Spurs Special: The Right Wing Conundrum – By Tobi

It feels a tad ungrateful to discuss something ‘missing’ from a Spurs side riding high at the top of the table with the joint 3rd most goals scored so far this season (24) and yet, here we are, ready to scrutinize a specific position that simply isn’t operating on the same wavelength and quality as pretty much all the other positions in Tottenham’s starting XI. 

In order to scrutinize further however, the following question needs to be asked – Is there an over-reliance on the deadliest duo in world football right now in Kane and Son? Let’s take a look at their influence on the total number of Premier League goals scored for Spurs over the last few years.

Total Goals scored74676124
Kane & Son % of total goals scored57%43%48%79%
(Source: premierleague)

Naturally, any club blessed with two consistent goal scorers in Kane and Son would of course place some reliance on the two to deliver, as shown in the statistical overview of the total PL goal split % for Tottenham over the past few years. What is a tad concerning though, is this current season’s numbers. It’s no surprise to anyone that Kane and Son are carrying the Tottenham attack so far this season but at a staggering 79% contribution to their total league goals, it is essentially Kane/Son or bust right now for Jose’s outfit.

So, to cut a long story short and answer the early question, there is a clear over-reliance on Kane and Son to deliver the goods this season and it brings forth our next discussion point which is – where are the rest of the supporting cast this season? Spurs sides in recent years supplemented Kane and Son’s output with the likes of Alli and Eriksen who were reliable scorers and creators statistically as shown by their 39 and 44 G+A tallies respectively from the 17/18 season through to the present Premier League season. Add in a dash of Lucas Moura who scored THAT famous hattrick to cap off a 15 goal season across all competitions a year and a half ago and it’s clear to see that Spurs had a reasonable level of diversity in their goal scorers previously.

Things have changed since then though – for better and for worse. Spurs are top of the league and flying. Eriksen departed the club in January after a clear decline in form. Dele Alli is a shadow of his former self and can’t even make matchday squads. Lucas Moura? The less said, the better.

So let’s get back on topic. Why can’t anyone else step up for Tottenham and plug that gap in quality missing in their attack currently? Could they do with more goals from midfield? Absolutely, as emphasized through the previous options Spurs relied upon. What about goals from their 3rd attacking option next to Kane and Son though? Spurs, after all, do have four wide options to choose from when deciding who can best complement Kane and Son but none of these players currently seem well equipped to grip that spot the way in which Dier, Ndombele, Hojbjerg, Sissoko, Aurier and co are clinging on to theirs. Let’s take a deeper look at these options and their issues.

Steven Bergwijn

Bergwijn is a bit of a head scratcher. He couldn’t have started his Spurs career any better after working tirelessly against Man City and scoring an emphatic volley to commemorate his debut. Since then however, it’s been a tale of many underwhelming performances. The injuries haven’t helped but we simply have not seen the best of Bergwijn consistently in a Spurs shirt. Premier League starts were initially hard to come by for him this season until recently yet, there is no way to justify 0 goals in his last 16 Premier League appearances as an acceptable tally. Beyond the lack of goals, his use of the ball in the final third is equally as disappointing. The only positive right now for Bergwijn is his workrate for the team and the fact that he’s played during the recent run of games that has seen Tottenham pick up 8 points from a possible 12 against Man City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Crystal Palace. Things are going well for Tottenham which means Bergwijn’s inadequacies will not be magnified right now however, he must improve and start contributing offensively. He is an attacker and is in the team primarily to score and create, not to defend.

Gareth Bale

It was billed as Bale’s return back ‘home’ and yet, he has played like a complete stranger to this Spurs team over the last two months. It was clear that patience had to be applied to this loan signing considering the lack of football Bale has played in 2020. It was also clear that Tottenham were not receiving a vintage or prime Bale considering his age, injury record and downturn in form but … it’s still Gareth Bale. A 50% Bale could still offer Tottenham some value and impact, right? On his 2nd Premier League appearance back for Tottenham, he won the game with a bullet header against Brighton because that’s what he does, he wins games. Unfortunately, that’s the only game he’s won for Spurs so far this season or the only goal he’s scored from open play in all competitions. His season’s tally stands at 2 goals in 9 appearances yet the performances themselves are the most worrying factor. He is much removed from the build-up during a lot of these games and defensively, he does not press the opposition or track runners as well as Spurs’ other wide options which is why Mourinho has overlooked him during the big games. Bale was meant to help address the glaring hole in technical quality and consistency on that right side for Spurs but it’s fair to say he has added to the problem at present. He could do with more starts or appearances in the Premier League generally but he himself needs to earn a starting spot as his performances presently do not warrant one. Above all, he is capable of much more than he has shown so far.

Erik Lamela

This one needs no song and dance. It’s simple really. He is massively injury prone. He barely scores. He barely creates. He just isn’t good enough for Tottenham in any capacity these days but he works like a dog, sets the tone in certain games and fits the Jose ethos of being an intelligent ‘C’ word. Yet again, we’re having to analyse a player’s credentials to start as the right winger at Tottenham because of his defensive contributions as opposed to his offensive output. Erik Lamela has 8 goals in his last 74 Premier League appearances. It exemplifies the current state of affairs on that right side and exactly why there is such a burden on Kane and Son. They provide a perfect balance in work rate, industry and output which has eluded Lamela during his entire Tottenham career.

Lucas Moura

Moura’s issues were spoken about earlier during this article but his plight in quality beggars belief. He is 28 years old and should be at the peak of his powers yet he plays like a 20 year old rookie short of confidence. Head down, no imagination, no intelligence on the ball, no finesse. The years of experience he has gained since coming to play in Europe has not refined the technical aspects of his game as of yet. In the space of a year and a half, he has regressed in every sense from a sporadic yet impactful winger who hit 10 goals in 32 Premier League appearances to an outright disappointment who has notched a paltry 5 goals in his last 45 league appearances. He just cannot be relied upon to produce if he’s picked to start league games. Pochettino realised this very quickly hence why he didn’t pick him to start regularly in his last few months with Tottenham. Jose has tried possibly everything to reinvigorate Lucas to the point where it became blind loyalty from many Spurs fans’ eyes considering the lack of quality and output he offered during games. Moura is a willing runner. He will run into practically anything or play anywhere for Mourinho which is why he’s in the manager’s good books but even that cannot overshadow the statistical imbalance in his numbers. The resulting outcome? No starts in the Premier League since the 26th October. His Europa League performances have been easier on the eye to his credit and he must try and provide similar performances when called upon in the league.

In conclusion, it’s clear that Tottenham, as good as they have been this season, can be even better provided the supporting attacking wide options improve on their combined 2 goals in 26 league appearances. Kane is in the form of his life but an injury is never far away with him as recent history has shown us. Even if he stays fit, it’s an unfair ask on him and Son to maintain their blistering form throughout the season without any support or contribution from the rest. This additional contribution could prove massive for Tottenham in the 2nd half of the season in a bid to challenge across all possible fronts if the supporting cast can click into gear. The January window might also provide a suitable reason for Jose and co. to make some alterations to the current options as this could help maintain the excellent form they have shown so far. 

There are various ways to look at it but ultimately, you would expect Jose and Levy to retain faith in their current options and focus their transfer attentions towards defensive reinforcements. There is a positive mood in the Spurs camp this season. They understand what it takes to not only earn a starting spot in the league but to maintain one as the starting XI is largely built on a meritocracy this season. The likes of Lucas Moura, Steven Bergwijn, Erik Lamela and Gareth Bale know this but are yet to bring their best selves in a Spurs shirt so far. They are hiding behind Kane and Son’s brilliance and must finally come to the party through improved performances. If Tottenham are to put an end to their 12-year trophy drought this season or aspire for the ultimate Premier League success, everyone must play their part and deliver.

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