After a month of feeling good about the changes with Tottenham Hotspur, Nuno Espirito Santo repeated all of his predecessor’s mistakes, and Spurs lost as a result.
Tottenham Hotspur was poor on Saturday in almost every conceivable way. All of the things the Spurs had done right over the first three matches of the season looked a mirage as Tottenham was undone by errors on and off the pitch.
Spurs sabotaged by set-up
Coming into the match we knew that Nuno Santo’s ability to overcome some personnel shortages was going to be a big element in the game. Instead of sticking with a plan that worked through three matches a compact defense and a balanced formation, the Spurs were set up for failure.
Whether or not the change in momentum was really due to the injury to Eric Dier or not, it was clear from early in the game that Palace was going to be in command. Tottenham seemed to be playing a midfield diamond at the start but that shape lasted on a few minutes, as the players spent the majority of the day scrambling to cover the positions other players had vacated.
Without a third forward, there was no width or outlets for the midfielders and the team went back to relying on the fullbacks for the push on the wings. This left the team exposed again and again as Winks tried to ‘cover’ for the fullbacks, which we knew he could not do from last season.
Tottenham midfield never going to be enough
With both Harry Winks and Oliver Skipp starting deep in the midfield, there was simply not enough movement off the ball to really take control of possession. The gaps between the deep midfielders and the more “attacking” midfielders in Dele Alli and Pierre Hojbjerg were massive. Just as massive was the space between those midfielders and Tottenham’s forwards Lucas Moura and Harry Kane.
Nuno Santo’s terrible set-up does not excuse the poor performance from the Tottenham Hotspur players who were disappointing for almost the entire 90 minutes. However, a complete lack of formation and a complete lack of rhythm led to a complete lack of confidence from the Spurs who reverted to fouls and mistakes under pressure.
Spurs were undone by themselves
Despite being thoroughly outplayed in every way, Tottenham was still in the game until over about 5 minutes the plot was lost. First, Lucas Moura went down and no call was made but Palace played on, which is their right.
Japhet Tanganga did not seem to appreciate this and made a rather cynical foul on Wilfried Zaha which was certainly a card. Zaha jumped right up and put hands in Tanganga’s face, which many players would have gone down on. Instead, Tanganga stood tall and both players got a yellow but tensions were heated.
From their Tanganga showed his youth, as a poor touch, led to a rash decision and a dumb foul, right in front of Jonathan Moss, which led to the defender’s walking papers.
A game that was already tilting toward Palace at that point – and Nuno seemed unwilling or unable to respond – was now completely out of the Spur’s control and it was really about how bad Tottenham was going to lose.
Ben Davies came on for Winks to play next to Joe Rodon who had come on for Dier in the first half after he was injured. Minutes later Davies was sticking his arm out in the box and Connor Gallagher was gladly bouncing the ball off it for the Palace penalty.
Zaha converted the penalty and the match was essentially over. To add insult to injury, Palace brought on Odsonne Édouard for his debut, and the 22-year old Frenchman score within seconds of walking on the pitch and then scored a second only seconds before the final whistle.
With Tottenham now likely to drop out of the top four and on a zero-goal differential, any real goodwill from the first three matches is likely to disappear. Sure there are injuries but we knew this team was thin so it needed to play smarter defensively, which was just not in the plan on Saturday and the result was a loss.