5 reasons why Spurs are sputtering in front of goal

Our struggles to find the back of the net this season have been major source of frustration. Here are 5 reasons why Spurs have sputtered in front of goal.

1. Getting shots in the box

This season, with a switch to 4-3-3, we were supposed to see players driving and cutting in to the box in order to create great close-range scoring chances. Whilst the team has been trying to fashion opportunities in this way, we’ve more often than not had to settle for shots from outside the box.

Of teams in the current top eight in the Premier League, our shots from inside the box are the lowest proportion of total shots.

% In boxGoals
Man City19166%28
Man Utd14360%18

There’s a nice correlation going on between teams that have scored the most goals and the percentage of shots they take from inside 18-yards.

Man City have struck the most goals in the Premier League so far and a large part of why they have had such success is they’ve been able to get shots inside the area. They currently take the highest proportion of shots inside the box and have scored the most goals.

Woolwich take the second highest proportion of shots from inside the area, they also have the second highest tally of goals.

Liverpool bucks the trend slightly beng the third highest scorers, but their 58% of  shots coming from inside the box is the fifth highest.

Next are Man Utd and Chelsea with 18 goals. The Red Devils are being extremely efficient this season, having taken the fewest strikes at goal of any team in the top 8, but 60% of these are from inside the area.

For Spurs, the range of our shot taking is not the only worry, but also the balance of shooters.

% in boxAccMins
per shot

Andros Townsend is taking way too many strikes for his own good, of which only 13% are inside the penalty area. He has the lowest accuracy of any Spurs attacking player with at least 5 attempts at the target. His one goal from 46 efforts is testament that he shouldn’t be firing away so much, as a shot every 19.5 minutes from him is the equivalent to where Gareth Bale was at last season. Andros isn’t at that level just yet.

But it’s not just Townsend, Paulinho comes next with 36 efforts or a strike every 29 minutes on pitch. He gets a healthy 64% from inside the area, but with his style of play of arriving late in the box, whilst also being good in the air, this figure should be higher. His goal at Cardiff was a typical Paulinho strike, rather than the shooting from range that has become increasingly prevalent.

In complete contrast, Roberto Soldado gets 96% of his shots off in the box and hits the target with 39% of them. Not bad on both accounts, it’s just the frequency of them that he struggles with. A shot every 36 minutes on pitch is almost twice the rate of Andros Townsend and also less frequent than Paulinho, highlighting our current imbalance.

Gylfi Sigurdsson is also taking shots more frequently than Roberto Soldado with a pop every 28 minutes. He does have three goals from open play, but again takes most of his efforts from outside the box. The Icelander seems to look to shoot at every opportunity as he tries to prove he is worth a regular starting place in the team, but on the flip side, he is the most accurate.

Of the rest, the standout is Jermain Defoe with just 6 shots from a player that fires on sight. Although he does take shots on early, sometimes from outside the box, 50% of his efforts from distance is also a worrying figure given that he makes a living inside the area.

2. Opposition defences sitting deep

Linked to taking shots from distance is the fact that opposition defences are sitting deep in order to take away any space in-behind. We all know this and it’s been going on since last season and been discussed in many a match report on this site.

The actual depth at which opposition defences have been sat has been bordering on the absurd this season. I’m not a huge fan of average position diagrams as they are built on touches of the ball, but the levels of players on the pitch, rather than their location, can give some insight.

From just looking at our last two home matches in the Premier League, Hull had only one starting player who averaged touches of the ball in our half, which was Yannick Sagbo (20).


Hull average positions.

The Magpies’ twin strike force of Loic Remy (14) and Shola Ameobi (23), along with Mohammad Sissoko (7), were the only Newcastle players who averaged touches over halfway.


Newcastle average positions.

Defences sitting deep are a common game plan and something we’ll have to solve. This has forced us in to playing a possession game and more side-to-side passing than we’d like and thus the shots from distance. However, I’d rather we kept probing, looking for an opening, than firing away from outside. Quality of chance rather than quantity has to be the mantra going forward.

3. Pitch size

Opposition defences sitting deep are not helped by the fact that we have one of the smallest pitches.

The official Premier League handbook does state that pitches should be 105 metres in length and 68 metres in width, but can be as short as 100m and 64m if a ground’s construction prohibits it being this big.

The Lane’s playing surface, at just 100m long and 67m wide, sees it as the fourth smallest playing area in the Premier League. Only Stoke, Fulham and Crystal Palace have less space to operate in.

A playing area at the full dimensions offers 7140 square metres for players to go to to work in. Whilst the Lane might not seem far off at just 5m shorter and 1m narrower, this means it has just 6700 square metres for us to break teams down, some 440 less for opponents to guard.

4. Converting ‘Big Chances’

Opta defines a big chance as “A situation where a player should reasonably be expected to score usually in a one-on-one scenario or from very close range.

Despite defences sitting deep, Spurs have been creating ‘Big Chances.’ In fact we lead the Premier League and also our top 8 main rivals for a Champions League spot this season.

Big chancesBig chances
Man City211257%
Man Utd14536%

What has been worrying is that we’ve been far more wasteful with these opportunities than those teams around us in the table.

Quite a few players have been culpable, but Roberto Soldado and Paulinho lead the way.

Big chancesBig chances

That’s 24 ‘big chances’ created of which we’ve missed 17 (71%). With teams playing so defensively against us, we need to take these to draw them out.

5. Shots being blocks and hitting the woodwork

It’s not just ‘big chances’ that we’ve been missing, but we also lead the Premier League in two other unwanted categories – Shots blocked and hit the woodwork.

Of course when you take a lot of shots you have a higher chance of either an opposition player getting in the way or it striking the frame of the goal.

However, we’ve seen 51 of our shots stopped from getting near the target by being blocked. Of our top eight rivals, Man City come a close second with 49, but as we saw earlier, they take a lot more shots from inside the box where you’d expect a great deal of traffic.

Chelsea are third on 48, but they too get a high amount of their shots from close in. After that, there’s then a rather large gap to Woolwich on 39, Southampton on 37, Liverpool on 33 and the ever-efficient Man Utd on 31.

Spurs also lead the League in shots striking the woodwork with 5 along with Everton and last season’s runaway leaders in this category, Liverpool.

Man Utd have hit the frame of the goal 4 times, but top scorers Man City and Woolwich have struck it just twice, as have Chelsea.

The problem for Spurs is that most of our rivals, even if they are having their shots blocked, are not hitting the woodwork. And if they are hitting the woodwork, then they are not seeing their shots blocked as frequently as us.

This, combined with the other factors above is seeing us sputter in front of goal this season.

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15 Responses to 5 reasons why Spurs are sputtering in front of goal

  1. Boon 15th November 2013 at 2:56 pm #

    That’s a very good post. Thanks!

    I think at Porto, long range strikes were plenty, but the scoring rate from them are significantly higher. It is weird that AVB does nothing about it under Spurs when it isn’t working. It’s very clear that some players should just stop or dramatically reduce them if they don’t have good long shots – Townsend and Paulinho in particular. Eriksen and Sigurdsson have good long range strikes and accuracy so theirs are fine.

    The other thing influencing the high number of long range shots could be that because teams sit so deep, Spurs were unable to fashion chances easily, thus resorting to these cheap ones. Sitting deep may also mean more bodies blocking shots.

    I’d argue that it could also be that Spurs’ possession, very high defensive line and high-pressing game is causing teams to get trapped in their own half thus influencing them to just sit deeper as a gameplay to frustrate Spurs.

    Perhaps one solution is to relax the high-line slightly, inviting oppositions to come out more, allowing more spaces in forward positions to maneuver and more chances for penetration with less bodies in the way. Though it could be a catch-22 as No.10 may become too disconnected with Soldado, who already found himself isolated many times so far.

    Pitch size – I heard rumors that Spurs intend turn their upcoming new stadium to double as an NFL pitch. That would be 120m pitch length – so that’s good.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 15th November 2013 at 4:27 pm #

      Good points, especially the Porto one, Andros isn’t quite having a season like Hulk! I agree about teams sitting deep which is pushing us to shoot from outside, although as in the article, i’d prefer to focus on quality of shot rather than quantity. A bit like Barca, keep cycling the ball until a decent opening appears.

      As for our pressing trapping teams in, i do agree that this is a factor, but that’s the idea of the game to squeeze the opposition and create quick turnovers closer to their goal. Yes there are more bodies in a smaller area of the pitch, but the key is quick ball and player movement, something i don’t think we’ve mastered yet. Hopefully this will come as the squad gels.

  2. Lee 15th November 2013 at 2:58 pm #

    More evidence to demonstrate that it is a waste of time playing Paulinho.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 15th November 2013 at 4:34 pm #

      A bit harsh, especially as he’s having to adapt to a new league and style of football. I also think Dembele’s presence mitigates his. From the games so far, Paulinho definitely looks better playing with Sandro or Capoue behind him so he has less defensive responsibility than when playing with Dembele who often runs in to his space.

    • Adrian 15th November 2013 at 5:04 pm #

      At least 64% of his shots are from inside the box though, right? I find Townsend’s Gareth Bale impersonations far more infuriating.

      • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 15th November 2013 at 6:03 pm #

        Yes 64% of Paulinho’s shots have been in the box.

  3. dagobert 15th November 2013 at 3:17 pm #

    What a load of rubbish, quoting stats about hitting woodwork and so on. why don’t you quote the number of times we won with a very dubious penalty; or how many goals we have scored so far – against mid-table, or bottom teams.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 15th November 2013 at 4:30 pm #

      If some of the shots that are hitting the woodwork went in or we could convert so called’ big chances’ then we wouldn’t be talking about how we are failing to find the net this season would we?

  4. Alee 15th November 2013 at 3:29 pm #

    Honestly with I had the concentration span to read your article. Looks interesting!

  5. Aaron 16th November 2013 at 3:14 am #

    Great insight, as always, even if it has to be on such a dismal topic. Can AVB please just hire you already??

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 16th November 2013 at 4:48 pm #

      Haha that would be a dream move ;)

  6. fornenced 16th November 2013 at 8:31 pm #

    The fact that we play such a high line and squeeze the play into the 18 yard area and create gridlock congestion without the quick, quick passing and movement (yet), it seems a bit silly to persevere with this style of play if the players cannot accurately master the task being asked of them. We are not Barcelona and AVB has a few players who take longer to make an intelligent pass, i.e. Walker, Townsend, Lennon or Dembele. Sounds like he is losing points persevering with this system when he could go 4-4-2 with Ade or Siggy or even Lamela as the target man up front alongside Soldado. I don’t want instant gratification, but would like to see him mix it up a bit if the preferred system is taking too long to reap dividents.

  7. JC2013 16th November 2013 at 10:12 pm #

    Can someone please forward this page / link to the guy who keeps deploying the same tactics every game??

    Einstein once said doing the same things over and over again whilst expecting different results is the pure definition of INSANITY – Does that make AVB bonkers?? If so, I think we should be looking elsewhere before our season implodes.

  8. Jimmy 17th November 2013 at 8:16 am #

    I enjoyed your blog as always. But I don’t think the pitch size has anything to do with it. We play so high up that if the pitch was longer, we’d just play 5 yards higher up. Half a yard extra on each flank would be nice, but the real issue is wanting to use the space, and actually having the overlap if we are going to play inverted wingers.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 17th November 2013 at 2:20 pm #

      Thanks Jimmy. I sort of agree about the length of the pitch, but more area to play in would still benefit us as it’s more area for the opposition to guard. Athough, it’s not really feasible to extend the length or width of the pitch currently, unless they took some of the seating out, but i can’t see Levy giving up the revenue.