Conte was right about Tottenham, and there’s psychological evidence behind it

This season Tottenham Hotspur will play at Wembley for all their home games, and it has started shambolically.

 

Whilst the performance has been there many times for them at Wembley in the past couple of seasons, the result hasn’t been; so, what is going wrong here?

Well, it’s not the pitch, that’s for sure. 15/20 Premier League pitches are the same size or bigger than Wembley and Spurs were pretty good both at home and away last season. The manager and the players haven’t changed dramatically, with the core being retained. One thing that may have changed, however, is the psychology.

When Spurs played at Wembley for their home games in the Champions League last season it was the chance to show what they could do on a truly massive stage. Going into the first game against Monaco there was huge excitement amongst both fans and players but things didn’t go too well.

Spurs lost 2-1 in a disappointing manner and, suddenly, people were discussing the effect of Wembley. Did Wembley play a role? Was it the pitch size? What will happen in the next game?

Again, Spurs lost, this time 1-0 to Bayer Leverkusen in their next Wembley game and suddenly there was a real issue. This is probably the moment Spurs went from the challenge to the threat mindset.

In psychology, these mindsets are part of the challenge and threat theory, which is used to understand how athletes look at the potential outcomes of events. Athletes in the challenge mindset tend to focus on the potential positive outcomes of an event. They’re not worried that they could be about to lose to a small team, they’re focussed on the 3 points and the bag of goals that they could get against a weak defence. In the threat mindset, however, they look at the potential for embarrassment and failure. They’re focussed on what the worst possible outcome is, and play the game in fear.

The idea of a mindset is difficult to apply to team sports, as each player will have their own individual thoughts. With Tottenham, though, this may be different due to the coverage it is receiving. The entire team will be aware of what people are thinking about them and the pressure that hangs over them the longer they go without a win. With each passing week, the consequence of failure grows greater, and the failure becomes more embarrassing. The first game this season against Chelsea was the chance to undo this, however it appears both teams went into the game in the threat state. In this situation, it ultimately comes down to who makes the biggest mistake. For Hugo Lloris and Victor Wanyama, sadly, this time it was them. Spurs threw away a redemptive draw in the search for a win and ultimately this pushed them into a threat state which reared its ugly head against Burnley a week later.

Tottenham’s draw against Burnley was a severe disappointment. The attacking intent is there, but there is a spark missing to ignite them. Tottenham want to carry on where they finished last season, in their flamboyant style, but with the threat of failure hanging over them they seem afraid to push. If the players are truly stuck in the threat state as it seems, then Antonio Conte’s words of warning to Pochettino for this season could really ring true – coming after Chelsea’s win there:

“In this stadium, Wembley, a fantastic stadium – to feel this atmosphere is amazing. Also for the opponent.”

Conte warned that teams are going to be enamoured by coming to play at Wembley, which for many teams could push them into the challenge state. Teams like Burnley, with very little to lose in an away fixture to Spurs, can go into the game with nothing to lose and everything to gain. A loss away at Tottenham is unlikely to have their fans on their backs at this stage in the season, however for Tottenham it will be a huge failure. This disparity in the potential outcome of a loss allows a clear creation of challenge and threat states for both teams. If this pattern continues, Tottenham could struggle against the mid table teams more than anyone this season. The teams who come and play as if the game is a throw-away fixture could cause Tottenham to slip up unless they can sort their own heads. The fear will grow with each loss, but it isn’t too late to turn it around. If Tottenham can face a team with something to lose and get a bit of luck then they’ll be fine. The way in which people live through football means that a single win can change the entire mindset of a club. Two wins in a row at Wembley and Spurs will undoubtedly put the ‘hoodoo’ behind them. Where these wins will come from remains to be seen, but Pochettino is a good young manager, and Spurs fans can trust him to turn it around.

 

Let us know what you think on twitter, facebook or the comments section below!

 

 

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