Match Report: Tottenham 2 – 3 Roma

HARRISON, NJ - JULY 25: Harry Kane
HARRISON, NJ - JULY 25: Harry Kane /

Roma proved too much for an error-prone Tottenham defense in Tuesday’s preseason friendly, but a late surge brought Mauricio Pochettino’s team back into the match.

Mauricio Pochettino named a strong Tottenham starting XI, starting in a familiar 3-4-2-1 formation with youngsters Kyle Walker-Peters in at left-back, Josh Onomah in attacking midfield and Cameron Carter-Vickers in defense.

What ended up being a surprisingly feisty friendly began on more level-headed terms, with Tottenham slowly working into the game while Roma concentrated on keeping things together at the back.

This is hardly much different than what Spurs encounter every other week during regular league play. Frustration quickly set in however as Roma found ways to play out of the back and test Spurs’ high back line.

That should come as a point of concern for Mauricio Pochettino. His entire gameplan is built around exploiting opposition attempts to patiently work possession forward. The intensity of the press combined with energetic movement of the forward line usually result in reliable chances.

Those chances did not come in the first ten minutes of the affair on Tuesday, and by the time that the referee called a dubious penalty from Cameron Carter-Vickers handball in the 13th minute it was clear this was going to be a long match.

Diego Perotti calmly converted from the spot, and Roma were able to double down on their efforts to crowd the middle of the pitch and cut off service to Harry Kane and Dele Alli.

What was clearly needed here was a playmaker like Christian Eriksen. With the Dane on the bench, Spurs were instead relying on Josh Onomah.

The Under-20 World Cup winner had a good game overall, but he lacks the vision and range to find avenues through a densely packed defense like Roma’s.

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With conventional means unavailable, Tottenham appeared to be anxious to rely on a time-tested Plan B. Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen attempting long diagonal balls into the path of Kieran Trippier. The England international positioned himself far, far up the pitch to take advantage of these chances, but only rarely got the timing right.

When he did, he would find himself in plenty of space, with time to send a cross into the box. This is always the quality that set him apart from Kyle Walker, and indeed he found Kane with a well delivered ball to create Spurs’ best chance of the first half.

Fans were reminded of Trippier’s weakness as well however. It’s perhaps unfair to call him an outright liability  in defense, but his peculiar unwillingness to keep close to his mark — particularly Perotti — allowed Roma to get the ball into the box far too easily on at least two occasions.

Pochettino elected to make some sweeping changes after the interval, though kept Kane, Dele and Trippier on. Ben Davies came on despite playing 90 minutes against Paris Saint Germain on Saturday. Eriksen and Harry Winks came on as well to provide some much needed creativity in the center of the park.

A botched penalty call in the opening minutes of the half set the tone for the next 40 odd minutes. Kane ran into the box and was taken down by a switch kick to his ankle while he still had a chance of recovering the ball. Most officials might have immediately called a penalty, especially ones who might rightly feel they had committed an error in the other team’s favor. The referee on the night declined however.

Tempers lit, Spurs pressed hard for an equalizer. Kane and Dele both had close calls, while Winks and youngster Anthony Georgiou both sparkled on occasion.

The goal would not come however. In an effort to mix things up, Pochettino brought on a new batch of players — among them Kevin Wimmer.

The Austrian is reportedly on the chopping block, and his first action in this game won’t do much to build any case to stay. After a Roma cross made its way into Hugo Lloris’ box, Wimmer attempted a weak clearance that fell directly in front of Cengiz Under. The Roma new boy wasted no time in slotting it home to double his team’s advantage.

Spurs mustered a fight-back that culminated in a Winks tap in in the 87th minute and then briefly provided real hope when Vincent Janssen scored a real beauty in stoppage time, but it was clear that the momentum had been ceded to Roma after the second goal.

As if to remind Spurs of that fact, immediately following kick off after Janssen’s goal, they themselves would score the winner on the opposite end. The match would end 3-2.

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Pochettino might take some solace in the fact that both goals came directly as a result of errors committed by players unlikely to play a big role in the season to come. His hopes should also be bolstered by good performances from Winks, Walker-Peters and Onomah — and he might even forgive Trippier’s defense lapses.

Failing to break down Roma’s defense or to really get the press humming is harder to shrug off. Those are fundamental aspects of Spurs’ identity and can’t fade away even in the face of impressive opposition like Roma.