Talking Tactics

Stellini must plug the gaps in Spurs' defence

By Adrian Clarke 30 Mar 2023
Cristian Stellini with Romero

Adrian Clarke says the interim head coach's priority for the trip to Everton is improving his backline

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Coach analysis - Cristian Stellini

The interim Tottenham Hotspur head coach must look to address defensive issues ahead of an awkward trip to Goodison Park.

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Spurs have conceded 40 Premier League goals this season, as many as they did in the whole of 2021/22, and there are 10 matches left to play.

Away from home they have especially struggled to keep things tight at the back.

Only five Premier League teams have let in more goals on the road than the 24 conceded by Spurs, who drew 3-3 with Southampton in their final fixture under Antonio Conte.

Stopping runs between back five

Spurs have used a back three (or five) in every fixture, so it will be interesting to see if Stellini opts to continue with the favoured 3-4-3 formation of Conte.

If he does, it is important his defenders focus harder on getting their distances right.

During this season, Spurs have consistently been caught out by runners between central defenders, or in spaces between a centre-back and wing-back.

In the draw at St Mary’s, the back five got caught square for Southampton’s first goal, when there was not enough pressure on the ball.

One pass was played between Ivan Perisic and Clement Lenglet for Theo Walcott to run on to and cross for Che Adams to score.

Walcott, who was playing as a striker in that match, had peeled into an area wide of those two defenders before darting beyond them.

Theo Walcott, Southampton v Spurs
Theo Walcott (circled) was easily able to get beyond the left side of Spurs' defence

In a very disappointing 4-1 defeat against Leicester City, Spurs were caught out several times from similar situations.

During that match they left too many inviting holes between their three central defenders, and this was pounced on by the Foxes.

Below you can see how split Spurs’ back three was in the run-up to Kelechi Iheanacho’s goal, when too many players were attracted to the side of the ball.

Kelechi Iheanacho, Leicester v Spurs
Kelechi Iheanacho (circled) was able to exploit the spaces between Spurs' defenders

In Monday night’s match at Everton, Stellini’s defensive unit must keep their discipline much better than they have in recent weeks.

Everton’s wide men Dwight McNeil and Alex Iwobi have the pace to surge in beyond, Abdoulaye Doucoure can run from deep, and forward Demarai Gray also has the speed and movement to trouble them with sprints down the side of defenders.

Spurs must remain compact out of possession.

They have a robust and fixed system of play, but their shape is opened up too easily by the movement of opposing forwards.

When you consider that just two teams have leaked more goals against from open play this term, Nottingham Forest and Leeds United, it should be considered a cause for alarm.

Goals conceded from open play*
Team Goals conceded
Nottingham Forest 34
Leeds United 32
Tottenham Hotspur 31
Southampton 31
Leicester City 31

*Stats taken before Matchweek 29 fixtures

Comparisons with the number of open-play goals conceded by their rivals for a top-four finish, Newcastle United (13 goals) and Liverpool (21), are also unflattering.

Spurs have a very strong record against Everton, and are unbeaten at Goodison Park in their last nine visits.

To extend that run, Stellini must galvanize the squad after a turbulent week, and make sure they display far better concentration when Everton launch attacks.

Also in this series

Part 1: Fred can dictate in Casemiro's absence against Newcastle
Part 2: Rice and Ward-Prowse duel key to vital clash at the bottom
Part 3: How lethal Alvarez can shine with or without Haaland

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