An injury crisis has been the playbook excuse laid out by most Premier League managers for poor results, but not for Ange Postecoglou’s Tottenham.
The desperately painful injury crisis that plagued the club following the defeat against Chelsea in November would have derailed any Spurs side in previous years. After immediately losing two co-captains and a key defender it was expected of Tottenham that they collapse.
Postecoglou’s influence on the players in such a short amount of time is a testament to the rebounding of form in the team surrounding the Christmas period. After three consecutive losses on the spin, the reaction of the squad has been remarkable.
And it is not as if there was a sudden influx of new players who suit the blueprint of the playstyle. These are the same bench players who had collapsed dreadfully in the final few months of the previous season.
The squad thinned to an extent, and those players were starting again, but Ange adapted. There were some brave decisions in team selection which had fans in doubt, but the fearless approach has not altered despite the changes.
Live by the sword, die by the sword
Though this is a period in football where tactical innovation is at times bizarre and even nonsensical, Tottenham Hotspur might have been the first side to play two traditional full-backs in centre-back just to maintain the style of play.
Emerson Royal somewhat adapting to playing in that role was not on anyone’s bingo card heading into the season. He is the exemplification of the new mentality that is engrained at the football club.
Richarlison’s upturn in form is born out of Ange’s trust. The Brazilian did not start the season particularly well but has rejuvenated confidence in front of goal. The striker now has six goals in his last seven appearances, numbers which any striker in world football could be satisfied with.
Belief is a crucial mindset to success, and if the manager is willing to risk complete embarrassment to maintain the identity of the team, the players will invest.
Ange has the full trust of the club
Daniel Levy historically does next-to-nothing in January transfer windows, and if so, it is typically just a loan move. Spurs signing Radu Dragusin proves a sign of intent and trust.
There were labels of a honeymoon period in the early stages of the season with Spurs’ scintillating start to the Premier League season. That has rather blossomed than deteriorated into a complete trust from the board level to supply the manager with the players to compete, and his targets.
With new technical director Johan Lange having a large hand in transfers, he has partnered with Postecoglou to produce the signings that the manager desires. In previous years, there has been a conflict with the board and manager over transfers with a lack of say-so. A sound structure at a football club is unquestionably crucial to progression.
Ange has the trust of the entire senior figures in the club which will bode well for the short and long term, which in turn gives confidence to the fans and players that the club is progressing even if setbacks occur.
Adapting to absences
Spurs were more reliant on the counterattack in the first ten games of this season, but that has shifted to a more patient approach. While the core principles of the style of play have remained, there has been a shift with the more technical profiles absent.
With the midfield featuring the likes of Oliver Skipp and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg who are not renowned for their ability to pass in tight spaces, play line-cutting passes and maintain possession for Spurs, most managers would have regressed, adapted, and made change.
In the first 12 games of this season, Spurs managed 60.3% possession average and a 59.7% average (SofaScore) in the previous 11 games which followed the loss at home to Chelsea. Considering that Spurs lost Cristian Romero and James Maddison to injury and suspension for a large part of that period, the drop-off is scarce.
This proves adaptation is a strength of Spurs this season where it would be a highlighted pitfall in previous seasons. Players have had to play in uncomfortable positions or circumstances and have proved that the ‘Spursy’ mindset is no longer.
The Old Trafford performance
Old Trafford is a difficult place to visit in any context, but Tottenham Hotspur should have broken an astounding record that day.
Manchester United have not lost at Old Trafford when winning at half-time since 1984. There have been 212 games in the Premier League where they have not been beaten after leading in the first half (Daily Mail). This astonishing record should have perished considering the second-half domination of Spurs last time out.
That evening, the team consisted of Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, Oliver Skipp and debutant Timo Werner. That side would be expected to be thrashed in any other circumstance in any other season. Spurs had a dominating 64% possession and six shots on target to Man Utd’s two (SofaScore).
Ange Postecoglou makes it work. Credit must go to the backroom staff who meticulously work on set pieces and tactical modifications each week, but there is an identity and a plan for each game. Overcoming adversity is the true sign of a top-level coach. Spurs will feel fortunate to have one of the best in world football.
For the first time in years at the club, there is genuine positive change at the football club which is beginning to be reflected on the pitch. Breaking down stereotypes and psychological beliefs is no easy feat, but Ange Postecoglou is thriving in a period which has derailed previous managers.