“Ossie’s going to Wembley, his knees are going all trembly” goes the first line from Tottenham’s 1981 FA Cup final song – but Spurs fans could be forgiven for a different kind of nerves when visiting the national stadium.
Since winning the 2008 League Cup over Chelsea, Tottenham have had a horror run at Wembley, losing six of their eight games, scoring just seven times, and winning only once.
An unfortunate League Cup final defeat on penalties to Manchester United in 2009 was followed with a shock 2-0 reversal in the FA Cup semi-final a year later against Portsmouth. They were then hammered 5-1 by rivals Chelsea in the same fixture in 2012, before the Blues won 2-0 in another League Cup final defeat in 2015.
Things didn’t get much better when moving to Wembley for European games this season, with White Hart Lane unavailable due to building works.
Defeats to Monaco and Bayer Leverkusen turfed Mauricio Pochettino’s men out of the Champions League early, and despite a dead-rubber win over CSKA Moscow (the only victory of Tottenham’s run), they then fell to another elimination when playing Gent last month in the Europa League.
With another match against Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final this weekend, can Tottenham end their Wembley hoodoo, or will they fall into more difficulty under the arch?
Despite Wembley being Tottenham’s home ground for European matches this season, they certainly didn’t make the most of home advantage.
White Hart Lane has been an absolute fortress for Pochettino’s men as they chase their first league title since 1961 – winning 15 of their 17 matches, and losing none.
Spurs have found the perfect balance between attack and defence, scoring 2.53 goals/game, and conceding 0.47, as evidenced in their recent 4-0 hammerings of Watford and Bournemouth.
At Wembley, however, a very different story.
Perhaps overawed at playing in front of an attendance nearly three times the size of White Hart Lane, and having to adjust to a famously bigger pitch, Tottenham won just once, and both scored and conceded six goals – an average of 1.5 per game apiece.
Interestingly, they have been far more dominant at Wembley, without anywhere near the effectiveness.
They have a much higher possession count (62.5% to 56%), have taken more shots/game (18 to 14) and even have a higher number of completed passes, with 500.25 at Wembley, compared to 426.94 at White Hart Lane.
What is interesting to note, however, is the wastefulness of their attacking.
Of the 18 shots/game they’ve managed at Wembley, only 5.5 have been on target (30.6%) – compared to 7.53 at White Hart Lane – up to 53%.
The higher number of passes and possession is also an interesting one – showing a team knocking the ball around with little penetration, with the opposition able to keep Spurs at arm’s length.
Tottenham’s quick, fluid football works well on the smaller pitch of White Hart Lane, but they’re evidently not set up for Wembley, with their fastest players unable to get in behind defences on the larger turf.
If one player could sum up Tottenham’s struggles at Wembley, perhaps it’s Dele Alli.
The 21-year-old, who is set to be named PFA Young Player of the Year for the second time in succession, has been imperious in the Premier League this season, netting 16 goals in a swashbuckling midfield role.
Both home and away, Alli is often the right man to unpick defences, and in the absences of Harry Kane, been the man Spurs have turned to to find a goal.
While he’s thrived on that pressure in domestic football, he’s struggled to cope with it at Wembley.
Managing just the one goal, against CSKA Moscow, Alli was otherwise ineffective – and his sending off against Gent cost his side dear, being eliminated 3-2 on aggregate.
It’s worth noting he hasn’t received a red card in any other of his 89 Spurs games, perhaps showing the added pressure he feels from playing at the national stadium.
Alli’s stats follow the trend of his team-mates, plenty of possession, but not much end product.
He’s taken over a shot/game more (3.75 to 2.52) at Wembley than in the league this season, but his shot accuracy of 33% is almost half the 58% he’s managing domestically.
His average pass length of 14m (compared to 16m), and higher pass accuracy (84% to 80%) indicates fewer risks being taken under the arch, as his side collectively shirk responsibility.
Alli comes into Saturday’s match against Chelsea bang in-form – but does this mean anything when Spurs play under the arch?
With a place in the FA Cup final at stake – as well as potentially swinging the title race momentum even further back in Tottenham’s favour, Pochettino will hope Alli and his teammates can find the solution to their Wembley woes.