Tottenham: How Ange Postecoglou is ripping up the past to put Spurs back on top

Tottenham: How Ange Postecoglou is ripping up the past to put Spurs back on top

If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results, Ange Postecoglou is nothing if not sane.

Tasked with transforming Tottenham's style of play and culture, the new head coach has kept almost nothing the same since starting work on July 1 and made no secret of his plans to rip up everything he inherited.

“You can't keep doing everything the same and expect a different outcome,” Postecoglou has said. “If you want to change, you have to change.”

The Australian used the word “change”, or a variation, 19 times during his press conference ahead of Saturday's match at Burnley, Spurs's third straight League win, and it is remarkable how different the club already feels to Antonio Conte's bleak final season in charge.

The club signed seven new players over the summer, although teenagers Ashley Phillips and Alejo Veliz are prospects for the future, but of Postecoglou's preferred XI from the last three League games, only Cristian Romero, Heung-min Son and Dejan Kulusevski would have made Conte's best team.

Heung-min Son has been made club captain under the new manager. (AFP via Getty Images)
Heung-min Son has been made club captain under the new manager. (AFP via Getty Images)

Pape Sarr and Yves Bissouma, who now make up Spurs's engine room, feel almost as much like new signings as Guglielmo Vicario, Micky van de Ven, Destiny Udogie, James Maddison and Manor Solomon, who have all made encouraging starts.

Stylistically, Conte and Postecoglou are night and day. The Italian's side sat off opponents in a contain-and-counter approach, and everything went through Harry Kane, to the point where Spurs really did feel like 'the Harry Kane team', and the rest of the players had little in the way of creative freedom.

By contrast, with Kane gone and Postecoglou in, Spurs are now aiming to dominate possession and play high-risk, high-reward passing football from the back, while they never stop trying to get forward.

It is early days, but there is an emerging collectivism, with the goals being shared around, and promising signs across the pitch.

Every outfield player touched the ball in the build-up to Spurs's fifth goal against Burnley, with the move involving an intricate exchange between Sarr and Maddison, before a brilliant assist by Pedro Porro for Son's hat-trick, demonstrating what 'Angeball', as it has been dubbed, is all about.

In an unbeaten League start, Bissouma has been eye-catching as the holding midfielder, a press-resistant dynamo who is unrecognisable from the hesitant player of most of last season. He already feels imperative to the way Postecoglou wants his side to play.

For an England international who finished last season with 19 combined goals and assists in the Premier League, Maddison has still managed to surprise Spurs fans with his quality and is already establishing himself as the creative hub of the side, as well as a charismatic leader.

If Maddison is a surprise, then Postecoglou's work on the defence is even more unexpected. Few believed Porro or Destiny Udogie, who were both recruited as wing-backs for Conte, could be trusted at full-back so soon, let alone in tandem.

Yet the pair were outstanding again at Turf Moor, creating three of the goals and stepping into midfield as inverted full-backs — one the trademarks of Postecoglou's system. Romero was relatively untested in a back four at club level before, but has been imperious alongside Van de Ven.

Postecoglou, who personally appointed a whole new coaching staff, including former interim boss Ryan Mason, has also transformed the dressing-room dynamics, dramatically reducing the age profile of the squad and replacing last season's leadership group with a new set of captains in Son, Maddison and Romero.

James Maddison and Cristian Romero are new vice-captains. (AFP via Getty Images)
James Maddison and Cristian Romero are new vice-captains. (AFP via Getty Images)

Hugo Lloris, the former captain, has been frozen out, Kane is gone and Eric Dier is yet to make the bench. Of last season's leaders, only Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg has featured in the League, but as a substitute, and the Dane was available to leave in the summer.

Postecoglou, himself, has been a breath of fresh air, getting supporters onside with his quick wit, high standards and obvious ambition. Straight-talking and proud, the 58-year-old has already shown an encouraging willingness to shake up a club which appeared to have lost its very sense of self.

If there are reasons for caution, they come in Postecoglou's own warnings about the “infancy” of his project. Spurs may have started well, but the head coach anticipates bumps in the road, which will be all the more severe if Spurs lose key players to injury.

Davinson Sanchez's departure to Galatasaray last night is in some ways exciting, underlining that Postecoglou would rather put his faith in players with a future at the club, namely Phillips, than cling to the past, but it leaves Spurs desperately short of centre-half cover. Losing any of goalkeeper Vicario, Bissouma or Maddison would also make it hard for the team to play Postecoglou's way, and it should not be ignored that his XI for the Carabao Cup defeat to Fulham felt like a major miscalculation, given how desperate supporters are for a cup run.

But as the players celebrated the 5-2 win at Burnley — the kind of scoreline that would have been hard to imagine at Turf Moor under the previous three head coaches — led by their three new captains, Spurs really did feel like a changed club with a bright future, even if there remains a long road ahead.