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Ange Postecoglou’s first Tottenham season analysed as Paul Merson believes ‘he

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It has been a rollercoaster first 12 months for Tottenham boss Ange Postecoglou, as he approaches a year in the job.

A fifth-placed finish in his debut campaign secured Europa League qualification meaning European football will return to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium next season, while he has significantly improved Spurs’ style of play despite the loss of the club’s all-time leading scorer Harry Kane.

But having missed out on the Champions League following five losses in their last seven games, and with the club’s trophy drought now standing at 16 years, has Postecoglou’s first season in charge been a success?

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Watch the highs and lows from Ange Postecoglou’s first season in charge of Tottenham

Sky Sports’ analyses that question through reporter insight, pundit opinion and a look at the statistics…

Reporter Notebook: Spurs in very good hands under Ange

Tottenham Reporter Notebook

Sky Sports News reporter Michael Bridge:

Don’t tell Ange Postecoglou he would’ve taken fifth at the start of the season. It was a question put to him a few times before the final game at Sheffield United. “I only settle for first, mate.”

Such ambition should put smiles on supporters’ faces who witnessed plenty of ups and downs during the campaign. The truth is that fifth is a more than respectable first season for Postecoglou. As he himself acknowledged, the club finished eighth the season before and had the best striker in the world to call upon. Postecoglou didn’t have that luxury. In fact, he lost Kane less than 48 hours before their opening game at Brentford.

Their fantastic 10-game unbeaten start to the season took many by surprise and there was no doubt, the 58-year-old had brought the feel-good factor back. So much so, he even described the stadium like a nightclub after several victories, the stadium certainly turned into a party atmosphere.

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Michael Bridge looks at the highs and lows of Ange Postecoglou’s first season in charge of Tottenham Hotspur

I spent most Friday afternoons covering Tottenham and it was clear: Postecoglou was a breath of fresh air. He said everything fans wanted to hear and in his own way. Humorous soundbites clipped-up over social media. Supporters enjoyed every second after a tough year for Antonio Conte and two caretaker managers. Three successive Manager of the Month awards got everyone talking. The new signings were flourishing, James Maddison and Heung-Min Son were forming a strong partnership. Tottenham – what is going on?

“Let them dream, mate”, was the Australian’s response when asked if Tottenham could realistically challenge for the title after going five points clear at the top of the table after victory over Crystal Palace. In true Tottenham fashion, though, a significant speed bump disrupted the ride and that November night at home to Chelsea will live long in the memory as Spurs lost 4-1 to their London rivals in a chaotic game.

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Relive a Premier League classic as Spurs’ unbeaten start to the season was ended by Chelsea in a chaotic London derby

An injury crisis and suspensions led to several defeats and Spurs slid down the table. To Postecoglou’s credit, the message remained the same – “This is just the beginning” – and it gave supporters encouragement, but some would start to question the amount and nature of goals conceded. The head coach, however, wasn’t for turning – it was his way and his way only.

Reflecting on his first season, the positives clearly outweigh any negatives. New signings Guglielmo Vicario, Micky van de Ven and Destiny Udogie excelled, while the style of football supporters craved returned as fears the club would go dramatically backwards after Kane’s departure didn’t materialise. European football is returning and there is a clear plan collectively from the boardroom, recruitment department and coaching staff.

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Speaking at James Maddison’s charity golf day for the Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospice, comedian and Spurs fan Michael McIntyre says Ange Postecoglou is ‘building’ at Tottenham

Questions remain if the style of play has either been worked out or simply disrupted due to key injuries and loss of form from individuals. Goals conceded, particularly from set pieces, must improve. Early cup exits were also disappointing. It will be interesting to see how the squad copes with the gruelling Europa League schedule, but Tottenham simply had to return to Europe.

Perhaps the biggest concern came when Postecoglou arrived furiously into the post-match press conference after the 2-0 home defeat to Manchester City – a loss many Spurs fans welcomed due to their insistence they simply couldn’t stomach their arch-rivals Arsenal winning the title. Days later, he described the night as “the worst he’d experienced as a football manager” but did go on to acknowledge he perhaps didn’t fully consider the severity of the rivalry with Arsenal.

Once again, it was another press conference where you sat and listened to one of the most engaging coaches in the league and this time thawed any tension between head coach and supporters. This press conference ended with a thank you to all the Tottenham-based journalists for the past season. There was even time for him to have a joke with me about my love of Benidorm!

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Ange Postecoglou jokes with reporters after being asked about Tottenham’s end of season trip to Melbourne

It’s clear there is so much work to do, but Postecoglou’s insistence this is still only the beginning and his indication he knows exactly where and what Tottenham need to do to significantly strengthen, the supporters should feel reassured, despite, a few rocky patches, the club are in very good hands.

Merson Says: Ange doesn’t get next year

Merson Says Ange Postecoglou

Sky Sports’ Paul Merson:

“After where I said they’d come it’s been outstanding, because I didn’t see them finishing in the top half without Harry Kane. I thought they were so reliant on him and then a mate of mine text me and said, ‘We’ll be much better without him’. I thought they were at times.

“But the squad isn’t big enough. It’s been alright this season – I think they [the fans] have seen a much better improvement in football and the entertainment. I’ve liked watching them as a neutral, but that’s not very good because when you’re watching a team and you like watching them as a neutral that’s telling you there’s going to be goals at either end and they’re a bit open.

“But I don’t think he gets next year. I think the fans this year were alright, ‘It’s been an upgrade. It’s entertaining. We’re playing front-foot football’, but you can’t keep on getting beaten at Fulham away, there away and here away, and they’re getting battered by teams. Sooner or later the fans are going to go, ‘Wait there a minute, we’re not having this’, so that’d be my only problem.

“I think he’s got to understand the mentality of the fans. What he done at Tottenham [in the 2-0 home defeat to Man City] I thought was harsh. I like Ange, I love the way he comes across, but come on mate, this is Arsenal vs Tottenham, I’ve played in enough of them. You’re alright, you’ll go home to your wife but you’re not sitting in an office and you haven’t got 60 to 70 Arsenal fans that are going to ring you every minute of the day for the next six or seven months. So I think he needs to understand that. I don’t know if he was doing that to make him look great and go, ‘Look, I’m really up for it’.

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Tottenham head coach Ange Postecoglou doesn’t hide his frustration after his side were beaten 2-0 by Manchester City

“I think next season some of the players have got to kick on. I think Maddison’s got to kick on – before he got injured he was outstanding, but after he got injured I don’t think he brought anything to the party. I think they need a centre-forward. I like Son out on the wing where he can cut inside or make inside runs but when you play him up front you take away everything.

“The centre-half (Micky Van de Ven) is one of the best in the world, or will be, but he looked 22 at Newcastle [the 4-0 loss in April]. When he played against (Alexander) Isak he didn’t really have the solutions but that was his age. Because he’s been so good, against Isak when it went bad, he didn’t know what to do and I watched and I thought, ‘You know what, you’re only 22’. He’s still so young, so I think he’ll be very good but I think next season is a big season for him.”

Merse: Ange must prioritise trophy next season

“I think a trophy would be amazing. I think that’s the way he’s got to go. I think it would have helped if they’d finished sixth and got in the Europa Conference League, because a trophy is a trophy. With the way Villa got beaten in this season’s tournament it made West Ham’s achievement a lot bigger. Before we just thought, ‘Oh, whoever gets in that is going to win it’, but that isn’t the case.

“I think if Tottenham win a trophy that’d be amazing. I don’t think they have to get in the top four – I think they’ve got to win a trophy, I really do. I think trophies are the one.

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James Maddison calls on Tottenham fans to ‘be patient’ as they aim to build on last season’s fifth-placed finish. Maddison was speaking as his charity golf day for the Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospice.

“I mean, you get in the top four and you do what Newcastle have done, you’re out by October. Everybody fights to get in it and 80 per cent of the teams getting in it haven’t got a chance of winning it. Really they’re doing it for the money and really it should be for the fans and winning trophies for the fans. So if they can win the League Cup, or something like that, then I think it would be amazing for them, 100 per cent.”

Merse questions Ange’s ‘open’ playing style

“He isn’t playing with any defenders at the back really, is he? Porro really is not a full-back. Udogie is outstanding, honestly outstanding, but they are open. He plays that way.

“I think being manager at Celtic, you turn up at Celtic and you go, ‘You have a shot, we have a shot, and 99 times out of 100, we’re going to win because we’ve got much better players’. That’s not the case in the Premier League. You’ve got to be a bit cuter, set up to make sure the other teams don’t play and I just think a few times they’ve been too open, even against the lesser teams.

“I watched the Burnley game at the end of the season and from the goalkeeper to the other end they just went through Tottenham like a knife through butter, and you’re sitting there like that’s a bit easy for a top team.

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from the Premier League clash between Tottenham and Burnley

“I’ve got a feeling next season, but I think they’ve got to concentrate on one thing. I think top four, Chelsea are going to be there, Man Utd can only get better – top four’s hard now.

“I like the man, but he needs to understand the Arsenal-Tottenham situation and respect the fans. I was quite shocked because he doesn’t need Arsenal to be winning the league on his watch, that’s what I couldn’t work out. I was thinking, the last thing you need is Arsenal to win the league in your first year because that will ruin you. You’ll be finished!”

The stats behind Ange’s impact – and where he must improve

Ange Postecoglou Gestures As He Leaves The Pitch At Full Time
Image:
Postecoglou gestures to the Spurs away fans after the defeat at Liverpool

Sky Sports’ Declan Olley:

Following May’s 4-2 loss at Liverpool – a fourth consecutive defeat for Tottenham – Ange Postecoglou applauded the travelling support before pointing at his head then his heart before pointing back at the away fans (as pictured above).

It appeared to be his way of saying trust the process.

There is no doubt his ‘Angeball’ philosophy has delivered the “fast, attacking style of play” that Spurs chairman Daniel Levy wanted after years of dull and uninspiring football.

Tottenham 2023/24 Stats

Spurs are now the entertainers. They scored 74 goals – their joint-second most in a Premier League season – and are dominating the ball under Postecoglou averaging 62 per cent possession, with only champions Manchester City averaging more in the Premier League this season (66 per cent).

Tottenham’s front-foot approach has also seen them press extremely effectively recording the best passes per defensive action (8.8 PPDA) in the division, while they won 396 high turnovers – once again, only champions Man City recorded more (417).

Their positivity under the Australian is further reflected by their passes completed in the final third, with the figure this season (5,421) nearly 80 per cent better when compared to last term (3,017).

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Ange Postecoglou loses his cool with his Spurs players in the defeat Chelsea as he urges them to ‘pass it forwards’

But Postecoglou’s all-out approach – which saw Spurs not draw a home game (W13 L6) for the first time in a league campaign – has come at a cost.

Tottenham are vulnerable at the back having kept just three clean sheets in their last 29 Premier League games, with their total of seven clean sheets the fewest of the top eight teams this season.

A real problem has been set-pieces, and, as much as Postecoglou “doesn’t see it as an issue”, it clearly needs addressing over the summer.

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Before the Chelsea defeat, Tottenham boss Ange Postecoglou stated several times that he wasn’t concerned about set pieces but could he be regretting those words?

Tottenham conceded 16 goals from set-piece situations (excluding penalties) in the Premier League this season, with only Nottingham Forest (23) and relegated duo Sheffield United (19) and Luton (19) shipping more.

Spurs are also conceding the first goal in games far too often. In 2024, Tottenham went 1-0 down in 13 of their 18 Premier League games.

Yet, to Postecoglou’s credit, he has instilled a real fighting spirit and belief within his squad as Spurs continually showed their powers of recovery throughout the season. They rescued a club-record 25 points from losing positions in the Premier League this season – only Liverpool (28) came from behind to win more points than them this campaign.

Tottenham’s comeback ability was probably aided by the fact they were fresher than most teams due to their lack of games following early cup exits and without European football.

Spurs played just 41 matches in all competitions – the joint-fewest in the Premier League along with bottom-side Sheffield United – while only the Blades had a higher average time (168hrs 37mins) between games than Spurs (168hrs 3mins).

Postecoglou will not have that luxury next season following their Europa League qualification, and it will be interesting to see the effect of quicker turnarounds between matches.

Nonetheless, it is a headache that the Australian has to be dealing with if Spurs are to take the next step under him after he became the first manager to complete a full season at Tottenham since Mauricio Pochettino in 2018/19.

Indeed, with 73 per cent of Spurs supporters believing his first season was a success in a recent Sky Sports poll, Postecoglou’s Anfield gesture is being reciprocated by the fanbase.