There are no easy games in the Premier League, a fact reinforced during Tottenham’s contest at Bournemouth on Saturday. Yet Champion teams find a way to win, and Spurs are not currently displaying the credentials of a league-winning team. A failure to inflict defeat upon lower-level opposition cost Spurs a shot at glory last season, and history appears to be repeating this time around.
Tottenham have the meanest defence in the Premier League, yet a failure to capitalise on opportunities in front of goal is seeing their early season form wasted. Back to back draws in the Premier League, either side of another scoreless draw in the Champions League, leave Spurs in danger of dropping out of the top 4. Let alone challenge for the league title.
And that is ultimately their stated aim; as it should be, to win the league. Draws away to West Brom and Bournemouth threaten to derail this goal and leave them needing to consistently topple the best in the league to have any chance of staying in contention at the top. Tottenham of course have shown this is possible with a dismantling of Manchester City at the beginning of October, but what we have seen since has fallen well short of that dramatic high point.
Last season Leicester City won six games by a scoreline of 1-0; Spurs only managed 2 x 1-0 victories and drew 13 matches; more than any other side in the top 6. This, in a nutshell, was the difference between the two main premiership contenders. League winning teams just win, no matter the circumstances or the difficulties they may face. They will themselves into the lead, whether through a late goal when being beaten for most of the day. Or by getting their nose in front early and holding on desperately at the other end.
In a competition of such small margins, these draws are going to come back to bite Tottenham. Already they have four in 2016/17, the equal most of any in the Premier League. It’s a recurring them to the Spurs’ game that, when they’re not quite 100% or are not quite playing near their best, they are unable to get across the line. They don’t often lose – that’s certainly a great trait in itself – but not winning is potentially even more costly than not losing.
It doesn’t take a genius to understand that football games are won by scoring goals, and Tottenham have scored just one in their last three. The absence of Harry Kane has been felt acutely during these three games. There is no guarantee that he would make all the difference, but there is no doubt that Spurs miss him. Badly. They are just ever so slightly short of goal scoring options.
While the likes Arsenal and Liverpool are either holding on to or knicking games by a 1 goal margin, Tottenham are left with draw after draw. Having the meanest defence in England is one thing, but it’s of little use if opponents are simply able to clog their own midfield and reduce or restrict chances at the other end. And when those chances come, the ruthlessness in finishing is also lacking. With Vincent Janssen still finding his feet, more is needed from the likes of Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela as a goal scoring outlet.
It cannot be left to just Heung-Min Son with support from Dele Alli to find a way through. Defensive-minded sides like West Brom, or teams that press effectively like Bournemouth, do not have too much trouble shutting down 1 or 2 key goal scorers. But when the threat is magnified, when there are 4 or 5 who can and regularly do get on the scoresheet, it is much more difficult. That is where Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool all have the edge over Tottenham.
These draws will come back to haunt Spurs, one way or another and in some shape or form. They were not at their best on Saturday, not even close to it, yet that is exactly the point. On days like this, the teams who achieve great things just manage to get themselves across the line. To get the job done like Leicester did last season. Tottenham have shown significant growth and have much more depth this season, while their defence is without question the best in the competition. But in front of goal, where it matters most in finishing teams off, there is significant work still to be done.