A global Tottenham Hotspur podcast and viewpoint, by the fans for the fans.
by Aaron Wolfe
A few years ago I was driving through the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York. It was a beautiful day in one of the more beautiful parts of the state and my mind was drifting as I listened to music and felt the warmth of the sun on my arms.
Then I saw it: a bear. A huge bear. An ENORMOUS fucking bear sitting on its haunches staring at me and my car as though I was a tasty mocha treat wrapped in a cute cellophane package.
The strange thing was that my first thought wasn’t “dear God that’s a bear, that’s the biggest bear I’ve ever seen and it has a recipe book opened up to Carpaccio of Young Jew!” My first thought was, “huh… that’s the biggest freaking raccoon I’ve ever seen.”
There’s a reason for that. I don’t see bears very often. I mean, I know what they look like but they just don’t come around nearly as often as raccoons do and so my brain saw bear and thought “nah… can’t be. Must be a giant Buddha-like raccoon.”
I slowed down to take a look at the pituitary raccoon when my brain stem sort of kicked into fifth gear and reminded my frontal lobe that things called Bears exist and I slammed on the gas and almost crashed into a tree.
The exact same thing is happening right now with Tottenham Hotspur.
We are seeing something happen, we don’t quite understand it because we don’t always see things like this, and so our brains are doing their best to understand it and we end up with fever dreams about going on dates with the defensive midfield of a professional football team.
One particular mental jumping jack that we tend to do is we say things like, “well what’s happening is that now they’re playing like a team.”
And I feel it. I mean it sounds so true. It is true. It has to be true. That HAS to be a giant raccoon.
But what the hell does it mean to play like a team? I mean other than the fact that they are, demonstrably, a team and as such likely play like one.
I couldn’t turn to my brain stem for this, and therefore I turned to the thinking part.
Which is when I sat down and watched every single goal we’ve scored this season. And then I put them all in a spreadsheet. And categorized them. And wrote notes on them. And it’s all a bit humiliating and the kind of thing that I did instead of finishing college.
BUT… I learned a little something and now so can you!
As of 23 February 2016 we have scored 69 goals in all competitions. 47 have come in the Premier League, 14 in Europa, and 8 in the FA cup.
Of those goals 34 were scored at home, and 35 away. Right away my interest was piqued. Gone are the days of flimsy home performances — though one peek (pique?) at our goal difference will tell you that gone are the days of our flimsy anything (not a sex joke).
CROSSING, CORNERS, AND CHRISTIAN
Of our 69 goals 16 have come from open-play crosses. That’s 23% of our goals or just shy of a ¼ (or roughly .23… you get the idea). According to the internet and a guy called Jan Vecer from the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management Gemeinnützige (fancy) 15% of all Premier League goals come from crosses.
In short, we’re above average. By not a small amount. If we only scored 15% of our goals from crosses we’d have to have scored 6 extra goals from open play.
And that’s not including our corners of which we have scored 9 — or 13% of our goals. What’s significant here is that it’s also way above the average 8% for the league, but to me what’s more important is that almost 100% of those goals scored from the corner were scored at the near post (one was flicked on from the near post, but come on).
“the next time you’re complaining about his delivery remember that something is obviously working here”
Now look I can’t tell you if they’re all scored at the near post because Eriksen always plays the ball to the near post, or if Eriksen plays the ball to the near post because that’s where it’s easiest to score. BUT I can tell you this: the next time you’re complaining about his delivery remember that something is obviously working here.
THEY SHOULD GIVE ASSISTS FOR THE PERSON WHO WINS THE PENALTY
By my count we have scored 7 times from the spot and 3 times from free kicks. And that’s not including free kicks that were deflected, with play then restarted.
What’s notable here is that Kane and Alli have won 3 free kicks or penalties, while the remaining 6 were won by our left backs. Think about that: over half the time that someone has been brought down in the box resulting in a goal scored from the spot the person brought down or forcing the handled ball has been a defender.
If that’s not a testament to how hard these guys are working, and the importance of overloading on attack and forcing defenses into making bad mistakes, I just don’t what is.
THE POWER OF THE FIFTH MAN or WHERE WE’RE GOING WE DON’T NEED A STRIKER
Okay, so here’s the thing: I wanted this whole essay to lead up to the fact that we don’t need Harry Kane to be dangerous. And there’s a lot of reasons why that might be true — the best argument for it being true is the “Defensive Midfielder” issue. We all thought we were pickled without a proper DM and now none of us would rather anyone other than Dier.
But I digress.
Kane has scored 22 times in all competitions. Which is just amazing. Practically a third of all our goals come from a guy that may love our club more than we do.
But there’s also the intangibles: In fully half of our goals he played a roll of some kind or another. And here I was pretty flexible about what it meant to be “involved.” To wit: if Kane was running the channels and had three defenders tracking his run and then Lamela passed to a wide open Tom Carroll, then I ticked a little box that said “Kane Involved.”
I did the same for Eriksen — because another thing we say is that Eriksen’s not having a great season.
Kane was involved or scored 34 times (out of 69). Eriksen? 24. Both are massive numbers.
In addition, I coded our goals into “Strikes” and “Tap-Ins.” Anything that was hit with pace, was curled, or was shot from outside of the box was a “strike” and any “poacher’s goal” was marked as a “tap-in.”
Kane had 3 tap-ins. Lamela 4. Son 2. Trippier 1.
I love those numbers.
In basketball people say that you win championships on the back of the third man. The superstar pulls a double team of defenders, and then passes to the next best player who pulls another couple of players and then the third or fourth best gets the ball. If that third or fourth man can shoot better than average… there’s a really good chance you’re going to win something.
I think the same is true about Football. Think about it: we’re so dangerous right now because Kane is SO dangerous. But what do you do if you’re a defender? Commit two defenders to mark him off the park? Great in comes Alli to collect a ball over the top, or here comes a late run from Lamela. Or Son. Or mother-effing Kieran Trippier.
That goal he scored against Watford was, to me, the ultimate team goal. Not because so many people touched it. But because everyone was moving, everyone was attacking, and no one knew where the danger was going to come from. And so it came from our 2nd choice right back 100 yards away from where he’s meant to be.
Okay, obviously that last sentence was silly. We don’t have 2nd choice anything anymore. But you get the point.
But there’s something else important here: We’re creating as a team. We’re constantly moving, constantly attacking, constantly shifting and making life difficult for our opponents. So much of our incredible goal difference is chalked up to our outstanding defense — and rightly so. But we have 12 games left and only 11 goals needed to match last year’s numbers. We’re tackling hard, we’re pressing like crazy, and we’re swarming when we attack. We are, like the Watford manager would say, a pack of rabid raccoons that give off the appearance of being giant bears.
Which is to say, we are playing like a team.
WHAT IT ALL MEANS:
Look, I don’t really know. I know stats are boring and can be twisted and I may have done the maths wrong and mistaken a tiny rodent for a huge predator but here’s the thing: I watched every single goal that we’ve scored this season. In all competitions. And I did that because every single one was amazing. You should see my notes. The amount of times that the notes were just: “that was incredible.” or “holy shit, I literally have no idea how that just happened but it did and now I need a nap!” or “nothing to learn from this…it was just perfection” is just staggering.
We’re a great team. Full of great players. We’re 2 points off the top and we’ve got the best goal difference on planet Premier League. But the most important number is this:
THE NUMBER OF TIMES I HAVE WANTED TO REVISIT EVERY SINGLE GOAL WE HAVE SCORED IN THE MIDDLE OF A SEASON JUST SO I COULD CELEBRATE AGAIN: 1.
1 time in the years that I’ve been a fan. That’s how good we are right now. Whatever the reason.
About the author:
Aaron Wolfe is a screenwriter, storyteller, film editor, occasional podcaster, and proud dad from Boston