For a period of time, Hugo Lloris was considered to be one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League. It was generally accepted that he was up there along with David de Gea, Petr Čech and Thibaut Courtois as the best the league had to offer between the sticks.
The €15million Tottenham Hotspur paid Lyon back in 2012 for the French No.1 looked to be a bargain. And he appeared to be ideally suited to the way Mauricio Pochettino, who was appointed as Spurs boss in the summer of 2014, wanted to play.
There was an adjustment period, of course, with Pochettino needing a season to really put his stamp on the team. His first campaign in charge at White Hart Lane saw Spurs concede 53 goals. Using understat.com, you see that the opposition created high quality chances, worth 57.04 expected goals against (xGA), versus Tottenham that season.
Despite conceding a high number of goals, they still managed to ‘outperform’ their expected goals (xG) against numbers, largely thanks to Lloris.
It was in the following seasons that the French shot-stopper really started to build his reputation.
The next campaign saw Spurs conceded just 35 goals, 20 fewer than Pochettino’s debut season at the helm. Of course, the arrival of Toby Alderweireld helped shore up the defence but once again Spurs outperformed their xGA (35 to 37.28) for the season; only ever so slightly, but they still managed it.
Last season followed a similar pattern. Spurs, as a team, were much more mean defensively, conceding just 26 goals. They again outperformed their expected numbers, this time by 7.78 goals. It might not seem like a lot but that could have potentially earned them an extra nine points.
But now there are signs Lloris is no longer as reliable as he used to be. There had always been question marks over whether he was too erratic and reactive, but his ability between the sticks often shut people up. It’s been a different story this season, though, and more people are now asking whether Spurs need to start looking for a new long-term No.1.
Lloris is still only 31-years-old, and could have another five years at the top, but if performances are beginning to suffer now he’s only going to get worse.
The beginning of the end?
Spurs still have a mean defence this season. They’re allowing the opposition, on average, just 8.8 shots per 90 minutes. It’s the sixth-fewest in Europe behind only Manchester City, Napoli, Liverpool, Eibar and Juventus.
Yet, in the 22 Premier League matches they’ve played, they’ve conceded 21 goals. You also have to factor in that Lloris missed the 1-0 win over Crystal Palace, meaning all 21 goals conceded in the league have come in the 21 games the Frenchman has kept goal. He’s conceding, on average, a goal a game – up from the 0.58 he conceded last season.
His xGA90 average this season is 0.82 – meaning he’s ‘underperforming’ – and, over the entirety of the season, this is equivalent to seven goals. And understat.com, which looks all all the expected metrics, has Spurs in third position in the league right now, five points better off than they are currently.
Now, a lot of factors should be taken into account: Alderweireld’s absence is a big blow; Spurs have been without Victor Wanyama; and Davinson Sánchez is still adapting to the rigours of the English top flight.
However, as previously mentioned, Tottenham aren’t poor defensively. Their xGA90 is still just 0.83, so they aren’t conceding many high-quality chances, despite having a number of key players missing. The difference between this season and previous ones is Lloris is conceding ‘softer’ goals.
It’s hard to really read into the stats in the graphic. ‘Saves per goal’ doesn’t show the quality of shots Lloris is facing and neither does ‘saves per 90 minutes’. He could be making seven saves per goal but all seven shots are coming from distance.
However, over the entirety of a season the saves per goal stat does help paint a picture. Even now, the two keepers with the highest number of shots per goal are de Gea (5.63) and Nick Pope (5.08) – both have been praised this season for their super performances. Furthermore, both Burnley (1.36) and Manchester United (1.22) have a worse xGA90 than Spurs.
If Spurs had the Lloris of yesteryear between the sticks this season, they may be battling it our for second instead of vying for fourth. Though Lloris’ mistakes against Southampton and Stoke City didn’t cost the team any points, it is a worrying sight to see him conceding such goals.
The Sofiane Boufal goal for Southampton was eerily similar to the Marcos Alonso winner for Chelsea in the second game of the season; Lloris flapped at a corner against Stoke and the away side nodded a home a late consolation. In isolation it’s not an issue but as a collective it’s a problem.
He could’ve also done better for the Kevin De Bruyne goal in the defeat to Manchester City. It was a thunderous drive on the Belgian’s weaker foot but, in a way, it’s almost identical to the Boufal and Alonso goals in that Lloris was not quick enough to get down to repel the shot.
Is he still suited to the Spurs system?
Only seven teams in Europe dominate possession more than Tottenham do. Pochettino, like many of the best coaches today, wants to control the ball, the space and the tempo of a match. Their average pass success rate of the season is 84 per cent. Lloris, however, is down at 74 per cent. It’s not a stat to judge in isolation but is significant in the grand scheme of things.
Spurs play out from the back and often start with three centre-backs and two holding midfielders. Lloris should have passing options, short ones which retain possession, most of the time. He does, too, but in matches this season he’s started to go long and Tottenham lose possession. It was noticeable in the recent match against West Ham United.
In the still above, you see Lloris has three progressive passes on; four if you include the pass sideways to Sánchez. West Ham are pressing high and it’s an opportunity to take their forwards, who have committed, out of the game and really flood the centre of the pitch.
The French keeper, however, goes long and the ball is lost. The centre-backs have to quickly get back into position so that Spurs aren’t stretched while the away side build an attack. There’s a 60-yard space between the home side’s centre-backs and their attackers – not something Pochettino likes to see from his team.
The Spurs No.1 does it again in the picture above. He has four passes on – albeit the ones to the centre-backs are risky – but instead of looking to retain possession and build out from the back, he just punts it long, in the direction of Harry Kane, and there’s a turnover in possession.
Pochettino, and the way Spurs play, needs a goalkeeper confident and comfortable with the ball. Combine this with the fact he’s conceding ‘soft’ goals this season and it’s easy to understand why questions are being asked. Tottenham might have to bring their future goalkeeping plans forward by a couple of years at this rate.