Tottenham's Defence Needs to Find Old Form and Hold the Line Against Swansea
Yes, Spurs won three on the trot to return to the fluctuating area near fourth place, but it was their impression of road kill in the dying stages against Everton that makes one take pause.
In a span of two minutes last Sunday, Tottenham’s defense was splattered twice on the Goodison Park pavement in their own distinctive yet recurring way.
Two players ghosted in on the right side of the defense and two players scored goals that turned what was a one-goal advantage into a one-goal defeat that certainly stings more than other results might have.
It’s been pointed out repeatedly that Spurs would be leading the league in 80-minute matches, which—while great for rugby—is demoralizing for Spurs fans to think about.
10 goals in the final 10 minutes and extra time of matches is 40 percent of the goals given up by Tottenham.
The 25 goals given up this season is the sixth-worst defensive effort through 16 matches, with the other five being placed from spot 13 to 20.
This does not make for great reading unless that reading is being done by the opposition.
Swansea have certainly read the statistics and their front men are certainly salivating at the prospect of playing against a ragged Spurs defense.
The dead horse has now been beaten as to where I believe the problem lies, and while 90 minutes of defense was done by Kyle Walker and William Gallas, 90 minutes is not a full match.
It is in those brief three- or four-minute stretches of every match during which time either Walker or Gallas switches off an opponent who ends up being the player to strike paydirt.
It is with this in mind that I predict Swansea City's Michu will pose an especially difficult challenge on Sunday, since he plays the very style that exploits Tottenham defensive weaknesses.
With any luck, Sandro will shackle the Spaniard for the full match, and there will not be any problems.
Still, the fear among Spurs fans over their team's defensive struggles—one that had dissipated for a few seasons—seems to have returned; it is an anxiety that makes every viewing of Spurs football an uncomfortable spectator sport.
Around the time that Tottenham were assailing the dizzying heights of first and second place early in the 2009-2010 campaign, Harry Redknapp–presumably near a car window–told reporters (including those at The Mirror):
When I was at Portsmouth, I always felt we could bash Tottenham up and get after them, but now I don’t think it applies to this team. We’ve added a bit of steel to our game and it’s made a difference.
It was a theme that carried over throughout the term, winning 11 one-goal matches while only dropping only three such contests. That two of those close losses were to the Wolves is somewhat puzzling, though not necessarily relevant to the story at hand.
Spurs also had 10 draws in the same campaign and three at nil-nil, meaning that in 14 contests, the Lilywhites held on to at least 25 points that they might have lost in other seasons.
Fast forward three seasons and the Tottenham defense of today is, well, not quite so stout.
Through 16 matches this term, Spurs have four one-goal victories but also have four one-goal defeats.
An even split in that category means that Tottenham are not saving the points necessary to again carry on a true, healthy assault on the top four spots.
Last term’s team did not hold the line much better, both winning and losing five matches by a one-goal margin.
So, what else can attribute to the (statistical) defensive problems?
Multiple-goal matches might be worth noting.
In 2009-2010, Spurs gave up multiple goals nine times. In 2011-2012, that tally was only eight.
So far in 2012-2013, the number is six. The club has reached that number a full month earlier than either of those two previous campaigns (and six matches earlier to boot).
While statistics sometimes do not tell the full story, they often underline a theme, and for Spurs that theme is that until Younes Kaboul and Benoit Assou-Ekotto are fit, the defensive issues will continue to linger.
Against Swansea, a club that notched a late goal at the Liberty Stadium last term to take a point, Spurs cannot give up another late goal. Doing so would only cement doubt in the fragile psyche of Tottenham's defense.
The offense has proven itself capable of scoring. It will be as the defense goes, so goes Tottenham.
There’s then a reason it seems like Spurs are all over the map at the moment.
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