Only Tottenham Hotspur, eh?
Only they could go from genuine title contenders to Premier League laughing stock within a matter of minutes. It was 12 minutes to be precise; 720 seconds for Jose Mourinho’s Lilywhites to squander a 3-0 advantage against a West Ham side who’d threatened sporadically on Sunday afternoon.
Only they could allow Manuel Lanzini, without a goal in 525 days, to equalise with a Goal of the Season contender with the very last kick of the game. The Argentine’s effort, all made possible thanks to Harry Winks’ decision to dribble rather than thump the f***ing spherical object long, boasted a mere 0.01 xG total. That shot goes in once in a hundred times, essentially, and it rounded off a comeback which has never happened in Premier League history.
No side had ever come back to avoid defeat when trailing 3-0 as late as the 81st minute. Only Spurs.
Nevertheless, in a contest in which the hosts overwhelmed the visitors for the most part through their Laurel & Hardy-like partnership in attack and new-found control in midfield – Tanguy Ndombele is really good, guys, who’d have thought? – Spurs, somehow, were able to snatch defeat, it certainly felt that way, from the jaws of victory.
But what/who was to blame? Well, individual errors, psychology, Davinson Sanchez’s 50p head and careless free-kick giveaways are all viable answers, but it’s clear that the overlying issue is the defence as a unit.
Despite discovering a new-found solidity – at times – after ‘Project Restart’ amid Mourinho’s emphasis on the ‘defensive process’, Spurs have once again returned to their porous worst to start 2020/21. They’re without a clean sheet in their last 10 matches and have kept just seven in Mourinho’s 44 matches in charge.
If Spurs are to mount a title challenge, which is entirely possible such is the imperious nature of their attacking play, defensive solidity akin to their Mauricio Pochettino pomp has to be rediscovered.
Thus, here are a few defensive combinations Mourinho should utilise to enhance Spurs’ capabilities of protecting Hugo Lloris’ goal.
Right, let’s get this out of the way. Summer signing Sergio Reguilon is a mainstay in all these potential set-ups.
The dynamic Spaniard has enjoyed a fine start to life in north London and following Mourinho’s switch away from the asymmetrical 4-2-3-1, Reguilon is firmly ahead of Ben Davies in the pecking order. He’s a game-changer down the left flank, with Harry Kane – as was on full display against the Hammers – poised to be a major beneficiary of his marauding and enterprising nature.
On the opposite flank, Matt Doherty should be the number one choice. The Irishman’s a fine back-post defender and is very good in the air, although there have been concerns over his aggressive positioning and susceptibility in one-v-one’s. Nevertheless, improvements in these areas should come in time as he adjusts to playing in a four.
Through his capacity to combine inside and underlap, Doherty also provides an alternate dynamic when trying to penetrate deep blocks.
Meanwhile, at the heart of defence: Toby Alderweireld and Joe Rodon. We’ll discuss the latter in just a moment but in regards to the Belgian, he’s the best ‘pure’ centre-back on Spurs’ books. His athleticism and ‘dominant’ nature may have dwindled, but he still reads the game superbly and can time tackles like no other. Let’s not forget his Hollywood pass fetish either.
Okay, Joe Rodon: discuss.
Is it ludicrous to suggest that an £11m-rated second-tier centre-half is the solution to Spurs’ defensive woes? Perhaps, but there’s little doubting that he has the potential to be crucial for Mourinho.
The left-footed Welshman is Jan Vertonghen’s replacement in N17, and his comfort at playing in the left centre-back role will help the Lilywhites out tremendously. Alderweireld and Sanchez both look distinctly uncomfortable performing that function and although Eric Dier fares a little better, Spurs ability to build-up play down that side is still compromised.
Thus, Rodon – a fine ball-player – could swiftly evolve into a mainstay of Mourinho’s defence.
Alongside the imposing Welshman, Dier – who, it appears, is Mourinho’s favoured option – and Sanchez remain possibilities. Both possess impressive recovery speed – yes, even Dier – and are certainly more adept in defending in transition compared to the slow-turning Alderweireld. This is key when covering Doherty’s surges down the right.
It’s easy to envisage a Dier/Rodon combination becoming Mourinho’s favourite this term.
This backline remains a viable option against the ‘top’ sides or, at least, outfits that attack with real speed.
This was the combination which was deployed in the 6-1 victory at United and while the hosts went down the ten-men relatively early, it worked a treat. Serge Aurier was fantastic against Marcus Rashford in what was, arguably, his finest outing in a Spurs shirt.
However, such is the unreliable and erratic nature of this backline, it’s one that Mourinho should deploy rarely and only to carry out specific tactical roles.
As Amazon justly depicted, 20-year-old Japhet Tanganga was one of the shining lights during Spurs’ tumultuous 2019/20 season following his breakthrough into the first team.
It’s his versatility, fearlessness and aggression which make Tanganga an exciting prospect, but injury has thrust him onto the periphery since June’s restart. He’s notched just 70 minutes of action this term.
He’s certainly a useful option for Mourinho due to his capacity to play anywhere across the backline but for now, it doesn’t appear that Tanganga is a major part of his manager’s’ plans.
It’ll take an injury or two, continued poor defensive play or a switch to a back three to see the 20-year-old back in contention despite his talent.