Spurs will miss the Champions League because they have terrible strikers. This seems to be the consensus of fans and pundits. Do the statistics really demonstrate such a simple conclusion?
It’s not hard to see where Tottenham went wrong last season. They were last of the top 6 for both goals scored and conceded. Even Liverpool, who finished 4 points behind, scored more and conceded less. Spurs missed out on Champions League football in 2011/12 because they scored too few and conceded too many. Spurs scored 23 goals less than champions United last season and 17 less than Arsenal who finished only 6 points above in 4th. Though only 5 less than Man City, this was well behind the other elite teams, less even than West Brom and Newcastle, and equal with relegated Blackpool.
It’s the chance you don’t take
Last season, Tottenham’s four recognised strikers scored 18 league goals between them. That is about one third of Spurs’ total for the season. Attacking midfielder Van der Vaart scored 15 alone. That proportion, while low, is not drastically different from the other top sides. However, Spurs created 449 chances, more than anyone but Chelsea. The key issue is the failure to convert those chances. Spurs converted 7% of the chances they created. Each of the top 4 managed at least 9.8% (Chelsea), with United putting away 14%. Spurs had the lowest percentage of assisted goals of the top 5. Only 62% as compared with 82% for Arsenal and 80% for United, City and Chelsea were both nearer Spurs but still higher. This implies a greater reliance on a piece of individual brilliance rather than a calmly constructed goal. The failure in the final third may also have influenced the midfield to attempt more shots from outside the area. Spurs took more shots than anyone but Chelsea and at the same time, were the only member of the top 5 to take more than half of their shots from outside the box. Unsurprisingly Arsenal took the least shots outside, only 35% but the other three all fell in the low 40’s.
By the finest of margins
In 2010-11 Spurs played in 9 wins by 2-1 and 6 draws at 1-1. Spurs did not win a game by more than 2 goals in the entire Premier League season. 3 times they lost 1-0 and four times drew 0-0. Spurs lost fewer games than City and Chelsea and the same number as Arsenal but were unable to kill off games in the way the other top sides could. Plainly, Tottenham’s failure to score enough goals was not reliant on chance creation or shots attempted. Possession can also largely be discounted as a factor. In defeats against West Ham, Wigan, Blackpool and Bolton Spurs averaged over 60% possession. These really were the decisive fixtures. If Tottenham had picked up 10 points from these games instead of 0, the Eastlands match would have been an effective dead rubber, with Champions League participation again confirmed. The combination of these statistics implies a clear lack of quality from the strikers.
The case for the defence
Tottenham conceded 46 goals, slightly more than Arsenal (43) and substantially more than the top 3 (37, 33, and 33 respectively) The top four sides in the league averaged less than a goal a game. Spurs conceded an extra goal every 3 games, not a huge gulf but enough of a difference to be noteworthy and influential in determining their final position.
Spurs won only 4 of 14 aerial duels at Stamford bridge, only 9 of 32 against City at the Lane, won less than half at the Emirates, despite winning the game and won less than half of the aerial duels at Upton Park, one of the more embarrassing moments of the season. When Vedran Corluka played, at Eastlands, Liverpool at home, and the NLD at home, Spurs won a majority of aerial duels. Perhaps Spurs suffered from the willingness of other right backs; Hutton and Kaboul, to bomb forward and leave the back line exposed. Corluka is the most defensively capable of those three and the stats demonstrate this. His lack of appearances may have contributed in a small way to the large number of goals they conceded. Defensive weaknesses extended beyond just the right back position though. Tottenham fans ritually bemoaned the performances of Heurelho Gomes in goal. Despite having a higher rate of pass completion and creating more chances, Gomes made 24 goalkeeping errors in 30 appearances. In comparison, the incoming Brad Friedel made only 14 in 38.
We’ve all got to take our lumps
Clearly, the most decisive factor in Tottenham’s failure to return to the Champions League after a stellar debut season is a lack of goals. More specifically, a lack of quality from strikers Crouch, Keane, Defoe and to a lesser extent Pavlyuchenko(10 goals and 4 assists in 18 starts), is to blame. However, it would be unfair to ignore the contribution of an out of sorts goalkeeper and an inconsistent defence.