Tottenham hit their first setback of the 2017/18 season with news that the Football Association will not allow the club to alter the pitch in Wembley Stadium.
England’s national stadium’s cavernous space allow for a bigger pitch area, specifically 100 meters by 69. Tottenham’s former home White Hart Lane, in contrast, was shorter — 100 meters by 67.
That difference might not seem too great, but for Spurs it might be a significant issue. The FA’s decision to deny Spurs’ request is a potentially worrying sign for the season ahead.
Like every other Premier League team, Spurs’ experience at Wembley is rather limited. It is the home of the England national team and every major trophy game throughout all professional leagues, including some semifinals rounds.
Mauricio Pochettino’s team is somewhat the exception here after having been forced to play their Champions League group stage matches and Europa League knockout round matche there due to construction at White Hart Lane this past season.
Which means that Tottenham have played in Wembley a total of six times since Pochettino’s arrival: one League Cup final, one FA Cup semifinal, three Champions League matches and one half of a Europa League knockout tie.
The results of those matches are not encouraging. They are 1-4-1 over that stretch of games, losing to Chelsea twice and succumbing to Monaco and Bayer Leverkusen in the UCL before suffering a fatal draw on away goals to Gent in the Europa League.
Those latter three games along with the FA Cup semifinal loss serve as Spurs’ chief regrets of the past season. Whenever someone wants to make the claim that Spurs are a great team, critics need only point to their performances at Wembley.
Which brings us back around to the dimensions of the pitch that will serve as Spurs’ home as their new home continues to be built atop the old White Hart Lane. One of the most common — and most believable — explanations to why Spurs could be unbeaten at home yet suffer so greatly at Wembley was that Pochettino’s squad was simply unaccustomed to the increased width they were obliged to play in.
For a team like Tottenham who concentrate so much talent and effort through the center of the park, this is potentially crippling. Expanding Spurs’ pressing game to accommodate more of the flanks leaves more room through the middle, which both exposes the defense and hamstrings the creative mixing bowl that keeps the attack humming.
It makes perfect sense then that the club would request to bring the pitch close to the dimensions they played so well in at White Hart Lane. Wembley’s refusal to do leaves Pochettino and Spurs with two options: accept that 2017/18 might be a season to forget, or adapt.
The latter course seems much more likely. Plenty of teams find ways to play on wider pitches, and no one has ever accused Pochettino of lacking in innovation.
How precisely Pochettino adapts will be the subject of much discussion between now and the start of the season on August 12th.