Tottenham: What went wrong with Spurs’ attack this season?

After two seasons of over 100 goals in all competitions, Tottenham Hotspur’s offense came crashing back to earth in 2019-20, as Spurs struggled to find the goal.

It was not that teams were suddenly so much better defensively, Liverpool scored more goals in the Premier League (85) than Tottenham Hotspur did in all competitions (81).

Speaking of all competitions, Manchester City scored an incredible 146 goals in all competitions.

So, what happened to the Tottenham offense in the 2019-20 season?

Missing pieces to the puzzle

The revolving door in the midfield with the incoming and outgoing transfers as well as injuries clearly had a negative impact on Spurs’ ability to put the ball in the back of the net. Over the last three seasons, Tottenham Hotspur have seen their assist total drop from 83 assists back in 2017-18 to the measly 58 assists this past year.

That 2017-18 season saw three Spurs hit double digits in assists and another have nine assists, as Dele Alli (14), Christian Eriksen (12), Heung-Min Son (11), and Kieran Trippier (9), combined for 46 assists as Harry Kane led Spurs with 41 of the team’s 107 goals.

While nowhere near City’s amazing 146 goals this season, it is only 10 less than Liverpool had in all competitions this season – in five less games. That means the 2017-18 Spurs scored at a fractionally higher rate than this season’s Liverpool team who cakewalked to the league title.

However, those assist numbers have fallen off each of the last two seasons, as the team went from 83 assists two seasons ago, to 76 the season before last, and only 58 assists this past 2019-20 season.

Clearly, losing Eriksen hurt that considerably as he averaged 14 assists his last two full seasons with Spurs. However, he only had three assists this year despite playing in 28 matches. Even though he only was here half the season, that was still only a quarter of a season’s worth of output from Eriksen.

Beyond the double-figures in assists lost with Eriksen, Dele Alli has continued to see his contribution to the squad drop. Dele led the team in assists two seasons ago with 14 and then saw his total drop by five to nine assists in 2018-19 and then a further three to only six this past season. With 23 the previous two seasons combined, like Eriksen – Dele only produced half his expected output for the time on the pitch.

Of those top three assisters from 2018-19, only Heung-Min Son continued to produce at a comparable rate during this past season. In fact, after averaging 10 assists per campaign the last two years, Son upped that by putting in 12 assists to lead the team. Not only did Son see his numbers go up, but he also did so in less games as he played in fewer games total (41) than he started in either of the last two seasons – 42 starts in 2017-18 and 45 starts in 2018-19.

Beyond Son, some other Spurs did step up, as Serge Aurier took his season-over-season total up five assists from three to eight – good enough for second in the team. And that is just it, back in 2017-18, eight assists would have been the fifth most and now it is second. While Son has continued to progress and one can argue so has Aurier, others like Dele and Eriksen (when he was still here) had taken a step backwards.

Dele is alarming, as he is just too talented to only create six goals across a campaign. Moving forward, Spurs must hope Dele Alli rediscovers his form consistently and that both Giovani Lo Celso and Tanguy Ndombele come good – as they combined for seven assists in their first seasons for Tottenham.

Tottenham’s goal drought

Okay, so 1.56 goals per game is really not terrible, but compared to 2.06 goals per match just a couple seasons back, Spurs sputtered to score in 2019-20. A big part of that half-a-goal-a-game drop can be attributed to one source, Harry Kane. Accounting for about 1/3 of the drop himself, Kane saw his goals per appearance drop from .854 goals per appearance to .706 this past season. While better than 2018-19, clearly Kane’s 24 goals in 34 matches came nowhere near his 41 goals in 48 matches played in 2017-18.

I am using a per appearance comparison as it is nicer on Kane than a per-minute comparison where his numbers are even more lopsided. Kane was on the pitch an average of 89.3 minutes per appearance this past season compared to just 82.2 minutes per appearance just two seasons prior. As Spurs have continued to go without true cover, Kane’s usage has gone up and it has resulted in more injuries and less production. A clear signal that some cover and fewer minutes can do both Kane and the club some good.

Of course, the drop in Tottenham production cannot be attributed only to Kane. Again, the loss of Eriksen was again critical. Eriksen averaged 12 goals on top of his 14 assists per season the two prior years. Just like he only had three assists, Eriksen had only three goals for Spurs again, close to only a 1/4 of his total production or half of what you would have expected from half a season.

Beyond Eriksen, Lucas Moura had a precipitous drop off from 2018-19 to 2019-20 as he went from 15 goals in all competitions to only seven this past season. However, Moura only had one goal in that 2017-18 season where Spurs have 107 goals.

Just as Trippier’s assists were not replaced, nor were Eriksen’s assists and goals, Spurs never replaced Fernando Llorente who scored 13 goals across his two seasons with Tottenham Hotspur. Take away the 15 expected goals lost from Llorente and Eriksen combined along with Kane’s decline and you have what you have.

While Dele Alli still did not hit double figures again, he had nine goals this past season which is close to the 21 he had over the previous two years. Likewise, for those who really think Erik Lamela is the missing link, he met his annual quota of goals and four assists, after averaging five and 4.5 the previous two seasons. Despite him playing the most minutes in more than two years.

How to fix the front

Ultimately, Spurs were just not as good of a team as they were even the season before when the cracks in the armor were clearly showing on the way to the Champions League final. While attempts were clearly made to replace Eriksen and both Ndombele and Lo Celso will come good, the lack of any cover for Kane likely cost Spurs a spot in the Champions League.

Despite the issues with the defense and the rotation in the midfield, had Kane played even the 40 games he played the previous season – let alone the 48 appearances in 2017-18 – and Tottenham likely would have had the goals and the points to jump Leicester and challenge United for fourth.

Now the year is over, and we are back where we started, trying to replace some parts – as names like Aurier and Ndombele are on the sale block. The question is what comes in as a replacement and more importantly can Kane be given some cover – let alone Gareth Bale.

A little cover will get 40 matches, a lot would get 50. It should not take someone as efficiency-oriented as Daniel Levy this long to figure out what is wrong with this team. Until Kane can be taken off the pitch or can be substituted on it, Spurs are just one injury away from Europa League or even mid-table.