Under Mauricio Pochettino, Spurs have improved dramatically in so many ways, though there is still one area of performance that still feels like the old Spurs — performances away from home against the teams around them in the table. The performance at Anfield brought back nasty reminders of the flaws Tottenham still has, and how far they have to go if they really are going to be consistent title challengers.
After multiple knockout performances against big clubs at home, many thought Spurs could finally translate that form away from White Hart Lane. But in 2016-17, that elusive away form has been hard to find. Against the other teams in the top seven after 25 rounds, Spurs end the season with three draws and three losses. Unlike last season, in which Spurs won two games away from home against other teams in the top seven, Pochettino’s men never looked likely to win any of those contests this season, and often needed some good fortune in order to escape with a point.
In Pochettino’s tenure at Spurs, away against teams that finished in the top seven of the Premier League table, his teams have two wins, seven draws and nine losses in those games. In comparable home fixtures, Spurs have seven wins, five draws and three losses, with three games still to play against teams in the current top seven (Everton, Arsenal and Manchester United). So why does this staggering difference in form away from home versus at White Hart Lane continue to grow more and more pronounced with each passing game?
Like with Pep Guardiola, Pochettino wants his teams to play out from the back, even while under an intense press. Against teams that force the issue, such as United, Chelsea and Liverpool, this forces mistakes and catches Spurs out when normally they have such a good shape. Since Spurs play with their fullbacks as auxiliary wingers, they can be hugely susceptible to quick counter-attacks if they lose possession in the wrong areas, especially when they are playing a back four. Pochettino’s back five experiment had to be halted because of injuries, so it’s unknown as to whether that formational tweak would have made dividends against Liverpool, but the basic problem of Spurs not being able to break a press has held over from Pochettino’s first season still remains regardless of the formation. For a team that presses as well as Spurs have done and still do, it’s a bit shocking to see them fail to deal with a press as well as they should.