Avoiding defeat can become an addiction in football. Managers at clubs of varying statures can become obsessed with making sure they do not lose. In principal, this is a good thing, it sounds sounds perfect: ‘of course managers should be desperate not to lose’. This is not always the case, particularly since the change to three points for a win, rather than two as it once was.
To take the point to extreme levels, you could go through a Premier League season unbeaten and still suffer relegation. To be defined as ‘hard to beat’ usually means you draw a lot of games. A match ending in a draw can be a positive outcome depending on match circumstances, the opponent and your own expectations. Avoiding defeat can so often be applauded, but there can be an imbalance between being disposed simply to avoid defeat and gunning for victory.
Draws have been Tottenham’s Mastermind specialist subject at the start of this season, just as they were through the autumn of 2015. Opening day defeat in 2015/16 was followed by an unbeaten spell until mid-December, but a slow start was still bemoaned as the downfall of their title chase. This season, they are the only unbeaten Premier League side and we’ve made it all the way to November. Edging their way towards a North London derby, Spurs are three points behind their local rivals and Manchester City – who sit atop of the table.
Recently, Spurs have suffered three consecutive league draws. Away at West Brom and Bournemouth and at home to Leicester is not the most challenging run of fixtures they will face all season, yet they collected only three points. Indifferent finishing has cost them on occasion, but there have been phases where opportunities to force a win have been missed, too. As obvious as it is, one victory and two defeats would have warranted the three points as well.
That, however, would be treated as two poor results and Spurs’ form would be questioned. Draws in their last three games should demonstrate just as worrying a slump and, should they see lifting the title as a realistic prospect, this cannot be simply pinned on the unavailability of Harry Kane and Toby Alderweireld.
Difficulty finding the net has been the bane of Tottenham’s season so far. Mauricio Pochettino continues to receive plaudits for the work he has done with Spurs, but the beginning of this campaign suggests they may need to be a little more adventurous at times. The visit of Bayer Leverkusen on Wednesday night is a game where defeat would be harmful, yet another 0-0 like two weeks ago would arguably be just as detrimental to the momentum of their campaign. Qualification will not be put in jeopardy, but it will land yet another heavy blow on the confidence of Spurs’ attacking players.
Management is about finding the perfect balance between attack and defence. Pochettino’s Tottenham side are rarely considered negative, their style rarely makes them boring. Unbeaten records, however, are meaningless unless silverware is won. Knowing when to risk defeat for the shot at a victory is often what defines the greatest managers, Pochettino may find himself needing to adapt his ways should the gap continue widen at the top of the Premier League.