Wikimedia Commons / Кирилл Венедиктов
Wikimedia Commons / Кирилл Венедиктов (Kirill Venediktov)

‘Common sense’: How Postecoglou has electrified Tottenham – while being the most down-to-earth guy in football

Where are the unique touches of madness which make a genius? Or the preposterous ‘motivational’ cartoons scribbled on whiteboards pre-match? Even the presence of an aggressive ‘this is war, let’s kill ‘em’ mentality?

The temptation to find what Ange Postecoglou is doing differently with Tottenham this season is spellbinding. But there isn’t a wacky, simple answer. No Mikel Arteta-esque: “close your eyes and dream with me”, or Leicester 2015/16’s infatuation with eating beetroot. Why are we searching? Because despite doing absolutely nothing unique, since the start of the season, Tottenham under Postecoglou have been electric.

Although Mauricio Pochettino was unreservedly loved at Spurs, even his system did not compare to Postecoglou’s fierce, daring attitude, in which high pressing without the ball makes Spurs just as dangerous as in possession

Every type of manager has had their shot in the Premier League: arrogant, and quiet; foreign, and so British as to be termed ‘Brexit’; tactical, and brutish. But never have we seen a middle-aged Australian who says ‘mate’ every other sentence and is yet adored not just by the Spurs faithful, but by the rest of the league too.

Tactically, it could scarcely be easier for Postecoglou to please the supporters. According to fans, having someone who understands the ‘Tottenham DNA’ is crucial. Not only are Tottenham freed up, they’re winning as well, unbeaten in their first 10 matches prior to a bizarre nine-man spectacle against Chelsea. In that game, Postecoglou adopted an offside trap not dissimilar to something you would see in a rugby match.

When compared to Antonio Conte, the drab five-at-the-back seems like a distant nightmare, and full-backs Destiny Udogie and Pedro Porro are playing like wingers.

Although Mauricio Pochettino was unreservedly loved at Spurs, even his system did not compare to Postecoglou’s fierce, daring attitude, in which high pressing without the ball makes Spurs just as dangerous as in possession.

As for the elephant in the room, obviously Tottenham would be better with Harry Kane. On track to score over 50 goals in the Bundesliga, with 15 in his first 10 matches, he barely broke stride in adapting to his new climate. If that’s not enough, despite loving the responsibility of captaincy so far, shoehorning Son Heung-Min into the striker role may not work long-term: there’s often a reason wingers-turned-forwards rarely work (think Timo Werner and Marcus Rashford).

Whether it was through managerial tactics or Kane himself, his frustration with staying high up the pitch (something that used to be a given before Cruyff/Guardiola) led to him dropping deep and playmaking. Clearly, it didn’t impact his goal record, but with Richarlison, and now Son filling in up front, the aggressive, high press works brilliantly without needing to ‘carry’ a goal scorer. On the whole, losing Kane isn’t anything other than a travesty, but it certainly has its benefits, not least for Postecoglou moulding players to his vision.

Of course, there are problems with Ange and his new-look side. The better a new, exhilarating team does, the quicker the ecstasy of fresh, fearless football becomes an all-consuming headache that makes you scared of losing every weekend – when at the beginning there’s no pressure. This could stop Ange’s all-out boldness from lasting forever – if not as a result of the manager himself, then perhaps due to a nervous energy trickling down from the fans to the players.

Moreover, Tottenham’s squad depth is criminally low for a top-four team. There are seven players that quite simply must play every game – a significant issue, which supporters will hope is rectified in the January transfer window. However, under Daniel Levy, signings are not guaranteed. Meanwhile, injuries to key players James Maddison and Micky Van de Ven have dented morale.

All of Postecoglou’s teams have played in a similar way, generally a 4-3-3 of sorts – high-pressing and unrelenting. Having previously said while at Celtic: “Apparently I’ve got one simple approach, a Plan A”, whether he steadfastly stays the course when Tottenham are tested remains to be seen. It will certainly be an assessment of his character, for better or for worse.

However, there are so many things going flawlessly for them. Avoiding European football last year has proven to be perfect for Tottenham. There is even less pressure, and going out early in the Carabao Cup, albeit humiliatingly, has allowed the team to focus totally on the league.

Furthermore, the high line will demolish weaker teams, and therefore allow rotation of functional players, like Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, Ben Davies, and Eric Dier.

And so, although Spurs have begun to face their great problem: the need to change and adapt when things inevitably go wrong, Postecoglou has managed to ride the early season ‘wave’ all the way up to Christmas. The straight-talking Ange has lit up the league, but more comprehensive verdicts should be held off until the end of the season.


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