Nuno Espirito Santo has compared Tottenham Hotspur to a boxer as they look to improve ahead of Sunday’s north London derby at Arsenal.
Spurs have gone from not conceding a single goal in their first three matches in the Premier League to conceding 10 in their past four games in all competitions.
They have been vulnerable from set pieces and Espirito Santo has previously stated that he wants his team to be mentally stronger and able to handle adversity.
When asked how that can be achieved, he used the example of a boxer, which is particularly apt as the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium hosts Anthony Joshua’s heavyweight title defence against Oleksandr Usyk on Saturday night.
“First of all, [to fix it we need] the confidence. That we have. That we must have,” he said. “Just to use a simple example of boxing, with people talking about the big occasion on Saturday night.
“You cannot spend all the round throwing punches. Sometimes you have to protect yourself. If you get a punch, instead of opening your guard, you should close your guard and respect that your opponent also has these moments.
“So using this simple situation gives us a lot of what we should do. So we are organised, we are stable, we are solid. No matter what happens we must keep on doing.
“We are playing good football. We are looking threatening and looking for the goal. You score, you have to go again. So it takes times but this is the process.”
New advisory limits put in place this season make it slightly more difficult to train for set pieces although those limits have been put forward after a 2019 study found professional footballers were more likely to suffer from neurodegenerative brain disease.
Professional clubs are advised to limit ‘high force’ headers – those following a long pass of more than 35 metres or from crosses, corners and free-kicks – to 10 per training week.
Espirito Santo admitted he does not personally count the amount of headers in training at Tottenham – other staff members do that – but he is concerned about the effects in the long term.
When asked whether set piece training had become more difficult with the new advisory limits, he said: “Good question. That’s why we have training sessions without nobody seeing us.
“I agree [with the the limits]. I’m concerned with the situation of dementia and what heading the ball can cause.
“It’s a big concern for us but it’s part of the game. Honestly I will not lie to you. I don’t count how many times our players head the ball. Maybe I will get myself in trouble for this, but football is jumping, heading, it’s part of the game.”
Spurs dropped a two-goal lead in midweek at Wolves but showed character to come back and win the penalty shoot-out in the Carabao Cup third round match at Molineux.
Espirito Santo hopes it is something the players can build on, because he acknowledges the mental fragility certainly exists.
“It’s real, it’s something that is happening to us. The penalties, I think it’s something we prepared very well. The boys prepared the day before. They spent a lot of time. They were very careful and we had that moment organised because it could eventually happen,” he said.
“So we tried to prevent and prepare it. In terms of what you mention – it’s real. Even Wednesday, we were in front of the score but the moment that we concede we didn’t react well.
“We felt a little bit disorganised. We let the opponent not with real danger but having the sensation we were on the back foot so that’s something we must improve.
“It happened before and we were not able to react. Wednesday was better because in the second-half in the beginning we could easily put the game to bed. So that momentum was ours but it’s something that we must improve on because it happened in the first minute and you still have a long way in the game to go.
“So we are working on that aspect, not only the mental aspect of the situation but how to react as a team.”
While the Spurs boss would not be drawn on how to close the gap to the top four, he explained that he is trying to build something with these Tottenham players.
“I’m sorry I cannot answer so well because I only think on a daily process. I don’t compare us as a club to anyone else. Each and every club has its own decisions to make. We make ours and we are building,” he said.
“The best way to build and to reach where we want to be is we focus on what we have to do today, tomorrow and the day after and so on and so on. Don’t use any kind of comparison to yourself. You must create your own philosophy in where you want to be.
“It’s very early days and I always say from day one, what guides us is not the table. What guides is not even a concern of where other teams are in the table.
“That’s not a problem for us, but Sunday is a different game. It’s not only the points. It’s not only the performance. It’s a different game for us. It’s a special game for us. I think the players are aware, we are aware, our fans are aware. Everything changes, the atmosphere on Sunday is apart from all that is happening.”
He added: “My confidence and my belief is based on the quality of the players that we have. It’s not too much on what they did before. It’s what we want to do in the game.
“Our decisions are not made of records that players have against special opponents or different opponents. It’s made of what we want for the team on Sunday.”
Espirito Santo will have Lucas Moura back in contention for the north London derby after he returned from injury and that will give the Spurs boss more ways to affect the match.
“What truly helps is that you have more options. As many options as you have, the more solutions you can provide,” he explained.
“We didn’t have, not only in attack but in defence, we had some problems. We had to adapt after the international break.
“What I believe is having all the squad, all the players available, gives you more options in terms of how you want to start, what options we have to change, eventually creating different plans because the players are what can change the dynamic of the game.
“Having Lucas back gives you another option, and a very good option because Lucas is a very talented player.”
Source by Football London