Beforehand, this fixture conjured up memories of 1962, Blanchflower, Greaves and Spurs’ high watermark in European competition. It didn’t live up to the billing.
The big story after the depressing defeat to Chelsea was Tim Sherwood’s emotional diatribe after the game. He appeared to blame the club hierarchy and the players but curiously not himself. This was followed by stories of a two hour long, heated discussion in the dressing room after the match. The question was: would we see any improvement on the pitch?
The biggest shock on the team-sheet was the inclusion of Harry Kane to partner Adebayor up front. The young striker has not started many games and it is about time he was given a chance to show whether he can cut it at this level. Nevertheless, was the key game in our season the right time to hand him a start?
An obvious weak point was Kyle Naughton at left back. He is clearly far more at home on the right. This was compounded by fielding Eriksen in front of him. The Danish midfielder is not a natural wide player and tends to drift infield, leaving even less cover for his fullback. All three mistakes last weekend were made by players playing out of position, something which Sherwood seems to have made a habit of.
For the first half hour, neither team created much in the way of goal mouth incident. Benfica were compact and difficult to break down. They looked menacing on the counter attack, with Suljemani on the left causing particular problems. As soon as Spurs lost the ball they tried to get forward quickly and play balls behind the home defence.
This was the recipe for the opening goal. Tottenham lost the ball near the Benfica penalty area, with players committed up field. Benfica moved the ball forward with simplicity and speed – one pass out to Amorin, who threaded a beautiful ball between Kyle Naughton and his centre back. Rodrigo got in behind and finished clinically, passing the ball into the corner of the net.
As the visitors continued to play balls behind the defence, Lloris came flying out of his area on more than one occasion. One of the French keeper’s biggest assets is his ability to read the game and come quickly off his line. Recently his judgement has been off, perhaps because he doesn’t trust the defenders in front of him. Who can blame him?
Benfica may have pace and skill in their side, but they also have size. Luisao, Garay and Cordoza are all well over 6 foot, and they used this height to great advantage. The second goal stemmed from a mistake by Kane. Deep in his own area he decided to try to dribble past Amorim and failed. A quick one two and the Benfica midfielder’s shot was palmed over by Lloris. The respite was only temporary. From the resulting corner Luisao, the 6 ‘ 4” Brazillian centre back, lost Kaboul and planted a powerful header into the net.
There was a brief flicker of hope, as usual provided by Eriksen. Harry Kane made a good run at the opposition goal and was cynically fouled on the edge of the area. Eriksen put the ball down and placed a beautiful strike over the wall and into the top corner. Those in the home end wondered if this might spark a Dnipro style revival? The answer was an emphatic no.
The Portuguese continued to threaten, and yet again it was a corner that lead to a goal. Garay won a header, Lloris produced a great block, but the ball fell to an unmarked Luisao, stealing in at the far post. He smashed the ball into the roof of the net. A dagger through the heart of our Europa League ambitions.
The 3-1 scoreline didn’t flatter Benfica. If anything it could have been more. The only chance of note Spurs created was an Adebayor shot, pulled wide, just after halftime. Apart from that we were fresh out of ideas. Our main tactic seemed to involve lumping the ball up to our forwards. You couldn’t fault the players for effort, in fact if anything I though they were trying too hard, especially Paulinho who looked like he had a point to prove. They were just beaten by the better team.
Where does Sherwood go from here? On the bright side, he does have the chance to redeem himself almost immediately in Sunday’s North London Derby. In the circumstances, a game against our fiercest rivals is a scary prospect. Our manager seems dangerously naive tactically and – after his infamous interview – at man management. It goes to show that you can have as much “character”, “guts” and strong words as you like, but it’s no substitute for organisation, tactics, a well balanced side and practicing defending at corners.
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