Tottenham’s slow start haunts them again
Tottenham Hotspur have now played four games against fellow members of the Premier League’s big six this season. Three have ended in defeat and one produced a fortuitous draw. Spurs’ shortcomings in the most high-profile matches may have ended their title hopes before the World Cup break.
A 2-1 loss to Liverpool on Sunday means Antonio Conte’s side now trail league leaders Arsenal by eight points. They have also played a match more than their arch-rivals, although the Gunners’ game in hand is against reigning champions Manchester City.
Tottenham had previously taken just one point from trips to Stamford Bridge, the Emirates Stadium and Old Trafford. They performed poorly in each of those games. The hope was that, at home to Liverpool, Spurs would finally be able to get one over on one of the division’s big hitters. Instead, a familiar problem proved to be their undoing.
Tottenham fought back valiantly in the second half, but it was a case of too little, too late. Liverpool led 2-0 at the interval, and although Harry Kane halved the deficit to set up a grandstand finish, Spurs were unable to mount a comeback after giving their opponents a two-goal head-start.
Starting slowly once again cost Conte’s charges. Tottenham have conceded the first goal in eight of their 14 Premier League matches to date – only Southampton and West Ham United have done so more often.
Spurs have gained 10 points after falling behind (only Crystal Palace have picked up more), while no team in the division has a better second-half record. But regularly giving up the first goal and then attempting to turn the situation around is not sustainable.
In fairness to Tottenham, injuries did not help their cause on Sunday. With Son Heung-min and Richarlison sidelined, and Dejan Kulusevski not fit enough to start, Spurs were severely short of attacking options. Ivan Perisic started up top with Harry Kane in a 3-5-2, but that system allowed Liverpool too much space out wide.
Tottenham have, for the most part, been consistent against teams in the middle reaches and bottom half of the table. West Ham are the only side outside the top 10 against whom they have dropped points this term. But their record in the big games leaves a lot to be desired. As well as suffering defeats by Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool, they lost 2-1 to high-flying Newcastle United last month.
A section of the home crowd booed the team off on Sunday, and Conte admitted in his post-match press conference that Tottenham are not ready to challenge for major honours.
“I continue to repeat since from the start of the season that we have just started a process and I think after one year we made a lot of improvement,” he said.
“If someone thinks we are already ready to win, I have to be honest and tell you it will be really, really difficult because when you start a process you need time and patience.
“If you understand this, everybody is OK. Otherwise we can lose the passion, the enthusiasm. I can’t promise, in this moment, trophies to our fans. I continue to ask for time and patience because I have the experience to do this. We are far from other teams that are used to winning. If we understand this it will be good. Everybody wants to win, I am the first but we need time and patience.”
As well as time and patience, Tottenham also need to start games quicker.