May 31, 2015
Firstly, thank you for offering to share your thoughts and knowledge on Kevin Wimmer. What has been the general feeling from FC Köln fans during his time as a player at your club?
He came into the club as an unknown quantity from LASK Linz in Austria and struggled to become truly established initially. It wasn’t until new coach Peter Stoeger (also Austrian) arrived at the club in the Summer of 2013 that Wimmer made a true impact and since then he has been like a rock in the back four alongside Slovenian Dominic Maroh. He was a huge part of us gaining promotion in 2014 and consolidating our Bundesliga place last season. The club had the fifth best defensive record in the division which, for a promoted club, was excellent.
He is best known as a central defender, but has he played in other positions for FC Köln?
If I’m honest I can’t recall Kevin being played ‘out’ of position in the last couple of seasons. I would view him as a pure defender and as such would like to see him concentrate on that role. I do believe, however, that he played as a midfielder earlier in his career at youth level.
What are his main strengths?
He is well-built to be a central defender and his solid, no-nonsense approach makes him a pure player in this role. You won’t see Wimmer messing about with the football at the back. He also has decent pace which we all know for a player in the Premier League will be vitally important.
Does he have any weaknesses which he still needs to develop?
For me he isn’t the best footballer technically but, as I have said previously, he is a no-nonsense defender. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t expect him to just ‘hoof’ the ball out at every opportunity, but you will see few risks taken.
How does he compare to better known central defenders in the Bundesliga, such as Jerome Boateng of Bayern Munich, Mats Hummels of Borussia Dortmund and Naldo of Wolfsburg? Do you feel that he has the potential to get to that sort of level?
I would say that of the names mentioned, Hummels would make the best comparison with Wimmer. I am confident that he will become a great player in years to come; I just hope he gets off to a good start in the Premier League as, from experience, it can be an unforgiving place to play football.
Are there other central defenders who Tottenham Hotspur fans may be familiar with who compare to Kevin Wimmer?
From established defenders it is very difficult to make comparisons at the moment. A similair-styled up and coming player is Kurt Zouma at Chelsea.
It is often said that it takes time for overseas players to adapt to the Premier League. From your knowledge of this league, do you think he is ready?
Yes, he is ready for action without doubt, but the Premier League by experience can be like a shark tank and the fans can be quite unforgiving early in a player’s career. That is my main concern for Wimmer moving to England, although I do believe he will perform very well.
Are FC Köln fans surprised that he has joined a club such as Tottenham? Would you feel he could have gone to a ‘bigger’ club, or is the level of Tottenham Hotspur well suited?
If he had moved to another club in Germany it would have been one of the top six clubs that would have shown an interest. I think Europa League level is about right. The majority of fans are pleased to see him progress and it shows the good work that has gone in at Cologne in the past few years that our players are attracting attention from clubs in the CL and EL.
Thanks very much to @effzehUK for the insight, and Paul for conducting this interview.
May 14, 2015
Disclaimer: within this article I use various stats. I am most definitely not a statistician, and I apologise in advance if any statisticians read this and cringe at their use within my piece. I hope that I balance their use with descriptive sections about the way that I see our play (rather than just stating the way that the stats see our play). Please feel free to leave a comment to explain any flaws you see in my logic – it’s always good to learn).
So, here goes.
There have been many excellent articles recently about Spurs’ horrendous defensive performances in recent weeks. The ever-reliable @brettrainbow nailed the defensive performance against Stoke City and, before that, had written well about our defensive midfield problems.
With such loose defensive play, you might think that Spurs should expect to see plenty of joy at the other end of the pitch. However, as James Yorke pointed out in his article this week, ‘Tottenham take a high percentage of their shots from range and struggle to create opportunities inside the box.’
It seems on the surface that we don’t have many players in our squad capable of picking the lock of the opposition – of exploiting gaps and seeing the next move before the opposition defence.
Key passes can be seen as a slightly crude measure of creativity, since they are defined as a pass leading to an effort on goal. When you have a player like Gareth Bale, for example, that can just be a square pass on halfway! Across a season, however, the data is useful, and a comparison of key passes per 90 minutes (KP/90) across the other top seven teams is interesting – note that I only include players who have played more than 500 minutes.
The first thing to note is that the top three clubs each have two players with more KP/90 in the Premier League than any of our players. Manchester City have four with better KP/90!
Most of the players listed – certainly in the top threes across the board – play as the forward or in the band behind the forward in their respective teams’ set-up. The notable players that don’t are Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson, Aaron Ramsey and Santi Cazorla, who have mostly played in the central midfield zone. Cesc Fabregas has moved between the number ten role and playing as one of a double-pivot.
It’s no surprise that Spurs’ top three have been the three most regular incumbents of the band of ‘3’ in our 4-2-3-1 in the league this season. That could mean that the players most suited are getting the game-time, or that a consistent run in the team leads to a better return.
Whilst Spurs’ top three lead the chance creation, the assist output is slightly different. Lamela has more assists than any other Spurs player in the league (6), Nacer Chadli is second (5), but Christian Eriksen (2) is behind Danny Rose, Harry Kane and Ryan Mason, and level with Andros Townsend, Aaron Lennon and Nabil Bentaleb. This is despite taking a lot of our set pieces (20 of his 79 key passes come from corners or free kicks). There are actually 76 players with more Premier League assists this season than Eriksen. James Tomkins (3) has more assists than Christian Eriksen! Staggering.
Perhaps Eriksen is just unfortunate – perhaps players have just not scored from the chances that he’s created. Of players who have made more than five appearances, Eriksen is 21st in the Premier League in terms of chance creation per 90 minutes (James Tomkins is 280th; have some of that, Tomkins!). That’s not elite level, but it is passable. He’s been our best at creating chances.
Just to linger on Eriksen a little longer as he is our chief chance creator – he has made 79 key passes, of which 15 were corners and five free kicks. But only three were through balls. That’s a record of 0.1 through balls per 90 minutes – joint 40th in the Premier League for through balls per 90 minutes for those who have made more than five appearances. In fact, those with the best record for making through balls for us in the Premier League are Lennon (0.3 per 90 albeit in only 276 minutes, a tiny sample size), Paulinho (0.2), and Roberto Soldado and ÉtienneCapoue (both 0.1). Eriksen makes through balls at a near identical rate to Bentaleb, Mason and Erik Lamela.
Eriksen has managed 10 goals – as has Chadli – and other than Kane (20), they are the only Spurs players with more than two Premier League goals. That’s astonishing in itself. In terms of minutes per goal or assist so far in the Premier League for us, our top five are:
1. Kane, 96.4 minutes
2. Chadli, 148.5 minutes
3. Townsend, 185.8 minutes
4. Eriksen, 248.5 minutes
5. Lamela, 264.9 minutes
This doesn’t make good reading for Eriksen, who has more opportunities to both create and score as a regular set piece taker. It also shows how Chadli justifies his inclusion, despite some poor overall performances.
It is well worth noting that Eriksen has famously covered more ground than any other players in the Premier League this season. This has left him fatigued, heavy-legged and well below his best in the final third of the season. Early in the season there were many articles questioning how he is adapting to Pochettino’s high-press style, and there was a period in the middle of the season where he not only seemed to be adapting, but truly flourishing. Hopefully after a pre-season break he can come back refreshed, and with a stroke of luck he will have some direct competition next season so that he does not have to play so many matches.
So why are we struggling to create chances? Is it that we have a forward that doesn’t read passes? Do we lack other bodies making run into the box? Is the system failing us? Or do our players just not have the vision? Is ‘all of the above’ a cop-out?
Harry Kane’s movement is good. He excels at drifting into the channels, and coming deep to collect the ball and linking play. He finds space well in the box, and we have seen him be in the clichéd ‘right place at the right time’ on many occasions. But he is not a player that regularly runs in behind defences, or who makes regular runs off the shoulder off a centre-back; he doesn’t have the pace to make that worthwhile. So we do legitimately lack a through ball option at times.
In recent weeks we have lacked support in the penalty area. Ryan Mason has notably made more forward runs – missing a glorious chance against Manchester City, for example. But where Chadli looked good at making runs off the shoulder of the defence or to the back post earlier in the season, he’s failing to do this with any regularity. Eriksen himself does most of his work outside the box, and Lamela does not seem overly keen on getting beyond Kane either.
Creative vision comes from confidence, and it could be argued that our teams’ confidence has been low for much of the season (for various reasons). But we have only played 15 through balls all season – Eriksen with 3, Lamela 2, Kane 2, Bentaleb, 2, Mason, 2. Chadli has not played a single through ball this season. To not have completed one through ball in well over 2000 minutes of football suggests a systematic problem.
Mauricio Pochettino wants us to win the ball as early as possible, but it is pretty clear that we are then are not doing enough to spring opposition defences. Our movement off the shoulder is insufficient, and we lack players who will look for runners – these issues could work in tandem and create a self-fulfilling prophecy, whereby our attacking players don’t make runs in behind the opposition defence because they don’t expect the ball to come to them, and players don’t attempt through balls because our forwards are not making runs – or are making insufficient runs.
Kane has been double and even triple-marked recently, and so one might have expected Spurs’ other attacking talents to profit from this. In theory, Kane being occupied should mean that there is more space for others to exploit, and should have led to an increase of goals and assists – or at least of chances and shots. If I had the time I’d love to delve deeper and investigate whether this is the case. On the surface we seem toothless with even less creativity present than previously.
There’s no simple answer, but there are things we could do better.
In my opinion, Erik Lamela has been one of the few positives in the last few games, but if we are to persist with this 4-2-3-1 (*sigh*) it would be a good idea to experiment with him as the ‘number 10’. He has shown signs of having creative vision, and also has the intensity in the press which we’ve really lacked at times. Lamela is second to Eriksen for non-set piece KP/90 (ignoring Lennon, because the sample size is way too small).
Eriksen should probably play wide on the left or the remaining games (if at all). When Eriksen has played on the left previously there has been uproar on social media and cries for him to be moved into the centre. And yet in the centre he seems to frequently be crowded out by opposition defensive midfielders, whereas on the left he finds pockets of space to work in.
In a recent article about Alex Pritchard for The Fighting Cock blog, Joshua Olsson argued that Eriksen has actually been more productive from the left:
Eriksen has started 10 times in the Premier League on the left this season, and has accumulated 4 goals and 1 assist in those appearances (he has also played 4 times on the right and scored 1 goal).
By contrast, in his 22 appearances in a central role, he has scored 5 goals and made 1 assist. These numbers alone would suggest that Eriksen is more of an attacking threat from the left, where he is able to find space, get time on the ball, and come inside and shoot on his right foot.
Again, the sample size is small, but it is an interesting point to keep an eye on. Creative players are being pushed out to the wings more and more as teams play 4-2-3-1, often with two dedicated holding players. David Silva thrives in this role for Manchester City, for example, and Eden Hazard is much the same for Chelsea. Perhaps teams’ most creative players will play as an ‘inverted winger’ by default now, rather than as a number 10.
Chadli is a strange footballer. He scores goals at a good rate, his non-set piece KP/90 is nearly identical to Lamela’s, and yet his work rate is substandard and so often he flatters to deceive in his play. We need to get more from him but, equally, perhaps he will always be a player that doesn’t do a great deal across a match, but who will pop up with a vital goal – much like Dempsey did a few years back. There is value in these types of players, and if we can encourage him to play on the shoulder and make more runs to receive through balls, he could easily replicate what Jay Rodriguez was achieving at Southampton.
Interestingly, Mousa Dembélé comes fifth in terms of non-set piece KP/90. That came as a surprise to me, but it makes sense, since over half of his appearances have been as an attacking midfielder, or number ten. His rate is just 0.15 off Eriksen’s – perhaps he is more of a viable alternative than I had previously given him credit for. That said, if this is an area we are looking to improve in, we should be looking for a player with a rate better than Eriksen’s, and thus it would absolutely make sense to upgrade on Dembélé as our back-up trequartista.
It won’t surprise you to hear that I think for our remaining matches we should give match time to youngsters. Harry Winks or Josh Onomah could play in midfield or as a number ten, and both are creative, in different ways. Winks is an excellent possession player who also has an eye for a key pass. Onomah’s creativeness comes from running with the ball and drawing players to him – a little more like Dembélé.
And for next season, we have two youngsters who could make a difference coming in from promising loans spells.
Alex Pritchard made 114 key passes in 3779 minutes in the Championship this season. He makes KP/90 at a better rate (2.7) than any of our players (again, bar Lennon and his small sample size). He also makes non-set piece KP/90 (2.1) at a better rate than any of our players. It’s the Championship, and we need to be aware that this might not translate directly to the Premier League, but it will certainly be interesting to see. He won’t help with through balls, though – he makes those passes at a rate less than all of our players that have attempted a through ball – he only played two across the whole season.
We will also have the option of using Dele Alli, who has a phenomenal goal and assist rate in League One (16 goals and 9 assists in 3399 minutes – that’s a goal or assist every 136.0 minutes from central midfield!). We have no idea how he will adjust to the Premier League, but it’ll be fascinating to see.
There’s a lot of work to do at both ends of the pitch, and my hope is that it ‘clicking’ at one end will have the result of making it click at the other too. Hopefully our new Head of Recruitment and Analysis, Paul Mitchell, will be using data like this (but better, much better!) to help advise Pochettino on new players, on existing players, and the system in general.
May 12, 2015
This weekend saw Tottenham Hotspur Under-18s lose their final league game of the season – 3-2 to Aston Villa.
This means that, despite doing well in the group stage of the competition (finishing second in the South Group behind Chelsea, and going into Group 1 for the Final Stage), we will finish seventh or eighth out of eight in the Final Stage. Spurs, like several other sides, have changed their team for the Final Stage. A number of Under-18 players have been promoted to the Under-21 set-up, meaning that gaps have been filled by some Under-16 players. Having said that, the use of Under-16 players has been somewhat restricted by upcoming GCSE exams, meaning that there has been some rotation of players.
Now that the league season is over, the Under-18s will be embarking on two tournaments:
14-17 May, 36th International Terborg Toernooi, Netherlands.
21-25 May, Volksbank Cup – Stemwede, Germany.
The Under-18s have participated in a number of other tournaments throughout the season:
August: Eurofoot, Belgium. We finished fourth, and Tom Glover followed in Luke McGee’s footsteps by being named ‘Goalkeeper of the Tournament’.
September: Under-18 Champions Cup, held at Hotspur Way in, 2014. Kyle Walker-Peters won ‘Player of the Tournament’.
April: Torneo Internazionale – Bellinzona, Switzerland. We failed to qualify for the knock-out stage after dominating possession but failing to convert chances across all three games.
And, of course, we went out at the semi-final stage of the Youth Cup after a fantastic two-legged match against Chelsea.
Ismail Azzaoui and Marcus Edwards have been playing in the UEFA Under-17 Championships in Bulgaria this week, for Belgium and England respectively.
Azzaoui hit the post in a 2-0 defeat to Germany on Wednesday and then scored twice (one pen) for against Czech Republic Under-17s on Saturday afternoon. He played the whole of their 1-0 win over Slovenia on Tuesday to secure their place in the quarter-finals.
Edwards came off the bench to score England’s winning goal in their 1-0 triumph over Italy on Thursday, and then played 62 minutes in a 1-1 draw on Sunday.
On the subject of Spurs youth, I was asked a few questions by Twitter user (and all round nice guy), David Fouser (@journeymanhisto) and I thought my answers might be of interest to others.
David: Can you comment on the success of our loan placements this year? For example, Pritchard clearly had a great opportunity, but others have not.
There have been two outstanding loan moves this season, not including Dele Alli’s loan back to MK Dons. Alex Pritchard has stood out in a talented Brentford side under a manager, Mark Warburton, who knew him well and trusted him. Pritchard has been able to play in the centre of a 4-1-4-1, occasionally getting pushed wide on the left. He finished the season with 12 goals and 7 assists from 45 appearances, an impressive achievement. He won the Players’ Player of the Year, and finished as a runner-up in Supporters’ Player (which went to Toumani Diagouraga).
The other outstanding loan move was Grant Ward at Coventry City. Grant went to Chicago Fire as a right-sided midfielder who could also play at full-back. He has returned as a central midfielder, and he played every available minute for Coventry in that role, impressing their fans greatly.
Ryan Fredericks had some high points at Middlesbrough but the last few weeks of the season were blighted by injury. Dominic Ball had his first taste of league football at Cambridge United, where he eventually nailed down a starting role. However, it was at right-back – not really his position. Still, that move has to be seen as somewhat of a success. Likewise, Nathan Oduwa got some playing time at Luton Town, though he might have hoped for more.
Edit: inspired by an excellent point from ‘Mickster’ in the comments on this article, Nathan Oduwa’s recent interview illustrates clearly that it’s not all about playing time.
David: Sherwood arranged our loans before, right? Who’s job is this now – Paul Mitchell?
I believe that this was a part of Sherwood’s role as ‘Technical Co-ordinator’, although his exact role was always a bit of a mystery. I would imagine that this role is shared between various parties, and it must help having Ugo Ehiogu as Under-21 coach – he is someone who will no doubt have a network of contacts built up over a lengthy playing career, and this will help when it comes to arranging loans.
David: Do we know much about Pochettino’s and Mitchell’s history vis-a-vis loans and academy development. If they prefer one over the other?
In four years at Espanyol, Pochettino gave debuts to 23 players from their academy; a remarkable figure. At Southampton he built on that reputation, and the fact that he instantly took a shine to Ryan Mason on arrival with us was no great surprise.
I have no knowledge as to his attitude on loans vs Under-21 development, but we did send a lot of players out in January. That said, two players that have had first-team involvement – Harry Winks and Josh Onomah – did stay ‘in-house’, which could be telling.
David: Who’s the next Harry Kane?
We have some real talent ready to burst onto the scene. Central midfielders Winks and Onomah are close to the first-team now, and Kyle Walker-Peters is a fantastic talent at right-back. Cameron Carter-Vickers has been called up to the United States Under-20 squad recently – he is the youngest player in the squad at 17. There are three or four others who could easily become first team squad regulars, not least Milos Veljkovic, who I saw as on a par with Nabil Bentaleb when they were playing together in the Under-21s.
Predicting who will be the next Kane is tough, but I can see Veljkovic making a positive impact next season, if trusted. He can play in defensive midfield or at centre-back. He was sent out on loan to Charlton Athletic in January – personally I was hoping that he would stay with us and see some playing time as a defensive midfielder.
Thanks for the questions, David, I hope that’s been of interest!
May 1, 2015
Football is obsessed with an immediate return on investment. New signings are expected to hit the ground running. Managers (or Head Coaches) who don’t bring about an instantaneous ‘bounce’ are viewed suspiciously. Changes in tactics are seen as failed experiments if they don’t positively impact results straight away.
In 2014, sports scientists at Sheffield Hallam University published a study titled ‘You don’t know what you’re doing! The impact of managerial change on club performance in the English Premier League’. In their study, the researchers looked at data from the 2003/2004 season to the 2012/2013 season, covering 36 Premier League clubs. Lead author, Dr Stuart Flint, summarised their findings:
The main findings of this study were that managerial changes led to an increase in points per match but did not necessarily lead to an improvement in final league position.
Further analysis revealed that when considering final league position, clubs in the bottom half of the table improved their final league position, while clubs in the top half did not.
The findings of the present study suggest that previous managerial change for clubs in the top half of the league in the past 10 years of the English Premier League was an ill-informed decision if the objective was to improve league position.
That this study was even conducted illustrates that there are questions to be asked of constant churn. That its results (albeit using limited data) showed that changes rarely had a positive impact is, at least, food for thought and, at best, evidence that top-half clubs could benefit from periods of stability.
As Tottenham Hotspur fans, we have become quite used to Daniel Levy’s impatience leading to frequent changes of manager or Head Coach and we have – at times – been guilty, as a fanbase, of getting swept along in that and demanding such changes ourselves. In defence of Levy there have been some mitigating circumstances – Harry Redknapp was a gobshite, for example, and he was most likely removed for non-football reasons.
With the appointment of Mauricio Pochettino came the feeling of something different; for a start, he was given a five-year contract. When compared to André Villas-Boas’ three years this seemed significant, especially given Levy’s reluctance to give Tim Sherwood more than eighteen-months for fear of having to pay him off. But it was the subsequent appointments – of Paul Mitchell as ‘Head of Recruitment and Analysis’ and Rob Mackenzie as ‘Head of Player Identification’ that signified a very definite change of approach.
Spurs had been heading down the separate departments route for some time, with a collection ‘Directors of Football’ or ‘Sporting Directors’ with varying responsibilities coming and going since 1998, when David Pleat was the first to hold the role at Spurs. But, with the new set-up, it feels like the elements of running the ‘football’ parts of the club have been finally divided up formally. And it’ll take time for these component parts to become – in modern business parlance – joined-up.
Mauricio Pochettino has frustrated, irritated and angered fans (depending on your starting point) for various reasons this season. Some of those reasons have been legitimate, for example:
– his reluctance to rotate the squad during the second half of the season.
– his reliance on a system which has rarely ‘worked’ without trying to tinker.
– his sidelining of potentially useful players (most notably Dembélé and Stambouli).
But that these have led to doubts being raised about his long-term suitability is fairly ludicrous. Firstly, because we don’t know the ins and outs of what happens at Hotspur Way – there could be clear reasons as to why, for example, Dembélé has (mostly) been out of the picture. And secondly because nearly all of us recognised this as a ‘transition’ season at the beginning of the campaign – so why the sudden moving of the goal-posts?
Much has been made of the Bentaleb and Mason double-pivot not working, and I have been calling for a switch to 4-3-3 since November. Yet it is plausible that Pochettino sees these two as a long-term combination (be that in a two or in a three) who need to better know the central-midfield role, to learn the requirements. Whether you think that his trust is misguided or not, Pochettino could believe that playing them over and over is giving them the experience that he hopes will benefit them in the long-term.
Either way, we will know a lot more after a summer when Mitchell, Mackenzie and Pochettino – as heads of their various departments – will have been able to work together to try to find solutions for the problems that this season has identified. The hope is that, with a more suitable squad, there will be greater sign of on-pitch progression, and we will see some flowing football and a coherent philosophy. But even if this doesn’t happen from the start of next season, let’s not panic or demand change.
We all know that there’s a lot of work to be done this summer. There are feasibly ten players to shift, and at least half of them will require replacing. That is significant change. And whilst Southampton have shown that new players *can* hit the ground running, it’s certainly not the norm, and nor should we expect that to happen.
Frustrating though it is that we feel constantly in transition, it’s the clubs’ own doing. I have been guilty myself of jumping to conclusions, of projecting short-term downturns and assuming the worst. But we need to give this new set-up time and a healthy amount of backing. We might as well – for once – give this five-year project five years.