For a perspective on Tottenham’s start to the season, it’s worth remembering how they started the last one. After four league games, they had won the first three but lost the fourth, losing 3-0 at Crystal Palace. At that point, the faint and fleeting sense that something valuable might come of the Nuno Espirito Santo experiment faded, and everyone remembered why it had been considered an unconvincing date in the first place.
A year later, it looks different from how Tottenham started. There are no such lingering doubts about Antonio Conte’s ability to get the job done. A troupe’s hodgepodge he inherited has been enhanced through clever business. A place in the top four is more of an expectation than a mere goal. The Spurs even have a point more than at the same time under Nuno.
But some things aren’t all that different, and for some, with every passable but underwhelming performance Tottenham puts in, the fear grows that they’ll soon be exposed again. is that fair
Not for the first time this season, Tottenham were second best for a long time in Sunday’s 2-0 win over Nottingham Forest. As before against Chelsea and Wolves, a poor first half had to be improved after the break. And surprisingly, it was the promoted team rather than the Champions League contender who dominated the ball. Forest ended up with 55 percent possession. At times, that number swelled to nearly two-thirds.
In that regard, and in a league where it is now fairly common for one side to hog the ball while another relies on counter-attacking, it was staggering to see Tottenham play in a way that is more common with associates with outsiders.
Maybe that’s why Steve Cooper felt Forest deserved more from the game. “The performance was good,” he said after the game. “We really took the game to Spurs, got into good areas to threaten goal. With all the play and territory we had, we didn’t convert it into enough shots on goal, but there were a lot of good things from our game today.”
Conte, meanwhile, looked positively at the way his players had responded to the challenges Forest posed.
“We did well to get through the moments we endured,” he said, admitting that Cooper’s brave front-footed play had caused his lateral problems. “We didn’t use our midfielders much in the first half. We wanted to go from one side to the other. It was easier for Nottingham Forest to put pressure on us and unsettle us a bit.”
But with all the talk of yet another stunning Tottenham performance and questions about exactly when this team will get going, by the sound of the final whistle it was difficult to recall many clear-cut opportunities for Forest. Those long streaks of possession that Cooper’s side enjoyed would either collapse or result in a speculative potshot that few goalies and captain Hugo Lloris practiced.
And while you’d struggle to describe Forest’s possession dominance as comfortable for Tottenham, it was hardly uncomfortable for them either. Spurs played like a side that happily passed the ball and played at high speed into the space that was left behind, knowing the pace of Son Heung-min and Dejan Kulusevski would put a back three in trouble in the last season were all championship players. The early days of Harry Kane’s first appearance also contributed, persuading Forest to come out and play.
A look at the xG charts tells an interesting story, even after Kane’s penalty was ruled out, with Forest’s 0.85 compared to Tottenham’s 1.42. The penalty shouldn’t be ignored entirely, however, especially when it comes to Spurs’ reaction to the miss from the point. A team that might have collapsed in the past, rather than rally, eventually began to dominate and take charge of proceedings, and Kane eventually scored the crucial second goal.
Nobody is acting like this is Tottenham at its best. Not least in the individual form of Son there is a lot of room for improvement. Last season’s co-winner of the Golden Boot is still waiting for his first goal of the new season and is “suffering” from his drought, Conte said. His supernatural finishing ability seems to have suddenly deserted him, at least for now.
Whatever the form of an individual, that of the collective is more important, and there are signs of tangible progress. Compare Tottenham’s start this season to their equivalent games last season. Losses at home to Southampton and Wolves were each converted into victories, while Spurs, rather than lose at Stamford Bridge, picked up a commendable point. When the performances could have been better, the results are almost a perfect record.
In fact, this is now Tottenham’s best four-game start to a league campaign since finishing second in 2016-17. Just one manager finished ahead of Mauricio Pochettino this year, and he’s now in the Spurs dugout himself. Conte will want to see better, more dominant performances sooner rather than later, but given his own pedigree and that of his player, he can be confident they’re on the mend. Until then, the points are enough.
https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/tottenham-news-nottingham-forest-conte-b2154708.html Can Tottenham keep winning without playing particularly well?