Are Tottenham justifiable favourites for 4th?

Since their impressive performance in the 1-1 draw at rivals Arsenal two weeks ago, Tottenham have moved ahead of Liverpool in the market to become favourites for 4th place. Mauricio Pochettino’s team had largely flown under the radar up to that point, with most media coverage revolving around Harry Kane’s supposed drought and how they consistently field the youngest starting XI in the Premier League.

Casting a glance back over their 12 league games to date, our Fair Table actually believes Tottenham to be 3 points worse off in the Actual Table. It even goes so far as to suggest they should be one of only two undefeated teams in the division, along with Manchester City. In reality they have only lost once, of course, falling to a narrow 1-0 defeat at Manchester United back on the opening day:

Tottenham_Actual-Results-vs.-Fair-Results
A comparison of Tottenham’s Actual Results/Points and Fair Results/Points in 2015/16

An argument could be made that Arsenal deserved to win the aforementioned North London Derby, based on the momentum swing in the last quarter of the contest, but Tottenham’s performance to that point of the game would have made a defeat incredibly harsh. Otherwise, their matches have largely been tightly contested affairs, with the incisive performance at Bournemouth being the only time we believe them to have been truly worthy of a winning margin of more than 1 goal.

Given this belief, are Tottenham’s performance metrics unsustainable for a team with ambitions of a top 4 finish?

To investigate we can look at their current numbers against the ones from their 2013/14 and 2014/15 campaigns, in addition to those of the teams who finished 3rd and 4th in those seasons (Arsenal/Manchester United and Chelsea/Arsenal respectively):

Tottenham_Hotspur-15-16_vs
A comparison of Tottenham’s 15/16 stats and those from 13/14 and 14/15

The thing that instantly jumps out here is just how strong Tottenham have been defensively, with their concession of Goals verging on the “best” numbers posted by the 3rd/4th place teams from the past two seasons. Further still, their concession of Great and Good Chances is actually significantly better than those teams, almost verging into “too good to be true” territory. They score less impressively on the less important metrics (Attempts, Corners and Key Entries), but defending seems to be their key strength overall.

Not that their offensive numbers are at all bad, though, with only Great Chances falling outside of the bounds of what would usually be necessary to achieve a 3rd or 4th place finish in the division. Creativity still does appear to be an issue they need to address and one big question for Pochettino is if he is able to remedy this without sacrificing too much of their solidity, should he even need to at all.

Another question that might be asked of the Argentinian is if his trademark high-energy, high-pressing style can be maintained over the course of a whole season. A look into his time in the English Premier League so far can attempt to answer that one:

Mauricio-Pochettino
A comparison of Mauricio Pochettino’s half-season performance metrics since coming to England

The main takeaway from these tables is that during his time in England, Pochettino’s teams have scored and conceded more during the 2nd half of a season. The big outliers in the second graph were actually the number of Great Chances created and conceded, but this data does suggest that some regression to the mean will not be catastrophic for their chances of a top 4 finish.

In conclusion we believe that it is difficult to argue with the market positioning Tottenham as favourites for 4th and that a current price of 2.5 still retains some value. We will focus on their main rivals in a follow-up piece soon, with particular attention paid to Chelsea, Liverpool and Leicester.

Rich Huggan