Have Spurs improved over this season?

Ange Postecoglou
[Getty Images]

Ange Postecoglou says Tottenham are a better side now than when they lost 4-1 at home to Chelsea with nine men on a chaotic Monday night in November.

But are they?

That was Spurs’ first defeat of an outstanding opening to the season, winning eight and drawing two of their first 10 games and riding an extraordinary crest of positivity under their new boss.

Now, seven points off the top four with five games to go, it is not immediately apparent they have improved.

Indeed, given Spurs’ limited involvement in cup competitions including Europe, and rivals Aston Villa storming clear of them despite Europa Conference League commitments, it could be argued they have underperformed this season.

Two caveats before diving into the data.

The first. Pre-Chelsea numbers are based on a 10-game sample size, smaller than the 23 that have come in the period since.

Secondly, one would expect the data to be more positive for the first 10 games given their results.

That being said, the stats do offer some illuminating findings.

Graphic showing defensive stats pre-Chelsea and since Chelsea: Successful passes 522 v 512, Number of shots 17.8 v 14.2, Conversion rate 12.9% to 15.1% and Expected goals 1.78 v 1.77
Numbers show average per game and courtesy of Opta [BBC]

The average number of shots per game is down but that is perhaps not a surprise given the absence for significant periods of Son Heung-min and Richarlison. It has been hard for Postecoglou to name a settled frontline.

However, both the shooting accuracy and shot conversion rate are up, suggesting that Spurs have been more clinical in the intervening period.

Expected goals also remains the same, indicating Spurs continue to create at the same level even if shots are down.

In fact, the problems have not been in attack – rather, the numbers show defensively Spurs have dropped off since 6 November.

They are conceding a similar number of shots each game (almost 13) but their expected goals against has been significantly higher. The save percentage from summer arrival Guglielmo Vicario has also dropped massively from keeping out nearly 82% of shots to just over half.

This implies the chances Spurs are conceding are of higher quality than previously. And if you cannot stop the opposition scoring, winning football matches becomes infinitely more difficult.

Graphic showing defensive stats pre-Chelsea and since Chelsea: Tackle success 63.5% v 60.8%, Shots faced 12.7 v 12.9, Save percentage 81% v 57.8% and Expected goals against 1.27 v 1.84

Last time Spurs faced Chelsea they were flying high and ticking all the boxes. The decline has not been as steep as their league position suggests, but they need to tighten up or Cole Palmer and company will have a feast.