It has not been a great couple of weeks for Tottenham – dropping seven points from a possible nine that helped confirm Leicester City as Premier League Champions. Draws against West Brom and Chelsea, followed by defeat at home to Southampton proved costly. Not just for the points that ended their championship challenge, but also for the players lost to suspension. Bans for Dele Alli and Moussa Dembele hurt their midfield and it’s coincided with the wheels coming off, so to speak. However, despite how disappointing the climax to their campaign may be, it should not detract from what, on the whole, has been a very positive season for Mauricio Pochettino’s men.
That, though, appears to be a subject of debate amongst some – I’ve seen their season range in description from amazing to normal. Whilst some suggest Spurs have made massive strides in improvement, others think they haven’t actually improved at all and it is just the poorer standard of the bigger clubs this year that has embellished their league position. With this in mind, I’ve pulled together some stats from 2014/15 and 2015/16 to look at whether or not Spurs have made improvements under Pochettino.
It doesn’t take a statistical analyst to some of the clear differences between the two seasons. The ‘points scored’ is the headline figure and will often be used as the barometer, but it’s the other numbers that will either support it or show it to be an anomaly. The foundation of their season has been built on a solid defence and going from conceding 53 goals last season to only 30 in their 37 games to date. That equates to going from conceding 1.39 to 0.81 goals per game, which is an incredible 42% improvement. Whether or not that is a sustainable figure remains to be seen, but Spurs are restricting opponents to less shots against them, so their defensive structure means they are unlikely to sway back to the excessive 53 goals they let in last year. On top of an impressive defensive record, they’ve also improved their attacking play which has been noticeable to the naked eye, with quicker counter attacks and more fluid movement. The stats also support that improvement, scoring 10 more goals in their 37 games thus far than they achieved in their entire previous campaign. They have gone from registering 13.79 shots per game up to 17.41, a 26% increase that has garnered a 20% increase of goals per game, going from 1.53 to 1.84. Those are sustainable figures and not a freak change inspired by having a world class individual talent in their side that can skew figures. Obviously, there are key players in Spurs defensive and attacking structure and losing any of them in the summer could adversely affect that, but Spurs are built more on a cohesive unit these days, rather than reliant on an individual to change games for them.
I don’t feel Spurs ‘bottled’ the title because they were always playing catch up to Leicester, who have continued to win games anyway. They did keep the Foxes honest till close to the end and only really lost their composure against Chelsea when they knew the chase was coming to an end. Not exactly bottling it, but certainly an opportunity for lessons to be learned for the future and provided Tottenham can keep Pochettino and the core of the current team together, plus a few additions in the summer, then they should be in the mix for top four next season.
I do believe that what Pochettino has brought to Spurs is what he offered at Southampton and did so well with: an organised team structure, definitive game plan and good coaching. What he has been able to add to that, is better and more suitable players for the system he wants to play and as a result, they are reaping the reward on the pitch. So, have Spurs improved? I think they undoubtedly have. Is it a vast improvement? I wouldn’t go so far as to say vast and perhaps the underperformance of the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City and even Arsenal this season has slightly embellished their position. However, I do not think that can be an excuse to gloss over what Pochettino and his team have achieved and the improvements they have made. Sustaining and building upon those improvements are the next step for them now.