How Ange Postecoglou's Tottenham can save their season

  • Tottenham surrendered fourth place in the Premier League to Aston Villa over the weekend
  • Spurs beaten 2-1 by Wolves on testing afternoon in north London
  • Ange Postecoglou determined to find solutions to his side's recent woes

Postecoglou's Tottenham lost to Wolves on Saturday
Postecoglou's Tottenham lost to Wolves on Saturday / Julian Finney/GettyImages

Tottenham Hotspur lost ground in the race for a top-four finish this weekend with a surprise 2-1 defeat at home to Wolves.

Spurs suffered their first Premier League loss of 2024 but such a result had been on the cards for a few weeks with a series of deeply flawed performances.

Now that Tottenham have finally received their comeuppance, Ange Postecoglou is facing scrutiny over his style and he now has the task of finding a solution to this recent rut.

"We've got to keep working hard, it's not a quick fix, it's where we are as a team at the moment," Postecoglou said post-match on Saturday. "We're a good side who work hard every week but we're not anywhere near the level we want to be. It's up to me to get us up to that level."

So how does Postecoglou go about retooling Tottenham before their next match on March 2?

Proactive ways of fixing Tottenham

Take more care in central areas...

Yves Bissouma
Bissouma's form has dipped / Sebastian Frej/MB Media/GettyImages

When 'Ange-ball' is in full flow, it's amazing to watch. During the first stretch of the season when Tottenham went unbeaten for three months, Yves Bissouma's control and composure made Postecoglou's vision a reality, breaking up play effortlessly and angelically gliding through midfield battles.

However, the Mali international has not been the same since picking up a rather daft red card away at Luton Town in early October, picking up a second yellow card for a needless dive. Since then, Bissouma has lost that intelligent edge and become more of a liability when in possession, while he also picked up another red card at Nottingham Forest in December.

Rodrigo Bentancur's two returns from differing injuries have coincided with at least an understandable lack of sharpness - the club did warn he would not be fully sharp until the 2024/25 season after an ACL rupture - but even his concentration has been called into question of late. The ball just isn't moving through midfield as quickly or as much care as it once was.

You can't be a possession-based team if you aren't driven to keep the ball in midfield.

...but more risk is needed in the final third

Dejan Kulusevski
Kulusevski has blown hot and cold / Sebastian Frej/MB Media/GettyImages

Postecoglou's ideal system features two tricky wingers who are capable of driving to the byline - usually via the chalk of the touchline - to deliver crosses and reach the last line in order to get on the end of them. He doesn't really have those profiles yet in his Tottenham squad, though 90min understands signing is one of their top priorities for the summer window.

There are various talented wide players on Spurs' books at the moment, but they've found it tough to break down deep blocks due to their lack of willingness to take a man on.

The best example is Dejan Kulusevski, who has put up a respectable six goals and two assists in 23 Premier League games this term. But most of his best performances have come when playing in a central role as opposed to on the wing.

In each of Tottenham's last two matches, Kulusevski showed little desire to stretch play before half-time, only to twice come out from the break and create openings that led to goals.

In this sticky spell, Spurs have become a second-half team that need to claw back control rather than a first-half one who set the tone. They can't afford to let sides settle - particularly at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium - and more support is needed from wide in order to open space up.

The defensive transitions, good heavens the defensive transitions

Guglielmo Vicario, Micky van de Ven
Vicario and Van de Ven have come to Tottenham's rescue too often / Nigel French/Allstar/GettyImages

A young team going from one extreme philosophy to the other is bound to make mistakes. There are bound to be chinks in the armour, bound to be flaws in the design.

It shouldn't be too much to ask for Tottenham not to find themselves defending like a Bundesliga-meme team every time they cede possession, though.

Without the superhuman pace of Micky van de Ven and Fantastic Four flexibility of Guglielmo Vicario, Spurs would be in a lot more danger than they already have been this season. There's no need to have so many players high up the pitch if they're not even effective at breaking the other team down - a self-own that played directly into Wolves' hands on Saturday.

Maybe this is just a point of principle from Postecoglou, a longer-running theme of the high-line tactic when down to nine men against Chelsea in November. Maybe his ideal vision of Tottenham is about the tweaks to how they look in possession but their shape out of it remains the same. Whether it bears fruit in the long run or not, it's definitely going to cost them in the short-term.

But how much does that really matter?

The mental reminders

Rebuilding teams always have blips

This too shall pass / Alex Pantling/GettyImages

Progress isn't always linear in football. There are so many elements that randomise results. How often have you heard a variant of the phrase 'we've played better but lost on other days'?

Tottenham are now the victims for their incredible and fun start under Postecoglou. It significantly raised their expectations - very few had them finishing in the top six let alone the top four before the season began.

If Spurs continued at their early-season pace, they would have been challenging for the title and heading for a points tally in the eighties. It wasn't realistic to expect that to last, but the ceiling for Postecoglou's vision is at least clear.

So do even the most talented of top-four challengers

Antonio Conte, Heung-Min Son
Conte's Tottenham of 2021/22 rallied at the last to secure an ultimately deserved top-four spot / Ryan Pierse/GettyImages

Ah, a personal favourite. The trope of 'this is the worst top-four race ever' gets bandied around every year. Within a couple of weeks when Manchester United are back in striking distance, it'll rear its head again.

This is just the reality of a division splitting into sections. If a fan of any given side sat down before a season and predicted how well their team would do game-by-game, they would likely say they have enough to win any game at home and be competitive away. That's not the reality for anyone bar the title contenders, though.

Tottenham being in this position to fight for a Champions League spot is admirable, but they will need a quick evolution - not too dissimilar to the one under Antonio Conte in 2021/22 when the chips appeared to be down in mid-February - if they are to qualify.

Reduce expectations of reaching the Champions League

Tottenham Hotspur v AC Milan: Round of 16 Second Leg - UEFA Champions League
Tottenham aren't strangers to the Champions League / Francesco Scaccianoce/GettyImages

Why the rush to reach the Champions League, though? Sure, it'd be the consequence and result of winning games and stringing results together, but Tottenham should not view qualification as a holy grail or the be-all-and-end-all.

You only need to look at that Conte team of 2021/22. Spurs were convinced this was going to accelerate their rebuild at the expense of Arsenal, but instead it just reversed those roles and the Gunners have benefitted from carefully planning for the long-term.

That's not to say this Tottenham won't progress by playing in next season's Champions League, but it won't be the divine solution to Postecoglou's process, repeatedly insisting he's trying to build a sustainable culture of winning rather than the quick-fix hopes of his predecessors.

Tottenham are still moving in the right direction this season and this blip will only undermine progress if they don't learn from their mistakes. An experienced and self-appointed problem-solver like Postecoglou isn't ignorant to the challenge ahead.