The second Marcos Alonso scored his second and match-winning goal against Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday, thoughts immediately turned to Spurs’ “Wembley hoodoo.” They can’t win at Wembley, because they have only won one of their last 10 games under the arch after the most recent slip-up against Chelsea. How can they be title contenders and win trophies if they can’t get their “Wembley hoodoo” out of their heads?
That would be the easy narrative to latch onto, but Spurs’ “problems” at Wembley are still, at this point, a sample size oddity. But should more results like this one come up, only then may Tottenham actually have a problem in their temporary home.
Last year, Spurs played European matches at Wembley with their domestic fixtures at White Hart Lane. In the Lane’s final season, Tottenham didn’t lose once and only drew twice. On the smaller pitch, their pressing game was even more dynamic which lead to Mauricio Pochettino’s men steamrolling all comers. But at Wembley, where the pitch is much larger, they struggled to implement the same style of play and couldn’t re-adjust, or so the narrative said. Their record at Wembley since the start of last season, one win, four losses and a draw doesn’t really capture what went on in those games, or whether Spurs actually have a problem at Wembley or not.
One of Tottenham’s losses at Wembley was to Monaco, a team that eventually won Ligue 1 and had one of the best collections of young talent on any squad in recent memory. Two of those losses were close losses to Chelsea, where on another day Tottenham would have at least earned a draw, maybe more. The draw was against Gent, a team that Spurs should have walked over, except for a dumb moment by Dele Alli which got him sent off. The only Spurs performance at Wembley of the six that can reasonably be described as bad was the loss to Bayer Leverkusen, a team that finished 10th in the Bundesliga and ended up sacking their coach.
Premier League seasons and their stories are not fully crystallized with six games, and neither is Spurs’ Wembley story. Playing in two different stadiums last season for their home fixtures certainly threw them off, as it would any club in that situation. This does not excuse their poor European performances, but to say that Spurs can’t win at Wembley on the evidence of a six-game stretch is shortsighted and silly. The two matches against Chelsea on top of those will only contribute to the narrative because the scorelines showed defeat, but Tottenham was good enough on both occasions to get a result, especially in the FA Cup semifinal last year.
It’s not a matter of what plagued West Ham at the Olympic Stadium with open seats and the supporters of other teams snapping up tickets. Spurs sold 73,857 tickets against Chelsea, and only 3,000 of them supported the Champions. Their Wembley attendance during European competition last year was stellar, and rumor has it that they may sell out Wembley against Burnley.
Could and should Spurs have played better against a shorthanded Chelsea team? Absolutely. While they dominated the balance of play and possession, they didn’t turn that advantage into good chances on Chelsea’s goal.
xG map for Spurs – Chelsea. Hard to get a better example of what a defense conceding shots (and set plays) but no good chances looks like. pic.twitter.com/TEu0x38fAU
— Caley Graphics (@Caley_graphics) August 20, 2017
In many ways, Spurs are the architects of their own demise at Wembley. They carry the play, but their finishing goes dry and they’re punished severely for the few mistakes they do make. Against Chelsea and Monaco, that can’t happen if Tottenham expects to win. But the majority of teams Spurs will play going forward are not Chelsea or Monaco, both domestically and in Europe. Sure they can’t make the mistakes that they have been making, but at some point, they will start finishing at a better rate and opponents won’t be as lucky with their finishing as they have been as well.
In many ways then, their upcoming game against Burnley is defining for their immediate future. The Clarets have a notable allergy to winning away from Turf Moor, despite what happened at Stamford Bridge on the opening weekend of the season. This is a team that Tottenham should beat and beat comfortably, “Wembley hoodoo” or not. If they can beat them, and show the form that defined Tottenham during last season, then they should be back on track.
However, if they don’t perform well, or another one of the classic Spurs performances of “dominate but don’t win” comes around, then and only then will the talk of a Wembley hoodoo be real and something to be legitimately concerned about.
Until then, it is as most every Premier League talking point is early in a season: a narrative with little evidence to back it up.
But, as the saying goes, “Once is an accident, twice is a trend.”
If Spurs slip at Wembley again, maybe then the “Wembley hoodoo” will become something more than just an overplayed narrative.