Tottenham Hotspur have now dropped points in three straight games. While losing to Arsenal at the Emirates might be understandable, subsequently dropping points to both West Bromwich Albion and Leicester City is less so. Their recent downturn in results means they’re now in seventh place, a point behind shocking Burnley and four behind fourth place Arsenal. With so many teams vying for the four Champions League spots if Spurs don’t turn their results around soon, they will find themselves heading into the second half of the season on the outside looking in, facing the daunting task of not only having to recover from a points deficit, but having to leapfrog a number of teams to do it.
The good news is that while their results have been poor, Spurs recent performances have not been as bad as their results. In both their loss to Leicester and their draw against West Brom Spurs conceded early (twice against Leicester) and had to chase the game. And while they only took a point combined they still outshot West Brom 25-5 (and 9-4 from inside the penalty area) and Leicester 18-7 (13-4 from inside the box). So, while they didn’t get the results from those two matches, it’s reasonable to expect that on another day they might have.
That’s not to say everything is perfect and Spurs land. While their form might not be quite as bad as recent results suggest, there are still some worrying signs. Christian Eriksen in particular appears to have hit a rough patch and Spurs are having a hard time compensating. Spurs strong start to the season was driven in no small part by Eriksen’s ever present influence in possession. Over the last four games (including a lackluster 1-0 win against Crystal Palace) Eriksen’s influence seems to have dropped. Over the first ten games of the season Eriksen was completing 50 our of 65 passes per 90 minutes, for a 77% completion rate. Over the last four games those numbers have dropped to 46 out of 62 passes a game for 73%. His chances created per 90 minutes has also dropped, falling slightly from 2.35 to 2.18 per game.
It can be particularly hard to pick up on slight changes in the performance of a subtle player like Eriksen. While he certainly contributes goals and assists, a large part of what he does is more understated. Things like circulating the ball in attack, or pressuring passes to slow down transitions in defense are little things that eventually ad up, but can be hard to evaluate in the moment. To do this I used Twelve’s player ranking model, which assigns value to a number of different actions and weighs them according to importance as a way to evaluate performance.
Here is Eriksen’s passes over the last four games, against Leicester, West Brom, Arsenal, and Crystal Palace. The darker the circle, the more important the pass. Passes with arrows were particularly dangerous for the opposition.
(Note that these Twelve widgets are interactive but are still work in progress and are not optimised for size and interaction on all devices yet. But we included them so you can see where Twelve are going…)
And here is his performance ranking against the previous four opponents, Manchester United, Liverpool, Bournemouth and Huddersfield.
The difference here is minor, 2635 points compared to 2701. Possibly the earlier matches were against a tougher oppositions, allowing Eriksen less time on the ball, but in any case, the difference is small.
Heading into the crowded December schedule Spurs are faced with a difficult dynamic. While their performances have been better than their recent set of results, there are still things to be concerned about. Although Christian Eriksen is doing pretty much the same thing as he has done, the outcome isn’t as impressive. This is probably something that will correct itself without intervention, but it is also possible that Eriksen’s heavy minute load is catching up with him, or perhaps a tactical shift is necessary in order to get him more involved. The challenge for manager Mauricio Pochettino is figuring out how best to get the best out of Eriksen while also recognizing that overall Spurs are probably still in fine shape. Do the wrong thing, like resting Erkisen if it isn’t fatigue that’s causing the problem, and he risks turning a minor Spurs blip in form into a major problem. Make the right choice and Spurs will likely go charging up the table again.