As Tottenham see a huge opportunity slip by, the side’s shortcomings were obvious to see in the frustrating 2-1 defeat to Chelsea.
We’d heard the excuses before and after the midweek loss to RB Leipzig, as Jose Mourinho likened his squad to a gun with no bullets.
Spurs’ striker problems
Long-term injuries to Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son have made clear the issues up front at Tottenham. But it’s something we’ve known about for years; it’s no surprise the lack of cover for Kane is a continuous problem for Tottenham. Olivier Giroud displayed exactly why a bonafide target man is so important.
Beyond the goal, which is clearly important, Giroud led the line magnificently, keeping Tottenham’s defenders under consistent pressure, which greatly contributed to Spurs lack of possession. Alternatively, Steven Bergwijn, as the lone wolf up front, was only able to apply pressure occasionally.
Bergwijn struggled to hold the ball up and couldn’t manage to beat the second defender when he did manage to gain possession.
Giroud has feasted on the opposition throughout his career on exactly the sort of play that led to the opener. Initially Lloris was up to the challenge, but, after a Ross Barkley’s attempt came off the post, Giroud made good on a well struck half-volley.
Tottenham’s problem with width
When you are down players and are forced to move some individuals out of position, it leads to more problems elsewhere. If you look closely at the 5-4-1 Tottenham started with today, it had Lucas Moura as a wide midfielder. While Moura is a winger, he does not perform well deep in midfield. And Lo Celso too was out of position. He is best in the centre of the park, not in such an advanced position. That’s despite scoring 16 goals as the No. 10 for Real Betis last season.
The Ben Davies and Jan Vertonghen combination on the other side lacked the pace to apply pressure, leaving the team devoid of any real crossing threat.
Spurs passing fancy
As much as it pains me to say it, Chelsea’s goals were well worked, a world of difference from what Spurs are currently capable of creating.
Other than Toby Alderweireld and his big cross-field switches, Harry Winks is about the only person on the team who tries to pass the ball beyond the first man. And that includes Lo Celso.
Ndombele, Lo Celso, Moura, Bergwijn, are able to connect nicely on short-range passes, but can’t seem to connect on longer outlet balls. Confidence has been drained from the side, causing players to always play the easy option.
Christian Eriksen was the player for Spurs who could split a defence from anywhere. Maybe Lo Celso can be, but he he’s not there yet.
Spurs’ path forward
At first when I saw the team sheet I thought maybe it was going to be a 4-4-2 today. Instead the game started and we saw a depressing 5-4-1. In the last 30 minutes Tottenham’s shape began to change. But it was again a case of too little too late.
At times during the closing stages Spurs played with a front three, having to go for broke. But the defensive setup from the start negated any chance of Spurs to push the envelope.
Maybe if Spurs had the same intensity for the entire match they had in the last 20-30 minutes, things would have been different. But that is a familiar story. Take the match against Leipzig as Exhibit A. Where the solutions are coming from, especially when you have a risk averse manager like Jose Mourinho in charge, nobody knows.