Tottenham hasn’t quite settled on its identity this season.
While the team has a good spot on the table, it hasn’t looked like a dangerous squad against the other teams contending for those top spots. The squad looks at one moment like it will contend for silverware and another like it’s in a rebuild (and probably both appearances are a little true).
Although noisy fans might not want to admit it, Tottenham has been creating chances and getting shots off at a reasonable rate this season. (Has any third-place team ever taken such criticism? Well, probably.) The team does, however, seem to have a split personality, taking possession and aggressive play to weaker teams while drifting back, absorbing pressure, and hoping for counterattacks against better squads. That’s a normal team strategy, but it’s not one paying off for Tottenham, with ugly losses against Arsenal, Manchester United, and Newcastle.
That latest game was revealing, as Tottenham came out aggressively, with Heung-min Son getting a handful of early shots. The team continued to get their chances, but not enough truly threatening shots. In the Newcastle game, the Spurs looked okay statistically (10 out of 17 shots came from in the box), but the quality of attempts wasn’t great enough to overcome key mistakes.
Against the top teams throughout the season, Tottenham hasn’t particularly struggled to get off enough shots, but the team has failed to shoot in the box frequently enough. Partly that point would be intuitive; the better a team plays, the harder it is to get good shots against them. Partly that point suggests Tottenham’s weakness at breaking down opponents’ defenses outside of transition (though, to be fair, that’s more weakness compared to fans’ ideal version of the team rather than to other Premier League teams).
It may be that the Spurs can solve this problem not by adjusting their offense but by changing their approach to defending, particularly when utilizing their 3-5-2 formation. When both Dejan Kulusevski and Richarlison are healthy, the team has multiple creative and energetic options in the attack. Set into the 3-4-3, both of those players stretch a defense and can capitalize on Harry Kane‘s playmaking ability. With neither of them on the pitch, the team slows down.