Tottenham: Is the enigma of Lloris worth the risk?
The legendary Sir Alex Ferguson famously claimed that having a great goalkeeper can be worth 15 points a season, and while there are no hard statistics to back up that claim, for any team wanting to challenge for major honours, a solid presence between the sticks is basically a must. You’ve only got to look, for instance, at the difference in Liverpool this season since they replaced the error-prone Loris Karius with Brazil’s Alisson Becker.
On the face of it, this shouldn’t be a problem for Tottenham. After all, Mauricio Pochettino can call upon one of the most highly rated goalkeepers in the world – France’s World Cup winning captain Hugo Lloris. Lloris – who signed for Tottenham in the summer of 2012 for just €10m – doesn’t tend to be rated as highly as the likes of David de Gea and Thibaut Courtois by pundits, but it’d be hard to deny that he’s been an extremely steady presence for Spurs over the past 7 seasons.
Unfortunately, on too many occasions in recent memory, this hasn’t been the case. It isn’t that Lloris’ form has fallen off a cliff in 2018/19, it’s more than he’s been producing form akin to a white-knuckle ride – with insane ups and downs since the start of the season.
On one hand, the French stopper has saved three penalties in 2019 alone; his incredible performance in the second leg of the Champions League round of 16 tie with Borussia Dortmund arguably kept Spurs in the game, and he was also highly impressive in last week’s game with Crystal Palace – the inaugural match in Tottenham’s brand-new stadium.
But then there’s been the flip side. Lloris has made some astronomical errors in 2018/19, the kind of errors that leave fans and pundits alike simply shaking their heads.
There was the bizarre incident in Tottenham’s October showdown with Barcelona, an incident that saw the Frenchman bizarrely chase towards Jordi Alba in the opening minute, allowing him to set up an easy goal for Philippe Coutinho; his frankly ludicrous red card in the away fixture against PSV, caused by a reckless tackle on Hirving Lozano, who was actually surrounded by 3 Tottenham defenders at the time; and of course most recently, the botched save from Mo Salah against Liverpool that led to Toby Alderweireld’s own goal, costing Spurs the game.
Last night’s Champions League quarter-final first leg against Manchester City was Lloris 2019 in a nutshell. He rescued his side with a tremendous first-half penalty save from Sergio Aguero, a penalty that had it gone in, may have opened the floodgates. He made so many good saves in fact that WhoScored.com named him Man of the Match. And yet with seconds to go in the game, his weak punch could well have led to a City equaliser had Fernandinho managed to control his header.
Throw in his crazy error in the 2018 World Cup final last summer that saw him gift a goal – admittedly, a consolation – to Mario Mandzukic, and his shameful conviction in August for drink-driving, and it’s easy to see why he has a lot of Tottenham fans so worried. But should they really be worried about the enigma that is Lloris? And should Pochettino?
On the face of it, perhaps not. After all, Tottenham have only conceded 34 league goals this season, meaning they have the 3rd tightest defence in the Premier League behind title-chasing Liverpool and Manchester City. And only Alisson, Ederson, Kepa Arrizabalaga and Jordan Pickford have kept more clean sheets than Lloris, who has managed 10 in league action.
Of course, it’d be easy to argue that Lloris only keeps clean sheets because he’s behind such a strong defence – Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld are two of the best centre-backs in England, Davinson Sanchez is excellent in his own right and Tottenham’s full-backs are also pretty highly rated. With that said though, according to PremierLeague.com, Lloris has made just one individual error which led to a goal; that’s less than both David de Gea and Alisson.
The big problem for Lloris is that simply put, modern goalkeepers have an incredibly tricky task in that these days, everything is televised. That means that every mistake falls directly under the microscope, and a single bad error – like Lloris’ against Liverpool – can immediately be followed by calls for the keeper to be dropped and replaced, regardless of any good saves or blocks that might’ve come beforehand.
And it’s not just fans that are critical, too. Former Tottenham star Jermaine Jenas, for instance, immediately called for Lloris to be removed by Pochettino following the Liverpool gaffe, and suggested that the manager replace him with his fellow Argentine Paulo Gazzaniga, who has impressed on the rare occasions he has been used by Tottenham this season.
Jenas suggested that Pochettino should’ve brought Gazzaniga in for the Crystal Palace game; that didn’t happen and instead he kept faith with Lloris, who basically repaid him in full. And it’s Pochettino’s loyal style that might yet save the Frenchman’s spot as Spurs #1 – unlike other top managers, the Argentine doesn’t freeze players out the moment they make mistakes.
We saw that this season in the way Pochettino dealt with Juan Foyth and Kyle Walker-Peters, who made amateurish mistakes against Wolves and Barcelona respectively, although neither man outright cost Tottenham the game. Neither player was dropped, Pochettino publically supported them, and both men repaid him; Foyth scored the winning goal in Tottenham’s next game while Walker-Peters went on to make a trio of assists in his next appearance.
There can be no doubt then, that for now at least, Pochettino will keep faith in Lloris. And the likelihood is that the Tottenham fans will keep the faith too – last night’s penalty save ensures that, at least until the Frenchman makes his next costly mistake. But of course, when that will happen is anyone’s guess – it could be this weekend, or it could be a year from now, it’s hard to tell with Lloris.
For now, at least then, it seems that sticking with the enigma that is Hugo Lloris is probably Tottenham’s best bet. They should probably react swiftly if his form really nosedives next season – and thankfully, with Gazzaniga waiting in the wings, they have a ready-made replacement – but for now, Spurs fans will continue to wait with baited breath every time the opposition sends a ball into their penalty box.