Mistakes, not tactics at fault for Tottenham slow start at Brentford

(Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
(Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images) /

Tottenham Hotspur has had a problem falling behind in matches this season, but using Brentford as an example, individual errors, not tactics, led to Spurs’ early deficit.

Conceding first has been an issue for Tottenham Hotspur this season, with Spurs falling behind in the last nine consecutive matches, including at Brentford on Boxing Day. While the club has shown tremendous resilience in digging out of the early holes, falling behind is making life more difficult than it needs to be and costing the team points. The easy assessment is that Spurs are playing too passively early and allowing the other team to score. However, if we watch the game and the goals, the issues indicate continuing individual mistakes, not a poor plan on Spurs’ part.

Individual mistakes cost Tottenham the first and second goals

Brentford’s first goal against Tottenham resulted from a quality counterattack on the part of the Bees. With Ivan Toney and Bryan Mbeumo as their two forwards, one should not be surprised by the team’s quality.

Before the goal, Spurs were not playing particularly well but were by no means on the backfoot. The issue was that the forwards struggled to maintain possession when the ball was received, which was the case during the goal.

Heung-min Son had already been dispossessed twice and had difficulty keeping possession. On the play, Spurs controlled a throw-in, and Japhet Tanganga lofted a ball into Son in the attacking half.

Son had three options on the play, attempt a difficult first-time pass over his shoulder to a flashing Dejan Kulusevski, play a square layoff to Harry Kane, or hold possession to turn on the trailing defender. Unfortunately, Sonny chooses option D – indecision. Son played the ball to no one, and his touch bounced several feet away, allowing Ben Mee to run up and launch the ball forward to Ivan Toney.

Tanganga was closest to the ball and Toney as it came from Mee, meaning that Mbeumo was one-on-one with Eric Dier after Toney won the header, a position Spurs desperately wanted to avoid. Dier never got tight, even to Mbeumo, who was able to pick out Mathias Jensen for the volley that led to the rebound, which Vitaly Janelt jumped on for the 1-0 Brentford lead.

Compounding the problem after the turnover was Pierre Hojbjerg allowing Janelt to run right past him, unguarded into the box for the rebound tap-in. Hojbjerg started the play several meters closer to the goal than Janelt, but the German midfielder wanted it more as he ran hard past Hojbjerg right up to Fraser Forster and the opening goal.

We can blame the tactics if we want, but a poor play from Son and a lack of awareness and effort from Hojbjerg were the two main culprits in conceding the opener. If Son holds possession, the counter never occurs, and if Hojbjerg had run with Janelt, he could have contested the rebound. However, neither happened, and Tottenham conceded.

On the second goal, we know Dier misplayed a clearance he has made hundreds of times and practices daily. Just like Son not holding the ball and Hojbjerg not running with his man, Dier’s mishit was simply a lack of concentration on the player’s part, costing Spurs points in the end.

Sure Tottenham could have defended the corner better, as everyone watched Christian Nørgaard win the header and Toney finish at the back post. But the damage was done, conceding a corner from the middle third of the pitch for no reason.

Spurs did fight back and scrapped out a point; had they not made mistakes to gift Brentford chances and compounded those mistakes by turning off afterward, Spurs could have easily won the game. Instead, well, it is what it is.

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