A Review Of Ange’s First Season

Have Ange’s Spurs really been as good this season as people think?

Reading Time: 5 minutes

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By Chuer Zhong

With the conclusion of the Premier League season, Tottenham Hotspur, led by manager Ange Postecoglou, finished in fifth, one place out of the Champions League. The former Celtic manager joined the club in the summer of 2023 following the sacking of Antonio Conte and interim coach Cristian Stellini. With Postecoglou’s relatively limited CV in mind prior to arriving at Spurs, expectations weren’t extremely high. If Spurs fans were told that their club would finish in fifth place this season and miss out on Champions League qualification by a few games, they would probably take it. However, at the same time, if you were to tell Spurs fans that after their blistering start to the season, they absolutely wouldn’t accept it. They’ve been down that road far too many times, so many that fans have coined it as “Spursy” behavior. Here’s a few reasons as to why things haven’t quite worked out for Spurs this season:

#1: Postecoglou’s Naïveté

The main issue Spurs fans have had this season with the club was the naïveté displayed by Postecoglou in many circumstances, especially in the defensive setup. As it stands, Spurs have conceded 59 goals, which is worse than every club in the top half of the Premier League bar Chelsea and West Ham. The reason for this is their high line, as well as the incredible amount of goals they conceded from set pieces. To get the most out of his team’s possession-hungry style, specifically in the attacking phase of the game, Postecoglou pushes his defenders up and sets his team up with a high depth. This leads to a plethora of long balls over the top from opposing teams, leaving them with an open or favorable chance at goal. The glaring issue behind this is that in a game, once Tottenham concedes a goal due to this high line, you would expect a manager to adapt, and change his defensive setup to make his team less vulnerable to the counterattack. Postecoglou, however, has done the opposite on multiple occasions this season. Instead of changing things around at the back, he has decided to stick with his back line in the hope of improving his team’s offensive presence.

A prime example of this was the game against Chelsea on November 6, when Spurs were flying high in first place. Winger Dejan Kulusevski opened the scoring in the opening minutes, giving Spurs momentum until defender Cristian Romero made a terrible challenge in the 33rd minute, earned a red card, and conceded a penalty, which Cole Palmer dispatched. The half ended 1-1, but things only got worse in the second half for Spurs. In the 55th minute, Tottenham full back Destiny Udogie was also sent off, forcing Spurs down to nine men. Despite being two men down against Chelsea, Spurs created some of their best chances of the game during this period, including a goal by Eric Dier from a set piece which was ruled out. Ultimately, Postecoglou decided to stick with his high line, and in the end, it only cost him as Chelsea bagged three goals in the closing 15 minutes to win the game.

Having been asked on multiple occasions by the press this season as to whether he has any regrets about not changing his tactics, the Australian gaffer has been defiant, stating that he has no regrets in his philosophy. To many Spurs fans, this is the main thing which held them back this season, but a portion of the fanbase also prefers this, as they feel it personifies a step up from Conte’s reign.

#2: Deadweights

Spurs have a quality squad, with both experienced veterans like revered forward Son Heung-Min and world champion defender Romero, and fresh signings, such as talented Italian goalkeeper Guglielmo Vicario and German defender Micky van de Ven, who have greatly boosted their squad. Unfortunately, Spurs also have several deadweights bringing the rest of the team down. Players such as the versatile defender Emerson Royal, winger Dejan Kulusevski, and midfielder Rodrigo Bentancur come to mind. Royal had a disastrous performance against Liverpool, at fault for a couple of their goals and tormented throughout by Liverpool winger Mohammed Salah. An uninspiring performance by Kulusevski sums up his year so far: definite quality but no real end product (much like Darwin Núñez for Liverpool), something which is concerning for a club vying for Champions League spots. As for Bentancur, he simply has no future at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. He seems to be blazing a shot over or misplacing a pass when his team really needs moments of brilliance. Every team has sub-par players in their club, but the champions are the ones who can quickly find replacements or improve their players’ game (i.e. Man City offering competition to an underperforming Jack Grealish in Jeremy Doku). A top team needs to have 11 starting players who can produce moments of quality every game, and Spurs simply don’t have that. They seemed to be soaring in September and October, but their lack of squad depth played a huge part in their downfall. Postecoglou has to take a hard look at his team and identify underperforming players, and remove them. It’s the harsh reality of top teams: The ones who don’t perform don’t stay.

#3: Poor Form

In order to have success in a league as competitive as the Premier League, the harsh reality is that a club needs X-factor players: players who can drag the team out of tough spells and turn the tide of the game through individual quality. City have players like midfielder Kevin De Bruyne, striker Erling Haaland, and midfielder Phil Foden. Arsenal have players like midfielder Martin Ødegaard and winger Bukayo Saka. Liverpool have players like right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold and Salah. To compete at the highest level in the Premier League, it’s necessary to have players who can create something out of nothing and provide consistent performances. For Spurs, the first name that comes to mind is Son. For multiple seasons in the Premier League, with and without Harry Kane, Son has been an incredible player for Spurs and has put up incredible numbers. Alongside him, James Maddison’s form at the start of the season rightfully placed him in that category as well. At the beginning of the season, Spurs were playing some really fluid football, and Maddison and Son were at the forefront of that. However, the worst-case scenario for Spurs was if both of them entered a spell of poor form. With no one to step up and supplement them in the attack, their inconsistency and poor form in the second half of the season made Spurs even more vulnerable. When players that you rely on to create moments of magic in a game, carry the team through tough periods, and provide a spark in attack fail to put up good performances, it’s a recipe for disaster, and that is exactly the case with Spurs in the second half of this season. Son has missed plenty of chances which, when he did have his confidence, he buried with ease. Maddison was sidelined after the aforementioned Chelsea match, where a rough challenge led to an ankle injury that would sideline him for almost three months. After his return, he seemed to be out of ideas on many occasions, and couldn’t orchestrate and string play together to the level which he had demonstrated prior to injury. 

Despite a fabulous start to their first season under Ange Postecoglou, Tottenham Hotspur had a below-par conclusion to the season, missing out on a seemingly obtainable spot in the Champions League for next season. A combination of Postecoglou’s naïveté, overuse of deadweights, and poor form from X-factor players were all contributors to this downfall. It will definitely be interesting to see what Postecoglou and Spurs do differently next season to compete at an even higher level than they did this season.