Hoodoo nonsense aside, what’s wrong with Tottenham at Wembley?

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 27: General view of Wembley Stadium during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Burnley at Wembley Stadium on August 27, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 27: General view of Wembley Stadium during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Burnley at Wembley Stadium on August 27, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images) /

There is no need to douse an accelerant on the uncontrollable Wembley hoodoo fire, but Spurs are a shadow of their former selves every time they play at the national stadium.

Two home matches into the 2017-18 campaign and Tottenham have already dropped more points than they did all last season at White Hart Lane.

There is no such thing as curses or hoodoos but Spurs need to address the elephant in the room. Mauricio Pochettino is sticking to his steadfast narrative. Before the Chelsea match, the gaffer unequivocally denounced any “hoodoo” rumours:

“Now it’s one of our challenges to make home Wembley,” Pochettino stated. “Now there is no excuse.”

“Wembley is not the problem, we are the problem if we don’t win.”

Wembley playing surface

And so, two weeks on, players have to start holding themselves accountable for starting their Wembley campaign without a win from two matches. No matter how hard Burnley are to break down, it is a match a Premier League contender has to win. And no excuses will exonerate a particularly listless Tottenham performance.

When dissecting the match, a few disconcerting issues begin to fester. Firstly, Tottenham’s first half performances have been alarmingly uninspiring. That problem, however, isn’t endemic to Wembley. The same was true of their first half performance on Tyneside in the season opener.

Back to Wembley, though. The Wembley pitch plays significantly slower than White Hart Lane. Tottenham’s passing is completely devoid of the zip we saw at their beloved stadium. This is particularly problematic when playing a team like Burnley, whose park-the-bus defensive strategy easily repels pedestrian-pace passing.

Sedate play is an unsightly characteristic at Wembley, the slow-moving turf seemingly sapping prematurely the players energy.

Consistently fast, incisive, one-touch passing is the only way to penetrate those type of stubborn battlements. Spurs’ first half display against Burnley lacked that type of energetic, dynamic intent. While Wembley’s surface is slower than White Hart Lane’s, the players have had ample time to adapt, nullifying completely that excuse.

Wembley’s library-like atmosphere

This inherent issue has more substance. I don’t remember the last time the atmosphere at a Tottenham home match was so quiet. The library-like atmosphere was reminiscent of West Ham’s move to the Olympic Stadium last season.

Supporters at Wembley are further away from the pitch, a fair chunk of whom are fair-weathered fans, those going to the match only due to excess available tickets.

White Hart Lane was the toughest ticket in town to get your hands on. The same cannot be said for the 90,000 seat stadium. Tourists who don’t know what, or where, White Hart Lane is are procuring tickets to see Spurs play at the national stadium. Everyone wants to experience a football match at least once, and what better way than to see Tottenham play at Wembley?

Tickets are plentiful, while die-hard Spurs supporters are not. That overtly apparent lack of atmosphere dampens the players’ adrenaline and motivation levels. It shouldn’t but it does.

This issue has a double-jeopardy effect. Only a select few teams usually get the privilege of playing at Wembley. That’s not the case anymore. Teams like Burnley, whose odds of playing at Wembley, under ordinary circumstances, are less than that of an NFL franchise, are now afforded a chance to play at the historic and storied stadium.

Motivation levels skyrocket as players from opposing teams want to make the most of their Wembley chance, making it feel less like an away match and more like a cup final.

I discussed Wembley’s bigger pitch size in a previous piece so let’s move on to the last point of contention: Dele Alli’s muted goal celebration on the weekend.

Alli’s opening goal on Sunday was a big moment. Relief, albeit temporarily, was felt by Spurs supporters across the globe. Alli, however, was far less expressive than usual. It looked like a gesture of respect for a former team. That hypothesis is easily debunked, as Alli has never had any affiliation with the Lancashire side.

Would his celebrations have been as muted had he scored that goal at White Hart Lane?

I seriously doubt it. It may be speculative, but it’s a gut feeling. Had Alli scored such a big goal at White Hart Lane, I’d expect him to sprint jubilantly to the corner flag, where he’d be met – and embraced – by hundreds of screaming, raucous Spurs’ faithful.

Next: Tottenham can no longer afford Trippier experiment

It’s up to Tottenham to rise above the litany of challenges playing at Wembley presents. It will never compare to White Hart Lane, but, as professionals, they need to get on with the business at hand.

For winning only two of 12 games there since the stadium reopened in 2017 falls embarrassingly shy of expectations.