It all feels very familiar at Tottenham. Jose Mourinho lost his job in April partly because of dissatisfaction over his pragmatic approach.
Five months on, another Portuguese coach is being pilloried amid negativity over the team’s ethos. For many immersed in Spurs’ attacking traditions, the football under Nuno Espirito Santo is just as unpalatable as it was under Mourinho.
Doubts over the team’s direction under the former Wolves boss are starting to emerge from the squad, too.
Nuno Espirito is under pressure after Tottenham were beaten 3-1 by Arsenal on Sunday
Harry Kane's struggles continued with the striker failing to get on the scoresheet again
Three Premier League losses on the bounce — conceding three in each — isn’t a good look when you’re trying to find your feet at a new club. But more pertinently, the way Spurs are going about their business under Nuno is causing consternation.
Because, let’s face it, Spurs fans are used to their team being unsuccessful. They are more likely to accept being unsuccessful, though, when it’s done with a dash of style. With that in mind, Nuno may do well to revisit his job description.
Chairman Daniel Levy said in May: ‘We are acutely aware of the need to select someone whose values reflect those of our great club and return to playing football with the style for which we are known — free-flowing, attacking and entertaining — whilst continuing to embrace our desire to see young players flourish from our academy alongside experienced talent.’
There are doubts over Nuno's playing style and the direction of the team under the manager
That was an update on Spurs’ seemingly never-ending search for a new manager. Indeed, the club’s botched attempts to appoint Mourinho’s successor may have handed Nuno his hardest battle to overcome.
How do you bring a squad around to your way of thinking when they are aware you were as low as ninth choice for the job?
How do you convince Harry Kane you are the man to give him the winner’s medal he desperately craves when he knows the club didn’t want to appoint you in the first place? It’s a tough sell.
That isn’t Nuno’s fault. The club’s 72-day search for a manager was a farce. Levy started the process believing the Tottenham job remained one of the most prestigious in Europe.
But moves for Julian Nagelsmann, Brendan Rodgers, Erik ten Hag, Mauricio Pochettino, Antonio Conte, Paulo Fonseca and Gennaro Gattuso all failed for one reason or another.
Daniel Levy said he wanted the new manager to play free-flowing attacking football
For many the football under Nuno remains just unpalatable as it was under Jose Mourinho
Graham Potter, who has led Brighton to a brilliant start this season, moved on to Spurs’ radar but sources have indicated the 46-year-old was never interested in the job.
So, Nuno deserves some understanding. At training grounds, the perception of a manager’s methods and personality differs depending on who you talk to.
Some have found Nuno’s sessions refreshing, others have found the Portuguese just as grumpy as Mourinho in his closing weeks at the club.
Yet there is a fail-safe way to keep people happy — win matches. That has become a problem of late.
Levy’s comments earlier this year were a sideswipe at Mourinho, but also a warning to the Special One’s successor.
Three 1-0 wins in the opening three matches saw the club go top of the table, while the integration of young players Oliver Skipp, Japhet Tanganga, Dane Scarlett and Dilan Markanday will be a source of encouragement to supporters.
Some have found Nuno’s sessions refreshing, others have found the Portuguese just as grumpy as Mourinho
But the football, that is a concern. Spurs have produced the fewest shots of any team in the Premier League and the fewest chances from open play. Their players have also covered the least distance.
The feeble 3-1 loss at Arsenal on Sunday provided a snapshot of those struggles. There seemed a reluctance to play through a midfield of Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Dele Alli and Tanguy Ndombele; the trio appeared more intent on running between the boxes to supplement defence or attack.
Following the opening-day win over Manchester City, Nuno said of Alli: ‘Dele, besides all the talent he has, is a runner. He has the ability to go from box to box and we should take advantage of it.’
The loss at the Emirates wasn’t a one-off. Victory at Wolves was courtesy of an Alli penalty, Spurs registered just one shot on target in the loss to Crystal Palace and in the defeat by Chelsea they registered two shots on target.
There was a reluctance to play through Tottenham's midfield with Dele Alli, Emile Hojbjerg and Tanguy Ndombele intent on running between boxes
Players are aware Nuno was ninth choice for the job after a long managerial search
‘We gave them too much space, we didn’t try to play. We didn’t try to have the ball,’ explained Lucas Moura after the derby defeat. ‘We have quality to have the ball, to build, to do more than what we did. So many long balls.’
That was a damning assessment from the Brazilian, who isn’t the only one frustrated at the team’s set-up in recent weeks.
There is time to turn it around. Talk of Nuno being lined up for the sack is premature after six league games. Victory against Mura in the Europa Conference League on Thursday followed by a win against Aston Villa and Nuno can head into the international break with renewed hope.
Lose to Villa, however, and the pressure would really intensify.