Totenham continued their poor start to the season on Saturday, as they gave up a two-goal lead to end up with a disappointing 2-2 draw against Stoke City.
The Spurs, who suffered a 1-0 loss against Manchester United in their season debut, did not look like an improved team this weekend, and succumbed to Stoke’s intense pressure during the second half. Toby Alderweireld gave up a silly penalty kick that was powerfully slotted in by Marko Arnautovic in the 77th minute, and shortly after, Mame Diouf equalized for Stoke with a diving header from short range.
Of course, for Tottenham it is still early in the season, and they will have plenty of chances to recover the points they have lost so far. However, beyond what the league table looks like, fans at White Hart Lane will probably be more troubled by what they saw on the pitch.
Mauricio Pochettino’s men were expected to show a dramatic improvement this season after falling just short of Champions League positions last time around. However, in the two games they have played so far, they have looked out of shape and largely unconvincing.
After the match, Pochettino claimed that “the team played very well for 70 minutes and the penalty changed the game a little bit.” But “very well” might be a bit of an exaggeration.
Even though Tottenham held possession during the first half of the game, they looked sloppy around the pitch, and were unable to turn that into any clear type of dominance. In fact, they gave up the ball in risky areas so often that, after 45 minutes, the game was pretty much tied in terms of chances at goal.
Tottenham 2-0 Stoke HT: Pass accuracy: 85%-77% Shots on target: 5-4 Chances created: 3-3 Take ons: 6-4 pic.twitter.com/O4622XJVYW
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) August 15, 2015
As Pochetino and Spurs found out the hard way, holding possession ineffectively can not only provide chances for the opposing team, but also give them the chance to regroup and hit back in weak areas. And that’s exactly what Stoke and Tony Pulis were allowed to do.
But what can Spurs do to add those extras of punch and coherence that their football is currently lacking?
Well, as their actual midfield seems to be unable to come up with any answers, they might have to look elsewhere for solutions: specifically in the striker area. More specifically, in the feet of Harry Kane.
Although Tottenham managed to score twice in the game, they really only looked dangerous in flowing play whenever Kane had a chance at the ball. The first goal was scored by Eric Dier on a set piece, and the only other goal, came after Kane received out of position to play in a magnificent ball for Ben Davies.
Just minutes before the goal, Kane had put in a magnificent through ball from midfield to leave Ryan Mason one-on-one against Jack Butland — a sure-goal situation that was thwarted only by a miraculous last-minute save from the goalkeeper.
Despite his natural abilities to play inside the penalty box, Kane has also proven to be an extremely useful link when dropping back to help out in midfield – he is very creative on the ball, and his movement and crisp passing, make him a refreshing partner for Christian Eriksen, as he tries to pull the strings of the game.
Yet, because he plays as a lone striker, it is often hard for Kane to fall out of position to contribute in the build-up — when he does, the team often loses its only reference up front. It doesn’t help either that Tottenham currently prefers to employ slower attacking-midfielders like Nacer Chadli or Moussa Dembele, in place of more attack-minded wingers that could move forward when Kane drifts away from his zone.
In this respect Mauricio Pochettino faces a dilemma. If he keeps his current lineup untouched, he will also keep one of his most important players on the ball off of it. And from the looks of it, he will need to make a change if he intends to succeed this season.
One option could be to replace either Chadli or Dembele with a winger that is more comfortable going forward – such as Erik Lamela – or a second striker, in order to give Kane the liberty he needs to roam the field. Otherwise, Pochettino could also try to play a box-to-box midfielder that can add numbers in the opponent’s box.
Luckily for Tottenham, just this Saturday they were able to complete the signing of Lyon forward Clinton Njie, who could also serve as an extra tool in order to spice things up in their attacking play. But there is no telling whether the player might need some time in order to effectively make his way to the first team.
In the meantime, Spurs will have to focus on getting a comeback next weekend in what, on paper, could look like an easier match against Leicester City. However, that one could prove to be a particularly tricky fixture – the Foxes have surprised everyone with victories in their first two matches and currently sit at the very top of the Premier League.