6-0, 5-1 and now 4-1 against City. I suppose you could say Spurs are improving.
There was a strong sense of deja vu at the Etihad. Another game against a top class, fluid attacking side, another ragged defensive display from Tottenham. Another thrashing, another soap opera of a match.
Just like last time out against City, in the 5-1 demolition at White Hart Lane, the referee had a big part to play in the drama. As well as facing the Premier League champions, Spurs had to contend with a borderline offside goal, a dubious penalty and – just as we were getting back into the match – a red card that should never have been.
On top of that was a missed spot kick for scapegoat Roberto Soldado, four goals for Spurs’ tormentor Sergio Aguero and four penalties in a game full of end to end action. In a perverse way it was fantastic entertainment.
In a sign of the drama to come, Pochettino made two leftfield changes to his team. Soldado came in for Adebayor and Fazio for Vertonghen. Adebayor had played in Togo on Wednesday in African Cup of Nations qualification, which probably explained his absence.
Vertonghen was a bigger miss. Fazio is great in the air but he’s not the quickest or the most nimble. Facing the speed and vision of Aguero and Silva, this was not the time to hand the big defender his Premier League debut.
Before the match I, like many commentators, had advocated a more defensive, counter attacking approach, along the lines of the gutsy display at the Emirates. Facing a superior side, in their own back yard, there’s no shame in being pragmatic. Pochettino bravely, or maybe foolishly, went for a more attacking plan.
The Tottenham performance had parts that were very good and parts that were very bad. We were great going forward, winning the ball high up the pitch and putting together some lovely one touch moves, in the same vein as our excellent win against high flying Southampton. It was unfortunate all our endeavour only gained us a single, solitary goal.
From our attacking four, it was Lamela who was the odd man out. He constantly ran in to trouble and was at fault for the first two City goals. Losing the ball in a dangerous area, then giving the referee an excuse to point to the spot.
At the other end of the pitch our defending was atrocious. Part of the reason was the quality of Manchester City’s players – Aguero, Silva and Navas constantly caused us problems. Part of it was the disorganised nature of our backline and the lack of cover in front of them.
Mason was good going forward, full of energy and invention. He linked up well with Eriksen and Chadli. It was the young midfielders recovery of possession high up the field that led to our goal. He fed Soldado, who slipped a perfectly weighted pass to Eriksen. The Dane powered the ball past Hart.
For all the impressive forward play, Mason and Capoue did not cope with the opposition runners in midfield. There was far too much space for the City players, between the lines of midfield and defence. I was clamouring for the introduction of Stambouli in place of Lamela at half-time to try to plug the gaps.
I won’t dwell on the City goals but the red card merits further comment. Fazio was silly to put his arm out, and it was a penalty, but how the referee can interpret that as a clear goal scoring opportunity is beyond me. Aguero wasn’t in possession. When contact was made, Navas still had the ball and Kaboul was closing him down. That’s quite a lot of steps you have to go through to get to a shot on goal for the Argentine.
Up until that moment Tottenham were still in the game – partly reward for our bright attacking play but mainly down to a bit of luck and the now expected Lloris’ heroics. After the crazy five minute period that included the penalty miss and Fazio’s sending off, the match was gone.
So on to Soldado. There seems to be a schism developing in the Spurs support over the Spanish striker, not entirely unrelated to the previous Sherwood, AVB angst. “Nice link up play, a good assist but not enough of a goal threat” could be a description for Adebayor versus Southampton or Soldado here.
If you lose 4-1 and blame a striker for missing a penalty which he won pretty much single handedly, then you’re looking in the wrong place. This defeat was primarily down to Spurs’ poor defending and that’s an issue for the whole team.
Did Pochettino get his tactics right? Was Soldado to blame for the defeat? Should Fazio start next game? Let me know in the comments below.
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