Why are Tottenham having goal trouble?

Tottenham Hotspur currently sit 4th in the Premier League after 10 games played but on goals scored alone they would be in the bottom half of the table in 12th – why are Spurs having goal trouble?

Andre Villas-Boas’ team have seen a number of new arrivals this summer and, so far, they are gaining chemistry and understanding together as a team but Tottenham have the lowest chance conversion rate in the league at present and that must be a concern for the Portuguese boss.

Sunday’s goalless draw at Goodison Park was no exception to the rule – despite Spurs having more and probably the better of the chances between the two sides, Tottenham left Merseyside with only a share of the points.

What’s worrying is also something that is undoubtedly a massive positive for Tottenham – they take more shots per game than any other team in the league, on average 17.5 shots per game and it is not their finishing that is necessarily in question either as they get 5.9 shots on target per game, third best in the league.

They also sit second to top in the league in terms of overall possession – Spurs have taken 58.7 % possession across the ten games played, just 1% less than Manchester City on 59.7% at present. They are dominating games, making more than their fair share of chances and hitting the target often enough – they are testing the opposition’s goalkeeper or defence in front of goal successfully 33.7% of the time.

So what it is then? Looking at the types of chances Spurs are creating and, conversely, not creating, may shed some light on the situation. Tottenham have successfully completed more long passes (or long balls) than any other team this term – a whopping 70 long passes per game in fact. Yet, they are only completing one through ball per game on average. They have yet to score via a counter attack, and they have yet to score via a set piece. They have scored with penalties more than any other team.

This would suggest, Spurs are being allowed to have the majority share of possession yet they are finding it difficult to achieve penetration into the penalty area and the 6-yard box and whilst they are successfully playing long balls they are not incisive enough to catch the opposition out.

One would have though Spurs with all their pace and dynamism, especially on the flanks at the moment, would be pounding on team and trying to capitalize on counter attacking as they have been so successful at in previous seasons but it’s not coming off for them so far this term. Equally they have yet to find a genuinely dangerous outlet for their set pieces and they need to address that as soon as possible because, overall, still 30 per cent of all goals conceded come from set pieces – they must find a way to maximise their threat from those situations.

Meanwhile, looking at the kinds of goals Spurs are scoring is important to note – 57% of their goals have come through the middle, with 25% coming from the right side and just 19% from the left. This would suggest their wide-players, especially on the right are opting to come inside from the channel more often than not.

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The biggest give away is that only 3% of Spurs’ goals have been scored from inside the 6-yard box this season (39% from inside the penalty area and a massive majority of 57% being scored from outside the area). This would also make sense given the lack of through balls – Spurs are not getting close enough to the goalmouth on a regular basis and they’re firing shots from distance with mixed success and failure – basically speculative efforts.

They have scored 6 goals from open play, which is a third of the number of Manchester City do despite having almost exactly the same possession percentages. Tottenham are also winning just 14.5 aerial duels per game which puts them second to bottom behind only Manchester United on 13.7 won per game which could also qualify the fact that Spurs and United are currently putting in the fewest number of crosses (24 and 27 per game, respectively).

Spurs are not using their height or power up front on set pieces or successfully trying to whip in crosses – instead their widemen are coming in off the flanks and popping off shots from distance predominantly. Tottenham are obviously superior technically to the majority of other teams in the league but they need to use that to penetrate the final third more effectively and consistently.

The likes of Andros Townsend, Erik Lamela, Aaron Lennon and Nacer Chadli have been doing well and putting in some energetic performances but they might be trying a little too hard to score goals themselves rather than pushing on to the byline and getting a cut-back or a pass in for Roberto Soldado in the box.

It’s interesting to note that Soldado has scored 4 goals and made 2 assists in 10 appearances so far in the league but Townsend has made just 1 assist in 9 appearances, Lamela just 1 in 4, Lennon none in 4, and Chadli none in 4. By this point last term Gareth Bale had made 3 assists and scored 3 goals in the Premier League. The two new additions on the flanks as well as Lennon and, to a lesser extent Townsend, are simply not creating enough for the striker who is in effect out-assisting them.

They need to start playing more to his strengths, rather than trying out outscore each other with speculative efforts from distance especially. Opposition teams are obviously wise to them – they’re quite content to let Spurs have possession, safe in the knowledge they don’t exploit it often enough.

They don’t get the ball into dangerous areas enough and they don’t provide enough service for Soldado to be genuinely threatening. If they start crossing into the six-yard box or working their way to the by-line for cut back passes into him, they will find him and he will score more than his fair share. Instead the widemen are trying to do it all themselves and it’s wasteful.

If the Premier League was judged on shots Tottenham would be top of the league right now but it’s not, it’s settled on points and goals and Tottenham are not scoring enough and, crucially, as demonstrated on Sunday, not scoring enough to take the points they are more than capable of getting if they start playing to their strengths. Defensively they're solid and organized but they need to put the same amount of organization and conviction into their attacking play, especially in front of goal.

image: © Victor Gutierrez Navarro

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