Spurs' new approach is intelligent, ruthless and definitely not boring 
ONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 06: Tottenham Hotspur fans celebrate after the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on December 06, 2020 in London, England. A limited number of fans (2000) are welcomed back to stadiums to watch elite football across England. This was following easing of restrictions on spectators in tiers one and two areas only. (Photo by Glyn Kirk - Pool/Getty Images)

Tottenham Hotspur, 11 games into the Premier League, have conceded the least amount of goals (nine). They have also scored 23,  which finds them only behind Liverpool (26) and Chelsea (25).

Jose Mourinho has only witnessed his side lose once in the league and that was the first game of the season, four months ago, where they fell 1-0 to Everton

As a result of this good form, Spurs are top of the league. 

The last three games – Manchester City, Chelsea, and Arsenal – have cemented Spurs’ place in the title race by gaining seven points and three clean sheets.

Not bad, eh?

But Mourinho’s approach, as it usually does, has come under question. In all three games, they have sat in a deep defensive block, in an attempt to hit teams on counter-attack transitions.

With under 40% possession in each of the games, Graeme Souness said on Sky Sports that Tottenham are “not a great watch”. 

Whether as a neutral you find Spurs entertaining, for supporters there is certainly something wondrous about the way the team is defending.

For a group of fans programmed to expect self-destruction, the new-found solidity is a marvel.

Spurs are now watertight at the back and ruthless in attack.

Here is why this new-look Tottenham team are definitely not boring:

  • Defending the defence 

Just seven weeks ago we were picking the bones out of Spurs becoming the first team in Premier League history not to win a game when leading 3-0 in the 82nd minute. 

Since then in the league, they have conceded once in six games, and that was Tariq Lamptey’s goal for Brighton which should have been disallowed for a clear foul on Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg.

Their most recent games, where they have come up against Man City, Chelsea, and Arsenal, have seen Hugo Lloris just make 10 saves, most of which have been routine.

A big part of the explanation for Spurs’ stunning defensive turnaround — prior to the 1-0 win at Burnley they were on a run of 10 matches in all competitions without a clean sheet — is how well they now defend as a team.

Moussa Sissoko and Hojbjerg drop back from midfield to form a defensive six, but you also have Harry Kane taking more touches in his own box than the opposition’s against Arsenal, and normal right winger Steven Bergwijn playing at times like an additional full-back.

Sissoko and Hojbjerg retreated 10 yards deeper than you’d expect. Rather than press the opposing midfield, they both take up positions between centre-backs or full-backs depending on the situation. 

Both are hard-working, great at sniffing out attackers, and can also provide the key pass or dribble to begin a counterattack. 

They have been very disciplined and brilliant at protecting the back four. 

Joe Rodon was at the heart of the defence for Chelsea away, but the usual pairing of Eric Dier and Toby Alderweireld was in for the others.

The English and Belgium international are both good footballers but for their lack of pace to not be exposed once is extraordinary.

Time after time Arsenal swung the ball into Tottenham’s box; time after time Spurs emerged unscathed with the two defenders rising and clearing every time the ball was floated in.

Forty-four crosses delivered from wide, zero goals.

When Alderweireld was finally drawn into a one-on-one battle against Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on Sunday, he was close enough to goal that he could just about keep pace with the Arsenal striker before making a brilliant block.

The centre-backs are aided by having two fast full-backs next to them, but again it’s remarkable that the hugely attacking-minded Sergio Reguilon and Serge Aurier, supposedly such a weak link previously, have not been caught out of position more.

This style of play is tailored to Mourinho’s brand and it is now fully implemented into the squad, and every single Spurs player seems sold by this pragmatic approach in the big games.

They are more than happy to focus more on their defensive duties knowing that they will get an opportunity to hurt the opposition if they keep their patience. 

When this works, as seen in recent weeks, it is extremely effective. Because how do you beat it? Do you commit numbers, and attempt to overload the block with pure numbers?

But this almost plays into Spurs hands. As seen against Arsenal, for one of the only times in the match, Mikel Arteta’s side got in behind.

Hector Bellerin then misplaced his pass and Aurier intercepted well.

15 seconds later the score became 2-0 after Kane thumped home after an excellent quick counterattack. 

Chelsea and Man City were both afraid of this exact threat from Son Heung-Min and Kane on the counter.

It meant they opted against taking the kind of risks required to upset Mourinho’s low block that had no desire to move out of their defensive shape. 

This system is working at the moment but whether it is sustainable for the remaining 27 Premier League games is a different story.

It will be an interesting watch when Spurs do find themselves 1-0 down. Would they continue the defensive system or come out of their shell?

Against worse teams, they will no doubt have to take the initiative and try to break them down.

But Spurs have shown they can overcome this with the narrow wins against Burnley, Brighton and West Bromwich Albion this season.

  • Kane and Son = grab the popcorn


The criticism of Spurs becoming a ‘bad watch’ or now playing ‘anti-football’ would hold weight if they were not proving to an unbelievable threat on the counter-attack, which by all means, is incredibly thrilling to watch when executed well. 

When the opposition are holding their usually pointless possession, everyone is waiting like an excited child. This is because it is a matter of when Son and Kane will cause havoc, not if they will. 

The numbers alone are worth highlighting. Kane has scored 14 goals and made 12 assists in all competitions this season while for Son it is 13 goals and six assists. 

But it is more than that. It is the understanding that the pair have built, the natural instinct of it, how they operate at such tempo and with such ruthlessness.

Son’s opener against Arsenal was more of an individual effort – and a beautiful one, at that – although funnily enough Kane did get him up and running with good hold up play. 

The second one, after Lo Celso ate up some serious yards, showed their telepathic connection. 

Son – without even looking up – played in Kane after his well-timed overlap. And the finish from a tight angle, to no surprise, lashed in on off the crossbar. 

These two are the most exciting double act in world football right now, which makes the desperate fault-finding actions of pundits accusing Tottenham of being boring rather bizarre.

Someone, eventually, will come up with some sort of plan to stop these two. But in the meantime, these two stars will continue to shine in the most breathtaking way. 

But, it’s boring, right? 

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