Why Tottenham’s latest home defeat underlined familiar tactical issues and gaps in the squad
PUBLISHED: 12:17 24 September 2014 | UPDATED: 22:35 24 September 2014
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Spurs correspondent Ben Pearce looks back on Sunday’s 1-0 home defeat against West Brom as the Lilywhites prepare to host Championship leaders Nottingham Forest in the Capital One Cup tonight.
These are still early days in Mauricio Pochettino’s tenure but there was still a lot riding on Sunday’s game against West Brom.
A home win over a Baggies side who started the day in the bottom two would have taken Spurs into the top three places, painting a rosy picture despite some inconsistent form.
Instead, the Lilywhites were left to reflect on a second successive home defeat and a four-match winless run. Having failed to muster a single shot on target in the goalless draw against Partizan Belgrade in Serbia last week, Spurs only managed one at home against Albion on Sunday.
After an encouraging start to the season which produced four consecutive victories in the Premier League and Europa League, the Lilywhites have stalled, or even gone backwards.
The initial theory was that the opposition got harder – Liverpool, rather than QPR – but that excuse looks rather hollow now.
West Brom had failed to win a league game before they arrived in north London, and Liverpool have lost against Aston Villa and West Ham since thumping Spurs 3-0 at the Lane.
It now appears that Tottenham are making other sides look better than they are – with the exception of QPR, who are probably even better at that.
So what is going wrong? And why was this latest embarrassment so reminiscent of the home defeats against Wigan, Fulham, West Ham and Newcastle under Andre Villas-Boas?
For starters, it is impossible to ignore the fact that all five of these results followed midweek games – either in the Capital One Cup or in Europe.
It is an age-old debate at Spurs - the extent to which the Europa League is to blame for such slip-ups, and what can be done about it.
Pochettino could not have done much more to keep his players fresh, leaving five of them at home in England last week and then making 10 changes between the games against Partizan and West Brom.
However, the suspicion remains that the trip itself is tiring, even for the substitutes, and Pochettino admitted “the travel and the pitch [in Serbia] was very, very bad”.
However, the manager also stated that he was “angry or disappointed” with the performance, adding: “The beginning of the game was wrong. Maybe West Brom arrived to White Hart Lane with only two points and last in the table, but we need to show respect.
“I believe that we were wrong in our way and we played very slowly, there was a lack of movement. You need to play football that is aggressive.”
The suggestion is that the players underestimated West Brom - and they must certainly shoulder a lot of the blame.
However, there are other issues to look at, both in Pochettino’s tactics and in the decisions that have been made in the transfer window.
Tottenham’s defeat was largely reminiscent of some of Villas-Boas’ costly losses at home because the tactics were fairly similar.
Nacer Chadli and Erik Lamela were both coming inside as inverted wingers, just like the ‘wide men’ last season. The idea is seemingly to get the creative midfielders playing close together in central areas around the box, and to confuse the opposition by interchanging positions, while the full-backs provide the width.
That is all very well, and it worked superbly in the 4-0 win over a poor QPR outfit. However, West Brom were much tighter in the centre of the pitch, and were perfectly happy to see Lamela and Chadli coming inside into the most crowded areas.
That, in turn, put pressure on Danny Rose and Eric Dier to provide the necessary quality from wide positions, and neither was up to the task.
Rose’s crossing was poor – an area he still needs to improve – and Dier looked like what he is: a versatile centre-back who can also play at right-back.
He is not Kyle Walker. Neither is the alternative, Kyle Naughton. And, if Spurs wanted a back-up right-back who could virtually play as an extra winger, then they should have brought one in this summer, rather than signing the American DeAndre Yedlin and then waiting until next summer for his arrival.
There were plenty of other poor performances – Vlad Chiriches was suicidally over-elaborate and yet nervy at the same time, while Mousa Dembele followed his encouraging display against Sunderland with another frustratingly lackadaisical, pedestrian performance.
Emmanuel Adebayor was also ineffective up front. And, when Pochettino turned to his bench, he brought on Roberto Soldado, Paulinho and Aaron Lennon – none of whom have really made an impact in the last 13 months, although Soldado did register Tottenham’s one and only shot on target.
Once again, Spurs fans were left to question why the club failed to sign genuine competition for Adebayor – a similarly physical frontman.
It would be easy to state that Tottenham do not have enough high-quality attacking threats and that they should have done more to rectify that in the transfer window.
However, that would be revisionism. While the Lilywhites bought players at the back, the hope was always that Pochettino would be able to get more out of the existing offensive players like Chadli, Lennon, Andros Townsend and Paulinho and produce improvement from within.
The issue at the moment is that, generally speaking, there has not been enough improvement – either individually or as a whole, in defence or attack.
There is still plenty of time, of course, and a long season lies ahead. But, after a positive start under Pochettino, reality has gradually set in over the last few weeks, and Sunday’s defeat underlined just how far there is to go.
Once again, Spurs have a key home game this evening. A Capital One Cup victory over a confident Nottingham Forest side who lead the Championship would stop the rot, end the winless run and provide a timely confidence boost ahead of Saturday’s north London derby at the Emirates.
On the other hand the other scenario – a third consecutive home defeat, against a Championship team – would be another damaging blow to Spurs’ morale ahead of this weekend’s showdown with the Gunners.
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