There are no two ways about it, I found it hard watching Tottenham at West Ham on Sunday. They have scored nine goals in as many Premier League games and their defeat in east London tells us why.
Tottenham’s tempo is slow and although it may allow them to control play it hinders their ability to attack. Despite having more than 60% possession against West Ham, Spurs managed four shots on target – without troubling Lukasz Fabianski – because they are not using the ball quickly enough to create chances.
The best teams in the Premier League have the ability to go from second to fifth gear in the blink of an eye as they move up the pitch at pace, something Spurs lack. When you have slow buildup it means a team cannot counterattack with their most dangerous and fastest players, in Spurs’ case Son Heung-min, Lucas Moura and, when he plays, Steven Bergwijn. They were fifth going into the West Ham game after back‑to‑back league wins against out-of-form Aston Villa and Newcastle, teams I would expect them to beat, but there was no spark and no change of tempo, which is the biggest thing for me.
I watched Spurs in the opening game when they beat Manchester City and they were defensively in a lower shape and hit City with speed on the counter. But they have since gone more possession-based, with a slower buildup, which means it is harder to break teams down because opponents can get back into shape a lot quicker.
That leads Harry Kane to come deeper, nullifying his main threat. You do not want Kane in those areas; you want him higher up the pitch where you can get deliveries and service into him.
When Tanguy Ndombele stays centrally, he gives more support to Kane. At the same time Moura and Son need to come narrower and get more involved to cause problems there, allowing Kane to play higher.
Kane came deeper and deeper in the Euros and it is a role he can play, as we saw last season with his 14 assists, but it is keeping him away from the penalty area. A shame for Kane is that Spurs lack creativity in midfield – they miss a player in the mould of Christian Eriksen who can open defences for him. These are not luxury players, they are the ones who can thread a pass and create more chances so Kane can improve on his one league goal this season.
Ndombele can be very influential but he can blow hot and cold and Nuno Espírito Santo is giving him a long run in the team so he can settle into his role within the system. I want to see more Spurs players in the positions that make them great: I’d want Ndombele in the middle, being that powerhouse, driving the team forward, getting alongside Kane, and then Son and Moura being the players who can run and travel anywhere and Sergio Reguilón on the overlap to get crosses into the box for Kane.
It is not just going forward where there are problems – the defence is struggling to keep clean sheets. It is not necessarily the backline’s fault, because Spurs need to start defending higher up the pitch, as Manchester City and Liverpool do, pressing the opposition to make it harder for them to get out. Also, you can be brilliant for 85 minutes but if you lose concentration for five minutes or at a set play you will concede, as Spurs found out at West Ham.
Spurs may still be trying to settle after a tumultuous summer when their talisman wanted to leave and a parade of head coaches were suggested before Nuno took the role. The players are not naive; it will not have come as a shock to them that Kane wanted to depart and they will understand the situation he found himself in. They will have just wanted to move on from it and affect what they can.
In the first game they did not have Kane and won but they would rather have him in the team. He had a hard summer at the Euros and is still recovering from that. Transfer speculation will have made life tougher, so he needs to time find his groove again.
Nuno decided to prioritise the Premier League by selecting a completely different starting XI for the Europa Conference League loss to Vitesse Arnhem last week. West Ham made changes for their European match but still got positive results on Thursday and Sunday, whereas Spurs floundered. I have no issue with a coach making that decision but if your first-choice team is left to train for a week to prepare for a game then they need to be at their best and losses in any competition do not help morale.
It is hard to know which Manchester United will show up at Tottenham on Saturday but Ole Gunnar Solskjær will be hoping and expecting a reaction after the drubbing at Liverpool’s hands that put his job further into question. United are a place and a point behind Spurs, so Nuno’s side will need to get their own house in order and can’t rely on being helped by the Old Trafford turmoil.
United are providing the drama off the pitch, and now Spurs have to bring the excitement on it. Tottenham are not a team in crisis but it is frustrating to see a squad with so much potential being this dull. Entertain me, Spurs.