Horrible Half Leaves Tottenham Hotspur Behind in UEL Group

Tottenham's head coach Jose Mourinho BELGA PHOTO LAURIE DIEFFEMBACQ (Photo by LAURIE DIEFFEMBACQ/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images)
Tottenham's head coach Jose Mourinho BELGA PHOTO LAURIE DIEFFEMBACQ (Photo by LAURIE DIEFFEMBACQ/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images) /
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Dele Alli of Tottenham
ANTWERPEN, BELGIUM – OCTOBER 29: Dele Alli of Tottenham (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images) /

Spurs Gift a Goal

The Royal Antwerp goal began with a Tottenham Hotspur corner kick which was cleared by Antwerp. Dele hustled after the ball and collected it a little before midfield. Instead of playing the ball back in quickly as the defense tried to push out from the corner, Dele did what the Winks, Lo Celso, Dele midfield did for most of the night.

Dele stopped the ball and stood, but at least he turned to face the Antwerp goal from midfield which could not be said for most of the Englishman’s touches. Instead of playing a ball back into the box, he waited for Ben Davies – playing center-half again – to come back and passed him the ball. Davies immediately turned and dribbled forward.

As was the case most of the night, the overall movement around the ball was poor, so Davies ultimately, turned around and played the ball back to Dele who had moved maybe 5 yards since playing the all to Davies initially. From here Dele slowly dribbled toward the middle, where Lo Celso kind of received a pass and kind of did a takeover, regardless it was one of many back passes from Dele.

Lo Celso took one dribble and of course passed backwards to Harry Winks. Winks took one touch and passed it backwards to Ben Davies. Now Davies gets the ball with the defense close and two players not moving to create space in Lo Celso and Winks in front of him. Davies tries to dribble forward past Mbokani, who steals the ball.

Mbokani takes a couple dribbles toward the goal. This forces Davinson Sanchez to take a few steps slowly and begrudgingly toward Mbokani. Those two steps were all Mbokani needed to chip a little cross to Lior Refaelou. This was Refaelou’s third shot of the half and second in the box. Hugo Lloris was frozen as Refaelou hit a nice half-volley past the Frenchman scoring the lone goal of the game 29 minutes in.

Gutless Play Leads to Gifted Goal

Most will blame Ben Davies for the play and of course he made the error that led directly to the goal, Davies is culpable. However, the defender should never have been in that position. To go from their own corner to the ball back with a defender like that is wasteful lazy football. The lack of any desire from any of the midfielders to recycle possession and bring the ball forward following the corner was a microcosm of the day for Tottenham.

Dele was probably the worst offender of them all, as his overall effort was poor at best. In 32 passes on the evening only five were forward and his work in the final third was particularly bad. As the player sitting in the #10 position that was supposed to get the ball to Vinicius and the wingers, to have only five forward passes has a lot to do with why he was taken off. Likewise, for Lo Celso, who played the ball forward more, as he was a bit deeper on the pitch, but lacked any real conviction on the night.

If you look at the position map, from Tottenhamhotspur.com on the game, all three players had nearly the same placement on the pitch. In fact, Dele and Winks had such proximity, you can only see Winks number, but if you hover over, you realize they are both there. Three midfielders, all within their own half of the center circle, surely a recipe for disaster. As this kind of imbalance leaves the defense short numbers in other places on the pitch and Royal Antwerp were in the form to take advantage. 

Ultimately, the poor spacing, imbalanced attack, and lack of any real forward drive gifted Royal Antwerp a goal. That goal gifted Antwerp all the life and confidence they needed to see out the match at home. While Mourinho tried to counter with a number of second half changes, ultimately, Tottenham failed and Antwerp succeeded.

Having seen out the match, Royal Antwerp now sit in control of the group with back-to-back matches with LASK coming up, whereas second place Tottenham will place Ludogorets twice in the next month. If Tottenham hope to advance past the group stage, they better find balance, or surely more disaster will befall the team.