Three Takeaways from Tottenham Victory over Ludogorets

RAZGRAD, BULGARIA - NOVEMBER 05: Lucas Moura and Harry Winks of Tottenham Hotspur. (Photo by Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images)
RAZGRAD, BULGARIA - NOVEMBER 05: Lucas Moura and Harry Winks of Tottenham Hotspur. (Photo by Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images) /
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Jose Mourinho, Manager of Tottenham
RAZGRAD, BULGARIA – NOVEMBER 05: Jose Mourinho, Manager of Tottenham Hotspur (Photo by Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images) /

Mourinho and His Pecking Order

We knew some players were going to already be out coming into the match, with Serge Aurier, Erik Lamela, and Sergio Reguilón all being out for their own medical reasons. We also knew the match was deemed important by both Jose Mourinho and his players based on the pregame press conferences. All this led to a strong starting line-up that included many of the regular XI including Harry Kane, Lucas Moura, Eric Dier, and Toby Alderweireld.

Additionally, Gareth Bale and Giovani Lo Celso – arguably part of the strongest XI possible were on the pitch from the off. However, it was not the starters, but the substitutes that really helped underline the pecking order and top of the rotation that Jose Mourinho is establishing. While we would love to see the young guys like Jack Clarke and Dennis Cirkin – who were both in the squad – they will get their time when we have the group wrapped up. So instead of bringing on the youth, Jose got more of this top player’s work.

While HotspurHQ projected Vinicius to start, instead we got the milestone moment for Harry Kane and then the Brazilian striker came on in the second half. While we have seen better outings from Vinicius, he is still clearly a focal point once he steps on the field. It simply looks like he is pushing a bit too hard at the moment to make a play instead of just playing like he did in his initial start where he got a couple assists.

Besides Vinicius, Mourinho brought on his workhorse Højbjerg at the half to replace Moussa Sissoko. There is starting to be a relatively clear rotation around Højbjerg, Sissoko, and Winks, as other midfielders have struggled to adapt to the rigors of the deep lying midfield in the current set-up. Højbjerg, did what Højbjerg does in the match, getting an interception, taking a couple shots, winning a tackle, and playing his all-around game.

As the game went on just past the hour mark on came Son Heung-Min, as the South Korean replaced Lucas Moura, who had a goal and an assist – both completed with Harry Kane on the other end. Son made an immediate impact sprinting to intercept a pass intended for Carlos Vinicius and then crossing into the middle of the box to Lo Celso who finished the easy goal.

That play from Son was exciting and shows just how motivated he is to make a play and get on the scoresheet, whether an assist or a goal. Shortly after the goal, on came Steven Bergwijn to replace Gareth Bale, who played a solid hour and had a decent free kick. Bergwijn continues to just be a bit off his dynamic best as he looks to get his season kicking on. The closest he came to goal was in the first moments on the pitch where he found himself in on the right but blasted wide of the far post. As the competition heats up, if Bergwijn does not start producing some results he may find himself with Dele Alli, left on the bench.

The fifth and final substitute brought on another regular starter this season as Tanguy Ndombele made his first appearance in the Group Stages for Tottenham, replacing Giovani Lo Celso in the number 10 role. This seemingly would have been an opportunity for Dele Alli, but clearly Jose Mourinho wants to keep his top players sharp ahead of one more match before the international break.

What is becoming clear is who is on the inside of the current rotations and who is on the outs, particularly given the absences within the squad, because we know Lamela is part of the rotation. Another tough night for Dele, who needs to keep his head down, work, and be ready – like Winks was tonight – when his number is called. The competition for places is ultimately great for Spurs and should get the best out of everyone moving forward.

Another Tottenham Mental Mistake

While the overall game was positive for Tottenham Hotspur, a disturbing trend again reared its ugly head with another mental mistake leading to a goal being conceded. Tottenham has been better on set pieces the last few matches but have then gotten distracted in open play and that happened on the goal conceded to Ludogorets.

On a play that was reminiscent of something Harry Kane would do, Claudiu Keseru was the quickest to react to a deflected/blocked shot and was then able to bungle the ball in past Joe Hart. Tekpetey was working to get an angle for a left footed shot near the top of the box. Harry Winks was trying hard to not let that happen and was able to get his boot out and mostly block the effort on goal.

However, this was not a strong enough shot to be deflected into row Z or even past Joe Hart, rather, much like the play leading to the penalty against Brighton for Spurs on the weekend, the ball went high up into the air. When the ball does unexpected things, the best players react the quickest and make things happen. For Spurs this is often Harry Kane, for Ludogorets it was Keseru on this evening.

Seeing the ball was going to loop into space in the box Claudiu Keseru sprinted hard toward the goal, as he did this he managed to be standing not far from the penalty spot – all alone – as the ball was coming down in the box. Seeing this Eric Dier threw his hand up asking for offside instead of attacking the ball. Keseru volleyed past Hart and 1945 Razgrad were within a goal.

The replays showed Keseru was clearly offside and maybe his anticipation was such that even had Dier reacted appropriately – going for the ball and man rather than raising his arm in protest – it would have been a goal. However, the arm up is the worst possible response because you have no chance whatsoever. Given there is no VAR in Europa League at this point, it is almost pointless to do it as the linesman is going to either raise his flag or not regardless of what a player’s arm does.

Overall, Eric Dier had a good game and he alone is not at fault for Spurs on the goal as pretty much none of them reacted to the deflection and that is the point. It only takes one second of relaxing or turning off mentally to turn into a goal. You could have asked the same of Adam Lallana this past Sunday and of pretty much all 11 Spurs on the pitch Thursday evening.

It is tough to be critical on a joyous night for Harry Kane and three big points the team needed, however, if Tottenham are going to win the trophies we all want to see there cannot be these kind of lapses in concentration. Think Sergio Aguero would not have responded to that deflection? Spurs must stay focused and must anticipate the unexpected at times – like Harry Kane – and suddenly those clean sheets will start to come.