Tottenham Hotspur have endured a sharp decline in form of late. Following on from their majestic counter-attacking performance against Liverpool and their stunning 3-1 victory over reigning European champions Real Madrid, they have won just two in six.
One of those victories ensured qualification for the Champions League second round as winners of Group H, a group many felt Mauricio Pochettino’s side wouldn’t even make it through. However, their position in the Premier League has suffered drastically as a consequence of the recent drop-off.
Now sat in an underwhelming sixth place in the league table, Spurs lie three points off of fierce rivals Arsenal in fifth, four off of Liverpool in fourth, and 18 off of runaway leaders and title favourites Manchester City. Suddenly, serious questions are being asked of the team’s top four prospects.
Pochettino may have to think outside the box to arrest the slump and revive his players. His side’s ailing fortunes cannot be allowed to continue if they are to build on the successes of recent seasons. In order to move forward, underperforming key players may have to be rested in Wednesday night’s Champions League clash with APOEL Nicosia.
The upcoming game gives Tottenham a chance to rotate and consider alternative personnel. Here, we at Football Whispers delve deep into the statistics to assess who should be left out, as well as how they could be replaced, even if only temporarily.
ANALYSING THE SPURS DECLINE
One of the most obvious changed in Spurs’ performance over recent weeks has been their inability to keep clean sheets. They kept five in their opening nine Premier League fixtures this season but have conceded at least one goal in five of their six outings since the 4-1 hammering of Liverpool.
Their only clean sheet in the recent run came at home to lowly Crystal Palace, while they have conceded four in three matches against West Bromwich Albion, Leicester City and Watford.
The immediate centre of attention considering these statistics is the defensive line. Without Toby Alderweireld, who is one of the finest centre-backs in the world today, Tottenham have struggled to keep out opposition attacks. One player to have particularly suffered from the Belgian’s absence is his compatriot, Jan Vertonghen.
This was highlighted recently by former Arsenal player Stewart Robson, who told ESPN: “Alderweireld not playing is a big blow. I think he's their best centre-half by far…I'm not a big fan of Vertonghen but they've had a great defensive record and it was being held together by Alderweireld.”
A look over the numbers from recent games gives credence to this notion. While Vertgonhen’s average tackles in his last four Premier League appearances has been higher than his seasonal average, the same cannot be said for his interceptions (from 1.4 to 1.3), passes (from 70.3 to 63) or dribbles (from 0.8 to 0.3) per game.
Christian Eriksen remains a vital cog in Pochettino’s tactical machine, but the Dane may also need resting on the basis of his recent statistics.
While he is an attacking midfielder, pressing and defending are crucial elements of the game for every Tottenham player, so his drop-off in average tackles from a seasonal average of 0.9 to 0.3 in the last four league games is noteworthy. And, when it comes to influencing his side’s possession game, he has also been less involved. This term he has averaged 55.3 passes per game, but in recent weeks he has averaged just 47.8.
Eriksen has been directly involved in a goal 0.4 times per game over the course of his 15 Premier League games in 2017/18, but he has had just 0.25 goal involvements from his last four appearances. This decline in productivity is the tip of the statistical iceberg that suggests he may need some time out to re-focus.
Elsewhere in midfield, Moussa Sissoko has proven why Pochettino signed him this term. The Frenchman has, in general, impressed on a far more frequent basis to earn a regular spot in and around the starting line-up. However, while his reputation has gone from squad player to first-teamer, his recent numbers are not so encouraging.
Thanks to his forward forays against Arsenal, his dribbles per game in his last four league outings is actually higher than his seasonal average. However, he has made fewer key passes and interceptions.
WHO COULD COME IN AGAINST APOEL?
Pochettino has shown himself to be tactically experimental, so there are a range of viable possibilities for him to consider should he choose to rest the aforementioned three players against APOEL.
If he wishes to continue utilising a three-man defensive line, it is initially difficult to imagine anyone within his current squad filling in for Vertonghen. However, Ben Davies has shown he can operate effectively on the left-hand side of a back three, and the Welshman’s retreat from wing-back could open a door for Danny Rose to reassert himself.
The other option in terms of simply changing personnel would be to give Juan Foyth an opportunity. The 19-year-old Argentine has yet to appear in the Premier League or the Champions League, but the sending off of Davinson Sánchez at Watford and the absence through injury of Alderweireld means this is likely to change in the near future.
While Pochettino may not wish to throw the prospect in at the deep end, playing him instead of Vertonghen against APOEL would give him a chance in a fairly comfortable environment – no matter what happens, Spurs’ status is secured.
In midfield, a change of structure may be needed to allow Eriksen, who is an extremely unique player without natural replacement, a break. Sissoko could make way for Harry Winks, with Mousa Dembélé retaining his starting berth in a central midfield two.
Pochettino could then revert to the 4-2-3-1 that was previously his primary formation, bringing Son Heung-min and Erik Lamela in either side of Dele Alli to scheme and combine behind lone striker Harry Kane.
Tottenham have been under scrutiny of late, and Vertonghen, Sissoko and Eriksen appear to have suffered. But, with the pressure off, the Champions League clash with APOEL gives them a chance to rest, and Spurs a chance to experiment.