at Villas-Boas at the start of last season but the reason for a paucity of solid chances is very different.

As part of his tactical straightjacket, Villas Boas encouraged shooting & during his season and a half at the club, he coached a series of players heavily inclined to shoot.  And shoot they did, usually from distance & with a low goal expectation. He latterly gave a lot of minutes to Soldado, Paulinho and Townsend who all contributed heavily to the shot count.  Goals became scarce & without the uber-skills of Bale or the nous & timing of Dempsey, Tottenham's conversion rate fell in a hole. Nevertheless, throughout, Spurs were a significantly dominant shots team. 

Sherwood coached a more organic style encouraging his players to play with freedom & his shot counts were significantly lower than Villas Boas'.  His empowering of Harry Kane in the late season gave a boost to his attacking numbers and Tottenham remained a dominant shots team.

Meanwhile, on the south coast of England, Mauricio Pochettino was coaching a club that exerted shot dominance.  Improving a group of relatively unheralded players with a pressing style, he seemed a likely good fit to meld the disparate personalities of Tottenham together, whilst maintaining the superiority that Tottenham had become accustomed to.  Sure enough he was employed & the project began.

Only so far, the message isn't getting across.

The hard pressing seen at Southampton hasn't arrived at Tottenham.  The shape of the team is the same but the pressing has been employed only sporadically, and the counter attacking set-up  in the Arsenal game was as far away from what you'd expect from a Pochettino team as you could get.  Ironically the only goal came via an all too infrequent high-up press.

In six league games, Tottenham are a negative shot team.  Three times Tottenham have failed to have more than 7 shots in a game, which is an extremely low total.  European matches featuring a back-up team have been no better.  A terrible minus 15 shot defecit was recorded against Besiktas and this followed a complete attacking washout away to Partizan.  Crumbs of comfort are hard to find.

So, why?

Here's a chart showing shot rates per 90 minutes for attacking players over the last 3 seasons (i've split Villas Boas & Sherwood's season in two):

Shots per 90 AVB 12/13 AVB 13/14 Sherwood 13/14 Pochettino 14/15
Bale 5.08
Kane 4.95
Townsend 4.48
Defoe 4.03 3.92
Sigurdsson 3.86 3.22 2.03
Dempsey 3.16
Paulinho 3.13 2.17
Holtby 1.76 3.07
Soldado 2.53 2.95
Chadli 2.03 2.05 2.68
Adebayor 2.37 2.15 2.46
Eriksen 1.9 2.26 2.26
Lennon 0.92 0.8 1.14
Lamela 0.88
  • Green are players no longer at the club, all historically high rate shooters, even beyond their time in an AVB system.
  • Red is this season's starting front 4; the preferred attackers in Pochettino's system
  • Purple shows high rates of shooting above 4 per game, dark orange shows above 3 per game
  • Blue are players in the current squad, historically high shooters.  
So the upshot is this:
  • Tottenham have let a series of shot heavy players leave the club
  • Those in blue, historically shot heavy players, have played a combined 167 league minutes this season. They're not playing and as such not shooting ('other attackers' averages 1.10 shots per90)
  • Of the starting attackers (red), NONE are historically high shooters.  Chadli, Adebayor and Eriksen all average about 2-2.5 shots per 90 over many, many games.  This is their consistent level of contribution.  Lamela averaged over 3 at Roma but is under 1 per 90 this year.
  • Lennon just doesn't contribute in shooting, never has done.
So: the front 4 can be relied upon for an average of about 7 or 8 shots a game. This is simply not enough.

Each of these front 4 is talented and noticably creative but do not shoot often enough.  Any central midfield combination of Capoue + AN Other is going to barely register on the shot charts, so it is up to the chosen front 4 to create chances and take shots. So far this isn't happening & it seems that only Lamela is contributing at a lower level than you might expect.  As such, these levels are unlikely to change with these personnel. 

The obvious solution to this problem is to involve either Townsend or Kane more often.  Having shown a far keener eye for a goal or a pass, Kane seems the more logical option.  He has played a limited number of minutes for Tottenham but has always managed to find shooting opportunities.  He is young, improving and takes up good positions whilst also being flexible with regard his starting position. Otherwise, it was mentioned in commentary for the Besiktas game that Tottenham were 'exploring attacking options' ahead of the January transfer window & it seems relevant that despite a large squad, such options may well be pursued, especially given the lack of league time given to expensive but underperforming players such as Paulinho or Soldado, neither of whom has impressed in some while.

Maybe it's systemic?  Possession levels have been high, much like under Villas Boas, but where his tactics appeared to encourage a shot whenever a clear view was attained, it seems Pochettino favours continued recycling of possession until a clear opportunity beckons.  And so, with a forward line of reluctant shooters, the shot count remains low.  There is an argument that Pochettino needs time to get his methods across but his impact on Southampton was nearly instant & he's now been at the club 3 months.  Another factor may well be that the World Cup did not help player reintegration but it can't be used as a long term excuse.  There are also rumours around the club that suggest the players are responding well to his training methods but are failing to follow instructions when out on the pitch.  Regardless of all these theories, this issue needs a solution.

Shooting is currently Tottenham's most obvious problem; without remedying their malaise here, they are unlikely to be challenging effectively for the European places and the Champions League will remain a distant dream.  It is hoped that Pochettino, who seems a fairly shrewd & likable character, will be able to solve the current problems and the match against his former club on Sunday will be an interesting test of his methods.

Thanks for reading


Weekly round-up coming Sunday night, check back then! Plenty more articles to come too.
This week we had 'Adventures in football data 1: Fabregas and assists' which looked at problems in sourcing reliable data and had footage of Robbie Savage being made to look silly. Worth a read.

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