The ‘Proven Manager’ experiment has not worked. Shopping for the best of the best seemed like an apt strategy to take the club out of the trophy wilderness, but both José Mourinho and Antonio Conte were both unable to prevent Tottenham from being, well, Tottenham. The team slumped to an 8th-place finish in the Premier League and is without European football, so it is back to the drawing board for the upcoming 2023–24 season, with new coach Ange Postecoglou tasked with bringing Tottenham Hotspur back to life.
Postecoglou’s appointment is seen as Spurs returning to what they tried when they appointed Mauricio Pochettino — a gamble. He’s relatively unknown to European football, with his recent club, Celtic, being the only top-flight European team he has managed during his nearly three-decade coaching career.
But he has a respectable CV. His tenure at the Australian national team got them competing (and winning the 2015 AFC Asian Cup), he brought Yokohama F. Marinos their first J. League title in 15 years, and he has revitalised a lagging Celtic team, culminating in them recently completing the domestic treble. Most importantly, he brings eye-catching attacking football; something the Spurs fans will want, especially after enduring several seasons of dreadful defensive playstyle.
So ahead of their arrival in Singapore for their match against Lion City Sailors and the upcoming Premier League season, what can we expect from Ange Postecoglou’s Tottenham Hotspur team?
What to expect?
Spurs are expected to depart from Conte’s three-at-the-back system and go with Postecoglou’s favoured 4-3-3 formation. Lots of teams use the 4-3-3, so how does his side work exactly?
Postecoglou’s teams mainly play possession-based football, making use of their players on the wing areas to make their way into the opponent’s final third, and this is all down to the fullback, the no. 8, and the winger. These three players create a triangle to generate passing options between them.
The most crucial proponent of the system is, however, the fullback. The fullbacks are tasked with helping to start attacks, so they often move into the central spaces while the team has possession. This creates two types of opportunities. One, being in a central position means that they present themselves as a free-passing option. But if an opposing player tracks them, this then frees up space for their winger who teammates can pass the ball to. As the team pushes forward, so do the fullbacks to complement the attack.
You can see this at play for Tottenham when they faced West Ham in their first preseason game. In the 9th minute, Sergio Reguilón (the left back) drifts inside, which prompts Jared Bowen to move more centrally to track him. Pedro Porro then elects to cross the ball upfield to Spurs’ left winger, Manor Solomon, who is free.
When Solomon receives the ball, Reguilón has, at this point, made his way into the box. With defenders preoccupied with him, it creates an opening for the darting Dejan Kulusevski, who receives the ball and has a dangerous shot at goal.
Also, since there are two no.8s in the team, one of them may roam over to support the other, which creates an overload on one side to bring more possible combinations to pass to, making it extremely difficult for the opposing team to defend against. With the other team’s players contending with one side of the pitch, it also opens up space for wingers at the other end.
All in all, Ange Postecoglou’s incoming system promises an exciting attacking display, and given the dangerous wingers in the Spurs team already (which has been supplemented by the arrival of Solomon and retention of Kulusevski), fans have a lot to look forward to.
What problems do they face?
One possible problem lies in the no.8 position. The transfer of James Maddison confirms one of the spots, but the other remains uncertain. Rodrigo Bentancur can play that role quite aptly, but he will be injured at the start of the season and, since he has an ACL injury, will need to be phased back in slowly. Giovani Lo Celso also fits the attacking midfield role, but he has been on loan for the past two seasons, so there are question marks on whether he will remain, though he is being utilised quite prominently during this preseason.
Either way, Tottenham will need at least one more player to come in for that position. Even if Bentancur is fit or Lo Celso stays, one injury has the potential to derail the club’s season and poses too much risk.
But the main problem that Spurs need to solve is their defence. Their current fullbacks are more like wing-backs, having been coached to play a three-at-the-back system, and it can be hard for them to transition back to a back-four system.
The reason is that wing-backs usually provide the width in the three-back system, so they operate closer to the sides of the pitch as opposed to Postecoglou’s fullbacks, which require them to narrow not only to supplement the attack but also to cover centrally when one of the midfielders drives forward. Pedro Porro is one excellent fullback going forward, but it remains to be seen if he can do the job in a central position.
This ties in with the centre-backs as well. Last season, Spurs were notoriously slow at starting games, conceding a comically large amount of goals in the first half. The defence could have been better at defending against goals, and if a fullback is not doing their job correctly in the middle, that is gifting more chances for the opposition to exploit that weakness.
We saw that same defensive fragility in the game against West Ham. For their third goal, West Ham made just one incisive pass to take out the entire sleeping Spurs backline, allowing Gianluca Scamacca to easily score.
Options in the centre-back department are limited as well. Clément Lenglet has returned to Barcelona, Japhet Tanganga is largely untested as a starter, Davinson Sánchez is linked with a move away, Joe Rodon is unwanted, and Eric Dier is, to put it bluntly, dire. That leaves Cristian Romero as the only consistent player. Simply put, Tottenham needs to bring someone in, particularly for the left side of the defence,
There’s also the matter of Harry Kane. Kane is one of the best centre-forwards there is, but he’s been persistently rumoured to be leaving for Bayern Munich. Should he leave, Tottenham cannot rely on Richarlison to lead the line.
So while Lion City Sailors won’t be likely to pose any threat to these underlying problems, there is still lots to address ahead of the upcoming season.
Tottenham Hotspur will face the Lion City Sailors on 26 July 2023 for the Singapore Festival of Football’s Tiger Cup. You can find tickets to catch the game in person over on Ticketek’s website.
Tottenham Hotspur v Lion City Sailors FC
Date: 26 July 2023
Time: 7.30pm (SGT)
Location: National Stadium, 1 Stadium Dr, Singapore 397629
Price: Starting at S$99
Photos by Brendan Tan of the DANAMIC Team.