Hugo Lloris Is Back to His Best Thanks to His Simplified Role at Spurs

Mourinho singled out Lloris for praise after Spurs' victory over Chelsea
Mourinho singled out Lloris for praise after Spurs' victory over Chelsea / Pool/Getty Images

The age-old question 'who'd be a goalkeeper?' takes on new dimensions when it comes to evaluating the relative merits of the world's best shot-stoppers.

The ruling consensus is that Alisson Becker is the best in the world at the moment, and rightly so - it's incredibly rare to see a keeper who is elite at both distributing the ball and the fundamentals of goalkeeping. Within the specific framework of that all-conquering Liverpool side, there arguably wouldn't have been a contemporary player between the sticks that improved them more.

But what happens when things start to change, when the structure of the defence begins to melt away, when there is much more demanded of you as a goalkeeper? Well, ask Ederson.

The esteem in which a goalkeeper is held can change very quickly
The esteem in which a goalkeeper is held can change very quickly / JUAN MABROMATA/Getty Images

Before Alisson's meteoric rise, the consensus previously was that Ederson was the standout goalkeeper in the Premier League, and perhaps the very best in the world. But, as even a casual Premier League fan could tell you, City in the last two years have become increasingly easier to get at.

In a team where the line always feels a smidge too high and where a well-weighted ball between the centre backs can wreak all kinds of havoc, compared to the formidable defence of the 100-point season, Ederson has found himself coming off his line much more often, and in much more perilous situations.

The result? His reputation has suffered, and who knows if the same will happen to Alisson with the post-Virgil van Dijk Liverpool now much more exposed to defensive breaches. The same certainly happened to Hugo Lloris.

It's been a tough few years for Lloris until his recent resurgence
It's been a tough few years for Lloris until his recent resurgence / GLYN KIRK/Getty Images

Lloris had a reputation as one of the most consistent goalkeepers of the current era, long before he signed for Tottenham in the summer of 2012. But from about 2017 onwards, something had changed with the Frenchman, and fans very quickly sought to move on from him after a series of errors stretching over multiple seasons.

There were a multiplicity of factors which helped explain why Lloris lacked so much confidence over the last three years - from his legal issues in late 2018, to injury, to the shame of a blooper on the biggest stage of them all in the World Cup final.

But what was also happening from 2017 onwards was something far more meaningful at Tottenham - Mauricio Pochettino's maniacal press was beginning to exhaust itself, with chairman Daniel Levy refusing to sanction a desperately-needed overhaul of the defence.

One of the most embarrassing goals Spurs have ever conceded
One of the most embarrassing goals Spurs have ever conceded / GLYN KIRK/Getty Images

Spurs' xGA (expected goals against) went from 33.2 in the 2017/18 season, where they clinched a creditable third-place finish, to 45.3 in 2018/19 (via FbRef), where they barely creaked their way to Champions League football.

You know what happened after that - that game against Bayern, Brighton running riot against a demoralised Spurs side, and Pochettino being told to pack his bags. Throughout, Lloris conceded some truly bizarre goals, the nadir being a defensive mix-up where Kieran Trippier was able to pass it into his own net at Stamford Bridge.

Watching some of Lloris' mistakes back, you can't help but feel that his own competence was not the sole factor at play, with a tired Spurs squad unable to protect their goalkeeper from playing himself into trouble from the Premier League's new crop of bright young things - his mistake to let Danny Ings in against Southampton last season, and indeed Trippier's own goal, show a goalkeeper who is uncomfortable with using both feet, but also a defence willing to put him under pressure.

The truth is that Lloris can be a bit of an awkward goalkeeper to fit into an uncoordinated defence. His outstanding reflexes are by far and away his greatest asset, and now that David De Gea is beginning to show some signs of wear and tear, quite possibly the best in the world.

But his issues with communication and distribution are married with a lack of strength and capability when it comes to commanding his area. In essence, you can't give him too much to think about.

However, something quite interesting has happened at Spurs, and it's something that has caused Lloris to bounce back from the limbo that Ederson and De Gea find themselves in - his role has, inadvertently or otherwise, been made much easier.

This has everything to do with the system that Jose Mourinho's Spurs side currently find themselves playing in. It doesn't need much explanation - they are top of the table but sit in a deep, compact shape and have slightly more possession than the much-derided Arsenal side. They have moved on ball playing centre backs like Juan Foyth in favour of less mobile, stronger defenders like Eric Dier, and as a consequence are behind only Burnley and Sheffield United for aerial duels won in the league (via FbRef).

The first consequence of this is that there is much less of an onus on Lloris to progress play with his passing. He can choose a shorter, more conservative ball in a defence which isn't looking to push up the pitch, and indeed, his 6.10 short passes per 90 minutes this season show a marked increase in simple passes compared the last three seasons.

In a broader sense, however, what this transformed defence allows him to do is accept a pared-down role where he has less to focus on. With the two giants Dier and Joe Rodon happy to take away much aerial responsibility from Lloris, he can simply focus on what he does best - using his incredible reaction speed and concentration to tip the balance of a tight game for his team.

Lloris helped to make the difference against the Baggies
Lloris helped to make the difference against the Baggies / Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

We've seen it in Spurs' last three victories (all of which saw them keep a clean sheet) - against West Brom he got an incredible hand to Karlan Grant's far-post header, in the famous win against Manchester City he stopped a late close-range chance for Ruben Dias, and in the draw with Chelsea which took Spurs top of the league for a second successive weekend he was equal to Mason Mount's piledriver with the clock ticking down.

Let's be clear - this trade-off works for both parties. With less ball movement in the Spurs side, and centre backs who aren't constantly trying to break lines with their passing, Spurs even in their organised shape have to accept that they are under a certain amount of pressure in any given game, even if that pressure mainly comes via the aerial route.

Lloris can be the man that makes that all work, not by trying to be everything for Spurs, but by trying to stop everything that comes his way, and being the best version of himself in the process.