I don’t really know what to think about Spurs’ start to the season. So I’ll tell you what I feel.
My enthusiasm from just a month ago has been sucked out of me by a series of performances which have left me wanting a lot more. I feel like I’ve got all excited for a weekend away in an Airbnb somewhere; I’ve been looking forward to it for weeks after these crappy last eighteen months or so but, on arrival, I’ve found that there’s not even a double bed, it’s just two singles pushed together. And there’s a dodgy looking stain on the carpet and a pubic hair in the shower. I’ll be typically English and tell the owner that everything was just fine even though I’m secretly seething and I feel like my precious holiday time that I’ve waited all this time for has been wasted.
When I wrote in Nuno Holy Spirit about how passive Wolves had become in Nuno’s last season, it was meant to be a warning rather than a prediction. We’re so tired, as fans, of our players waiting for the opposition to do something – particularly when, during our best period in recent history, we went out with the intention of not even giving them a second to think about what it was they might do.
Look, there is definitely some logic in being difficult to beat early in the season. Particularly when a new coach is establishing his tactical style and has absentees for a whole variety of reasons. And he’s achieved three wins out of four playing this way, so it can’t be all bad. But then I look over at Bruno Lage at Wolves, or even Patrick Vieira at Crystal Palace, and I see the transformational effect they’ve both had already, totally changing their teams’ styles for the better, and doing so this early and with more complex, detailed tactics (and, frankly, worse players). That is not to say that those two coaches will continue having success throughout the season, but I think it gives us a bit of a benchmark in terms of what tactical progress we might expect by this point.
I think the reality might be that this is Nunoball and maybe we sometimes see a bit of what we saw in the second leg against Paços de Ferreira — a game in which we had complete control so could have some fun — but also we maybe see quite a bit of what we saw against Wolves and Watford and maybe even Crystal Palace. Games where we’re caught between jostling for control and allowing the opposition control but only in the areas we’ll let them have it in.
Personally I think our squad can achieve so much more. I look at what Graham Potter is achieving at Brighton with substantially inferior players and I dream on what he could get us playing like.
But I need to stop myself as longing for Potter or Lage or whoever is just going to make the next however-many-months drag. Instead, I need to see if Tanguy Ndombele and Giovani Lo Celso being back might break the Nunoball mould a bit and deliver something more exciting. So, for now, I’ll try to convince myself to ignore the fact that against Rennes he brought on Pierre-Emile Højbjerg when Steven Bergwijn went off, or — worse — Emerson Royal when Lucas Moura went off.
In theory, the difficult to beat style is the correct one to use against Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea, so maybe this weekend will be a reminder of the upside of this. Or maybe we’ll concede early and then he’ll have to try something else and we’ll get an idea of what that is (yeah, not optimistic about that).
Either way, the reality is that being a nice bloke is not going to wash with our home crowd for long if the football doesn’t get a bit more front-foot. The pandemic did He Who Must Not Be Named a big favour, and it looks like NES won’t get that same breathing space. Whilst you’re winning you can just about get away with pubic-hair-in-the-shower football, but the second the winning stops, the pressure grows, and we’ll all be a little less English about not complaining.
Come on, Nuno, give us something to cling onto. And if you’e not going to do that, at least give us more Tanguy.
I am the host of The Extra Inch; a Spurs podcast that delves into the analytical side of Tottenham games. Check us out! If you already follow the podcast, consider becoming an xSub for additional content, including videos, and loads more podcasts.