An abysmal showing from Tottenham Hotspur in Wednesday night’s defeat away to Manchester United highlights a repeating issue at Spurs. This is no time for Tottenham to get used to passive football, and it’s no time to switch off mentally.
Starting with the positives first. Tottenham will probably beat around 13 to 14 teams in the league at least once. Whether that’s in a 3-4-3 formation, where our central midfielders get overrun at times, or whether it’s in a 3-5-2 where our strikers become somewhat isolated and heavily reliant on five midfielders who aren’t consistent going forward or defensively.
Diving into the negatives here, Tottenham Hotspur seems pretty much doomed to repeat this cycle of not turning up against any club that’s considered ‘big’ or simply quite good.
For the first 20 minutes last night at Old Trafford, Spurs appeared both comfortable on the ball and defensively assured. Falling into low blocks when Manchester United began to knock on the door and limiting their passing lanes, as well as being able to break with some form of idea on how to get through United’s pressing.
Going forward, Tottenham seemed sharp in the early stages. They were cracking through United’s midfield with one-touch football. Intelligent off-the-ball runs offered Spurs opportunities and their opposition headaches on who to pick up.
One crack turned into a crevasse for Tottenham at United
Then suddenly, a lovely ball’s played for Marcus Rashford to run onto, leaving Eric Dier in his wake and forcing the first of many impressive saves from Spurs keeper Hugo Lloris. This for me, was the significant turning point in which Tottenham went from having some control to mentally and then physically imploding at United.
It was the first moment Man United had broken entirely through Tottenham’s low block and in the aftermath, United discovered they could do it again, and worryingly so did Spurs.
So, at this point, what does Tottenham do? Do they collect themselves and go again? Or do they tactically crumble and become three segments of one team like they always appear to do when they fall behind in a more significant game? They, of course, stay consistent with the cause and became a defence, midfield, and attack that are all on entirely different wavelengths and partly not playing for each other.
From having an understanding of how to retain the ball and to move it around the three centre-backs and midfield, shifting it either forward into Kane or Son, or sending it wide to the wing-backs, to confusing and have hearted passes easily intercepted or read by United.
It became obvious that Tottenham would do very well to test the Manchester United keeper, David De Gea. Once United’s chances began, it seemed to all be about damage control.
Why are Spurs being set up to fail?
My dad always says the best form of defence is to attack, and whilst I still don’t reckon he or myself could do a better job than Antonio Conte, it does beg the question of why Tottenham Hotspur looks so similar in big games to how Jose Mourinho would set his Spurs side up. Passive and waiting to concede, allowing too many opportunities at their goal. Encouraging their opposition to keep trying and their fanbase to grow more passionate with each shot, rather than grow tired of failed chances.
We’re asking too much of Ben Davies and Eric Dier to be able to hold off talented attackers without much rest bite. We’re asking too much of Cuti Romero to attack every ball and close down every player who gets within 35 yards of our box because Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Yves Bissouma are switching off mentally every couple of minutes, and Rodrigo Bentancur is neither really here nor there.
Surely the coaching staff and Conte can see these issues too? Hojbjerg and Bentancur have proven themselves as lovely, talented footballers when Everton comes to town. Or when we’re away to Brighton. Nevertheless, it’s fair to say we’re all never too confident whether they’ll turn up against a bigger and better side.
Tottenham needs more in the attack
We as fans can’t be the only ones who see the best idea to limit ourselves from finding these defensive flaws in our players is to have the team set up in a less passive way. If you’ve got five midfielders on the pitch, three of whom are central midfielders, we should be able to keep the ball for more than ten seconds. One of those three should absolutely be able to help Kane and Heung-Min Son get into the game without Kane or Son having to drop into the defence to get the ball back.
The two wing-backs definitely need to be able to be better at looking up to shift the ball into more dangerous areas rather than always driving straight for a shot at goal when that option is the tougher route.
Essentially, the manager and the coaching staff need to find a way to make this a team, not just a bunch of players who rely entirely on Kane or Son to provide the magic. No matter how world-class those two are for Tottenham, there’s nothing impressive or sustainable about sitting deep and waiting for our forwards to pull something out of thin air.
It’s not always an issue against any team below about 9th in the Premier League. But we can’t always play the teams who usually have nothing to play for come the start of March. When we play against worse sides, they sit back as we do, not allowing Conte to administer a proper counter-attacking game plan. When we play a better or evenly placed side, we often become too hectic and rusty when suddenly breaking into a counter after sitting deep for a long period.
Dejan Kulusevski is proving to be a huge miss for Tottenham, as it was expected he’d be. If Spurs aren’t to control games or seem comfortable playing three central midfielders or two, then Kulusevski walking back into a front three in a 3-4-3 formation is most probably our best bet.
I was all for the 3-5-2. I’d celebrate the concept with most other Tottenham fans when we finally saw a 3-5-2 roll out. Now I feel that without Kulusevski, our attacking play seems more strained. The Swedish forward can only strengthen and create a balanced attack, releasing Kane and Son from an isolating and draining duty.
That means Conte has proved he is right to focus on a 3-4-3 with the mindset to switch to five in the middle later in the game. If the three involves the left-footed Kulusevski cutting into the box from the right, allowing Doherty to drive into space on his right shoulder, suddenly Tottenham has far more fluidity in attack.
Anyway, Newcastle United at home on Sunday afternoon. We can only hope for a better showing. Admittedly, it wouldn’t be too challenging to top Wednesday night’s game even if we fail to win again.