Nuno Espírito Santo’s tactics with Tottenham. What went wrong?

November 01, 2021

by xfcedi

Nuno Espírito Santo fired by Tottenham

Eduard Bănulescu

Nuno Espírito Santo is no longer the manager of Tottenham Hotspur. The Portuguese manager was relieved of his duties today. The firing doesn’t come as a surprise. However, Spurs’ poor run of form did. What were Nuno Espírito Santo’s tactics employed at Tottenham and why did they fail to work.

Nuno Espírito Santo’s appointment as Tottenham manager

Santo’s appointment as manager of Tottenham came as a shock. His tactics had been successful at Wolverhampton Wanderers. However, Wolves were known as a highly defensive unit. And, Nuno Santo was deemed not to be the man to carry them to further success when his contract expired.

Furthermore, Tottenham had suffered under the management of Jose Mourinho. Players like Harry Kane looked anxious to leave a sinking ship. Then there was club president Daniel Levy’s promise of employing a manager that favored attacking football.

It was later revealed that Tottenham had tried to sign a number of managers, including Antonio Conte. Only when their attempts fell through, they opted to negotiate with Nuno Espírito Santo. This was a marriage that seemed doomed from the start.

Nuno Espírito Santo’s tactics and philosophy at Tottenham

Nuno Espírito Santo earned a reputation as a pragmatist. His Wolves achieved more than had been expected by being defensively responsible and efficient in attack. From the start, this meant that the talent of players like Harry Kane, Son Heung-Min, or Lucas Moura was not utilized to its full potential.

At Wolves, Nuno often played in a 3-4-3 formation. At Tottenham, Nuno’s tactics usually revolved around a 4-2-3-1 formation that seemed even more defensive than pundits had expected. The focus was on overloading the midfield area. Attackers rarely pushed forward, doubling central defenders in their parking duties.

Full-backs, Emerson Royal and Sergio Reguilon looked to provide width. However, their role was almost strictly a defensive one. The team tried to build patiently through the middle of the field. But, this meant that Pierre Hojberg and Eric Dier, essentially two defensive midfielders, took the most touches in construction. On the other hand, Lucas Moura and Tanguy Ndombele, two of the team’s more creative players were often starved for opportunities to lead the charge. Although Spurs often had 60% possession, they rarely seemed to know what to do with it.

Tottenham’s defensive vulnerabilities

Tottenham’s slow tempo and patient approach never seemed to suit this group of players. After all, this is still a team largely created by Mauricio Pochettino. With him and at their best, Spurs were a pacey attacking unit, that pressed relentlessly and deliberately.

Under Nuno Santo, Tottenham struggled to keep clean sheets. This is due to several factors. Individual errors certainly played a part. However, the manager’s insistence on his team defending low and pressing without much intensity further worsened the situation.

Not getting the best out of Harry Kane

Harry Kane, famously, requested to leave the club at the end of last season. A deal could not be reached and the England captain stayed put. A prodigious goal scorer, Kane suffered under Nuno’s guidance. As in Jose Mourinho’s tenure, the player was tasked with a supporting role that had him playing in a retreated position.

Kane has scored only one goal and one assist for Tottenham this season. Even during Mourinho’s time at the club, Kane could be relied on to provide a large number of assists. This season, given his track record, it often felt like Nuno was unable to utilize the forward’s undeniable talents.

It didn’t help that Tottenham has still not found a way to reinvigorate Dele Alli, once Europe’s greatest young player. Dele had a good start to the season, but his performances soon fizzled out. He was rarely featured in Nuno Santo’s team in recent weeks.

What next for Nuno Espírito Santo and Tottenham?

Many saw the collaboration between Nuno Espírito Santo and Tottenham ending badly and quickly. They were right! Perhaps, indeed, it was a poor decision from the start. Also, maybe, this highlights the club’s poor decision-making in recent years.

Nuno Espírito Santo has accrued an impressive resume. His tenure at Tottenham may have ended in disappointment. But, it’s hard to believe that many other teams won’t be willing to take a risk on the Portuguese manager in the future.

Meanwhile, Tottenham has made another false step in their pursuit of finding a suitable replacement for Mauricio Pochettino. The team is supposedly aggressively pursuing Antonio Conte as manager. It remains to be seen if the Italian will be interested in taking on this difficult task.

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