The first half of last evening’s Carabao Cup match at Craven Cottage felt like a throwback to last season, offering a reminder that Ange-ball only works with the proper personnel.
Ange made nine changes to the starting team, with Micky van de Ven and Richarlison the only survivors from the starting 11 that dominated Bournemouth a few days earlier.
While we always knew the Aussie gaffer would shake things up for the Carabao Cup, many did not realize he would change the entire starting 11, bar two players.
The opening half was insipid compared to Spurs’ three Premier League matches. Yes, Tottenham had more of the ball, but Fulham was the dominant side. Spurs didn’t have a decent scoring opportunity until the second half.
One blocked Richarlison attempt summarized Tottenham’s first-half offensive output.
Meanwhile, Fulham threatened multiple times, and had it not been for a sublime Fraser Forster save on the cusp of halftime, Tottenham would have gone into the interval down two.
Personnel is everything to Ange-ball
Of course, personnel matters regardless of the formation, tactics, philosophy, and strategy, but it’s even more crucial where Ange-ball is concerned.
First and foremost, Forster doesn’t inspire confidence with the ball at his feet. Slow and cumbersome in possession, the wily veteran was almost caught a few times in the early goings.
Then there’s Ben Davies, who lacks the quality to be an inverted full-back in Ange’s team. It wasn’t for lack of trying, but Davies laboured on the ball. He attempted to carry the ball and present an option in the middle of the park, but it was clear he wasn’t cut out for the role that requires an elite skill set. He stuck out like woeful karaoke singer among Grammy nominees.
Davinson Sanchez made a few errant passes out of the back, immediately putting Spurs on the back foot.
And Pierre Hojbjerg didn’t help matters much either. The Dane is too static and slow with his first touch. He doesn’t anticipate proactively and has trouble turning or finding space. Hojbjerg opted to play the long ball far too often, a notion that doesn’t jive, belying the primary tenets of Ange-ball.
Oliver Skipp is not a highly performing No. 8. He, too, conceded possession deep in his own half. That doesn’t happen with elite attacking midfielders, who are unerringly assured in possession, especially in their own half.
Ivan Perisic endured one of his worst opening 45 minutes in a Tottenham shirt, with most of his passes and crosses grossly wayward.
Giovani Lo Celso wasn’t able to make a positive impact, and Richarlison also struggled, far too easily conceding possession with his back to the goal.
That about sums up the first 45 minutes in West London. While I’m not one to criticize Ange, the gaffer made a few too many alterations.
Five or six changes would have been enough to mix things up a bit and provide squad members playing time without jeopardizing the central tenets of a winning Ange-ball formula.
It also shone a bright light on Tottenham’s inadequate depth. Most elite teams have two high-performing players at each position. The same cannot be said for Spurs, far from it.
With two days left in the transfer window, it doesn’t appear more help is on its way, a foreboding thought for supporters. I shudder to think what would happen if a few of Ange’s first 11 suffered injuries concurrently.