What Went Wrong for AVB at Tottenham - Part Two: The Defence

Part two of our review of AVB and Spurs this season. This time the defence,

In our previous article we used our unique Inside FPL charts and stats to look at some of the possible reasons for Spurs attacking problems so far this season. Here we turn our attention to the defence and in particular the recent 6-0 and 5-0 defeats to Manchester City and Liverpool respectively that ultimately proved to be the final nail in the coffin for Andre Villas-Boas.

Let's dive straight in and look at the numbers on the season so far. Here is a chart displaying all of the goals conceded by Tottenham this season and how they compare to the league averages:

And here is the chart showing total shots conceded:

So what conclusions might we draw from these numbers?

Firstly, it should be pointed out that in many categories Spurs' defence has actually performed well this season. Prior to their drubbing at the Etihad in November they had only conceded 6 goals in 11 games. However, in their last 5 Premier League matches they have now conceded 15 goals. So what, if anything, has changed?

1. Long Shots / DFK

The Manchester City and Liverpool defeats saw Tottenham concede their first goals of the season from outside the box (to Negredo and then Suarez). Although their goals and shots conceded from range remain respectable, one of these goals in particular highlights a weakness of goalkeeper Hugo Lloris. Paul Riley at the excellent Different Game website has previously mentioned Lloris' aggresive positioning and Liverpool's 4th goal recently highlighted this perfectly.

Here we see Luis Suarez running freely through Tottenham's high defensive line (more on this later) onto a through ball from Luiz Alberto. At the time of his shot Hugo Lloris is almost at the edge of his penalty area and Suarez lobs the ball over him into the empty net. We would contend that Lloris' positioning gave this shot a higher expected goals value than a typical zone D shot. This goal highlights how you sometimes have to dig further beneath basic shot zone stats to understand what is happening.

2. Open Play Headers & Corners / Set Pieces

We are combining these categories together here as they share many of the same characteristics defensively. Here Tottenham are performing above average in both chances and goals conceded. AVB has rather mixed and matched his back four this season but one regular has been Michael Dawson and these categories are where we would expect him to excel.

3. Box Shots (Created)

Of more interest, although for the wrong reasons, is Tottenham's performance in the two penalty box categories. The first of these categories is all foot shots inside the box that have a direct assist from a team-mate. Therefore we consider this to be box shots "created". Tottenham have conceded 49 such chances this season (below average) but conceded 10 goals (above average). Have Tottenham therefore been a little "unlucky" to have conceded so many goals? Or are they actually allowing opposition teams to create chances that have an above average expected conversion rate?

In our attack article we saw that Spurs' attack were seeing an above average percentage of their chances get blocked by opposition defenders. If we look at their defence, we see the opposite is true. Of the 49 chances in this category only 9 have been blocked (18%) compared to the league average of 25%. From an attack point of view, we argued that this was due to Spurs not attacking or breaking at enough pace and therefore opposition defences having more time to regroup and get men behind the ball.

Defensively, AVB likes his teams to defend high up the pitch, with a high defensive line and pressure on the ball player. This can be an effective tactic, however when that line is breached there can often not be enough defenders back in position to close down the resultant shots. A perfect example was Manchester City's fourth goal where Yaya Toure breaks down the centre to square for an unmarked Sergio Aguero. Similarly, Liverpool broke quickly down Spurs' left side to cross for an unmarked Jack Flanagan to score.

For reference, two of the best teams defensively in this category are Everton (38 chances, 3 goals conceded) and Southampton (40 chances, 4 goals).

4. Box Shots (Misc.)

Miscellaneous penalty box shots are all other foot shots that don't have a direct assist e.g. rebounds, ricochets, penalty kicks. Tottenham have conceded an above average 29 such chances for an above above average 7 goals. For comparison, two of the best defences in this category are Manchester United (20 chances, 2 goals) and Manchester City (13 chances, 2 goals).

From the defensive point of view restricting the number of these chances you concede to your opponents is a result of good anticipation, positioning and, dare we say, bravery from your defenders. This might be termed "doing the basics". The two matches we are focusing provide several good examples of Tottenham's failings in this area. Manchester City's first two goals were both a result of Tottenham conceding possession cheaply and being slow to get back into their defensive positions. If we look at their second goal in particular we also see poor positioning and blocking. For Liverpool's opener last weekend Michael Dawson lost a 50/50 challenge with Jordan Henderson on the edge of their box and Luis Suarez pounced to score.

Finally, if there is one goal that can be seen to encapsulate all of the defensive problems Tottenham have displayed recently we think it is this one here from Jordan Henderson. Here we see a long crossfield ball and knock-down breach the high Spurs line. We see Hugo Lloris rush out off his line aggressively and then Liverpool attackers get first to not one, but two rebounds.

Last Word

If one were to look only at absolute shots taken and conceded statistics, Tottenham Hotspur would be considered one of the dominant teams on both sides of the ball so far this season. Hopefully we have shown, with a few examples, that by digging a little deeper down into these numbers there are some identifiable reasons why this shot dominance hasn't been translating into goals and points so far this season.

In terms of Andre Villas-Boas himself, we would contend that, although he can't be blamed for individual errors and poor on-field decisions, it is the nature of the job that the manager does ultimately have to take the blame for a lot of these issues, particularly as several of them are systematic and a direct result of the way his team has been set up.

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