Who’s to blame for Tottenham’s FA Cup semifinal defeat?

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 21: Referee Anthony Taylor steps in as Mousa Dembele of Tottenham Hotspur argues with the Manchester United players during The Emirates FA Cup Semi Final between Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley Stadium on April 21, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 21: Referee Anthony Taylor steps in as Mousa Dembele of Tottenham Hotspur argues with the Manchester United players during The Emirates FA Cup Semi Final between Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley Stadium on April 21, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images) /

Three days have transpired since Tottenham tripped up at the second last hurdle in the FA Cup yet again, a recurring nightmare that merits a thorough postmortem. 

Mauricio Pochettino has said many times before that he prioritizes the Premier League and Champions League. Any manager of an élite team would agree, but the current landscape at Tottenham suggests another frame of thought must be employed. The impetus on winning a trophy of any kind has never been more important.

So why, for a team that hasn’t won the FA Cup since 1991, is lifting the once hallowed trophy seen as comparatively unimportant, a mere afterthought for many within the club?

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Spurs, regardless of how much the team has progressed in recent years, are not in the same conversation as Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool, and Arsenal. All of those teams have recently won silverware, with Liverpool’s five-year dry run at five the longest barren spell among the élite five.

Those teams can afford to be picky; they have earned the right to discard “lesser” cup competitions to make a run at the marquee ones; Spurs, until they win a trophy, have not earned that right.

So who deserves the lion’s share of blame for the latest disheartening loss to an uninspiring, comparatively lackluster Manchester United side?

Is Daniel Levy to blame?

Daniel Levy is yet to provide Harry Kane with the up-front support he so obviously needs. The case that no élite player would come to Spurs knowing he’s play second fiddle to Kane is often made to invalidate sourcing a secondary striker.

But surely the gaffer can entertain the idea of intermittently executing a system where two staggered strikers are employed, providing Spurs a more balanced and diverse attack. Daniel Levy is mostly culpable on this front, but Mauricio Pochettino should take a morsel of the blame too.

What part did Mousa Dembele play in the defeat?

A few players have come under intense scrutiny in the aftermath of Saturday’s loss: Mousa Dembele, whose giveaway led to United’s equalizer, and Michel Vorm, who wasn’t able to get down in time to thwart Ander Herrera’s second half winner, are taking the brunt of criticism in some quarters.

Dembele is one of the club’s most loyal servants. On his day, he’s one of the world’s best. On Saturday, the Belgian was uncharacteristically dispossessed in a particularly vulnerable spot on the pitch. Paul Pogba made Spurs pay, delivering a pinpoint cross for Alexis Sánchez to feast on. If it were anyone else, it would be an inexcusable error. But if anyone at Spurs deserves leniency, Mousa does.

Should Davinson Sanchez be faulted?

Davinson Sánchez, who is still quite raw in his Premier League development, has continued to play in Toby Alderweireld’s stead, even though Toby was passed fit weeks ago. It’s entirely too harsh to fault Sánchez for allowing the cross that ended up on Alexis’ header to drift over his own. The Colombian was slightly out of position, only because of Dembele’s fateful giveaway.

However, the Colombian is still only 21 years old and has played in almost every match this season. Is that too much match time and accompanying pressure for a centre back of his impressionable age to bear?

How much criticism does Mauricio deserve?

And if so, does Pochettino have to stand up and be held to account? Obviously all is not right with Alderweireld and Tottenham, which has cost the club dearly on the pitch.

Make no mistake, Sánchez will eventually become one of the best defenders in the world, but he’s far too inexperienced to unremittingly play in such gargantuan encounters without showing some youthful frailty. He made a crucial mistake against Juventus which led to Paulo Dybala’s winner, Exhibit A of the invariable downside of depending on a 21-year-old who, before this season, had never played in the Premier League.

I’m a massive advocate of Pochettino’s but I feel he got his choice wrong on this occasion. Alderweireld, no matter the circumstances of the ongoing contractual dispute, is too good not to play in encounters of this importance.

Pochettino should have allowed the Belgian an opportunity to earn his place back in the last few weeks but didn’t, exasperating an already desperate situation. If there was any chance of reconciliation, there certainly isn’t now. Alderweireld is as good as gone; Levy and Pochettino will have to take long hard looks in the mirror, asking themselves if this situation could have been mitigated.

There is a case to be made that Alderweireld is damaged goods, particularly with his hamstring being one strain away from potentially ending his career. But I don’t believe continuously leaving a marshal of his caliber on the bench, not affording him the chance to prove his place, is the right course of action.

Is Michel Vorm to blame?

And finally, the decision I’m most opposed to: starting Vorm instead of Hugo Lloris. Pochettino must have made a deal with Vorm before the season, promising that the FA Cup was his and his alone. Part of what makes Pochettino one of the world’s best managers is his integrity and unwillingness to break his word. He sticks with his laurels and makes decisions based on loyalty and some old-school motivationally driven tactics. However, his decision to play Vorm ultimately cost Spurs an all-elusive FA Cup final berth.

On Herrera’s winner, Vorm shifted too far to his left and was unable to get down to his right in time. Beaten in the middle of his goal, Vorm – a magnificent keeper in his prime – showed telltale signs of inactivity and recent decline: a decrease in agility and quickness, and a positional error in judgement.

Lloris has not enjoyed a vintage season by any stretch of the imagination, but I’d like to think Spurs’ number one would have kept Herrera at bay.

Admittedly, Pochettino, by committing to Vorm for the duration of the FA Cup, got himself into a bit of a quagmire. But winning a trophy – especially for a team so desperate to do so – has to take precedence, no matter the cost. Lloris should have started against United. Whether it would have made a decisive difference will never be known, but seeing your top goalkeeper start in a semifinal should be guaranteed.

Vorm can’t  be held accountable. The FA Cup semifinal is above his pay grade, and he shouldn’t have been thrown into the deep end. Ultimately, he was set up for failure.

Who do you think should take most of the blame for the defeat to United?

Next: In Harry's defence

There’s enough scrutiny to go around after Saturday’s failings, but if you’re a devout, long-term Spurs supporter, you’ve been in this position before.

And just like the other seven consecutive FA Cup semifinal defeats, we’ll find a way to move past this, anticipant of our next chance to end the 10-year barren spell.