LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 25: Andre Villas-Boas, manager of Tottenham Hotspur looks dejected after a late goal scored by James Morrison of West Bromwich Albion during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and West Bromwich Albion at White Hart Lane on August 25, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Tottenham Hotspur played a gut-wrenching draw against West Bromwich Albion on Saturday. James Morrison's late equalizer for West Brom reportedly made Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas livid. He certainly had every right to be given the sloppy way that final corner was defended. Again, there were some encouraging passages of play from Tottenham, but again the result left much to be desired.
For the second match in a row Tottenham Hotspur started the game brightly, but failed to finish strong. In the first half Spurs dominated play at one point the North London side had 89% possession. That possession was all for naught though because Tottenham failed to find a goal until the second half and by then the tide of the game had already turned and West Brom had looked the better side for a time.
Both teams set up in similar 4-2-3-1 formations. Spurs made two changes from last week's lineup against Newcastle. Jan Vertonghen made his Premier League debut for Spurs in place of the injured Younes Kaboul and in midfield Rafael van der Vaart replaced the ineffective Gylfi Sigurdsson. The addition of van der Vaart seemed to make the difference early in the game as Tottenham had a great deal of possession early in the match, but as against Newcastle last week were unable to do anything with it.
Let's take a look at the position chart and some statistics.
Tottenham's early dominance of possession was not really keyed by any of the lineup changes. On my initial viewing of the game I had thought that van der Vaart had been the engine driving the team forward in the first half, but I don't think that was actually the case. Upon viewing the game again, I'm convinced that the opening spell of dominance was more of a result of what West Brom were doing than anything that Spurs did. As you can see below, van der vaart completed more passes backwards than forward. The dutch midfielder was recycling possession, but very rarely did he make an incisive cutting pass that the team needed.
We saw over the summer that van der Vaart was uncomfortable playing as a deep-lying playmaker for the Dutch national team. He's not playing a deeper role for Tottenham Hotspur, but with the midfield pairing behind him he's being being asked to come deep to get the ball and be the creative force in the midfield. In my mind this is not a role that Rafa is best suited for. He is a goalscorer and a poacher. He's not the guy that provides the incisive pass that Spurs need.
So, where was the attacking impetus coming from if it wasn't coming from van der Vaart. Well, would you believe that it came from the fullbacks? Look at the work the Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Kyle Walker put in down their respective flanks. Assou-Ekotto was undoubtedly the man of the match for Spurs and some his long balls were beautiful, but if a club is relying on him to make 50+ passes every game to set up the attack, then that club is probably going to be in trouble.
In the first half the Baggies put everyone other than Shane Long behind the ball and attempted to hit Spurs on the clearance. Tottenham was able to possess the ball, but we're unable to work the ball into the box and create good scoring chances. West Brom were able to keep Tottenham well away from the the penalty area and as a result forced Tottenham into some bad shots. However, West Brom did not press Spurs in the first half, but when the Baggies turned up the pressure in the second half, things began to change.
Below you can see that Tottenham both attempted and completed more passes in the attacking third of the pitch in the first half. The second half, West Brom showed more attacking impetus and as a result the Spurs found their opportunities in the attacking third limited. Also, in the second half Spurs made more long passes, also a result of West Brom pushing forward. Both the personnel changes that West Brom made and their apparent change in attitude made things much more difficult for Spurs in the second half.
If I'm being really honest though, all this analysis is silly. If you want to know what's wrong with Tottenham Hotspur you only need to look at three numbers. They are: 37 shots, 11 shots on target, and two goals (via whoscored.com). That's what Tottenham Hotspur have managed through two games. For comparison sake, Tottenham have the third most shots per game in the league and the fifth most shots on target per game. However, 12 other teams have scored at least two goals in their opening matches.
If Tottenham Hotspur really want to get better results in this campaign then they're going to need to start putting the ball in the back of the net with more consistency. Whether the addition of Emmanuel Adebayor solves that problem remains to be seen, but given the Togolese striker's performances last season it's hard to imagine him hurting these numbers any.