Dead rubber. Tottenham Hotspur went to Germany to basically play a friendly match against Bayern Munich. The weird thing is that this was the Champions League, though both teams were already locked into the qualifying positions before the match kicked off.
Therefore, there wasn’t a whole lot of drama at the Allianz Arena. Spurs played a rotated side against a strong Bayern team, and fell 3-1. Here are three things we learned from the match.
1. A couple of Spurs’ fringe players helped themselves.
The big story heading into Wednesday’s match was that Jose Mourinho was set to give playing time to a few of his so-called “fringe players.” Opting to stick with the players he knew in his first five matches in charge, it has meant that some players, including Giovani Lo Celso, Kyle Walker-Peters, Ryan Sessegnon, Danny Rose, and even Tanguy Ndombele have seen their minutes evaporate. Mourinho leaving Harry Kane, Dele, Jan Vertonghen, and Serge Aurier at home also provided an opening for a few youth players like Oliver Skipp, Troy Parrott, and Japhet Tanganga to potentially first team playing time.
Mourinho didn’t rotate as much as what some had expected, but he did hand starts to Lo Celso, Walker-Peters, Rose and Sessegnon against the German champions. Of those, Ryan Sessegnon is probably the one player who helped himself the most, leathering a ball past Manuel Neuer to level the score at 1-1 in the first half. Sess wasn’t perfect — he had a tendency to disappear a bit in this match and wasn’t as involved as he might have been — but his strike was impressive and he surely gave Mourinho more to think about. In the process, Sess also became Tottenham’s youngest-ever Champions League goal scorer.
Giovani Lo Celso also played well, if not spectacularly, as a right-sided midfielder. He had an “assist” (that wasn’t counted as such due to a deflection) to Sessegnon for the goal, and looked direct and tricky with the ball at his feet. It wasn’t perfect — Lo Celso still looks rusty, which makes sense considering the amount of match time he’s had this season — but showed enough to hopefully put himself in the attacking midfield rotation during the holiday fixture crunch. The potential is there. I just wish Mourinho would try him in central midfield.
Juan Foyth also had a moderately successful stint in central defense, working alongside Toby Alderweireld and facing a daunting challenge in trying to shut down what was basically Bayern’s A-team. I would like to see more from him going forward, though I suspect his minutes will be limited.
Walker-Peters and Rose had less successful matches. KWP left Kingsley Coman wide open on his flank for the opening goal (though to be fair he tracked in to cover Juan Foyth’s man who had beaten him), and while he showed good defensive instincts he didn’t do enough to stake a claim over Aurier for the starting right back role. Rose still looks like he’s lost a yard of pace and considering his comments about seeing out his contract no matter what happens, I wonder if Mourinho will continue to look at Jan Vertonghen as a defensive-minded left back while Ben Davies convalesces. Rose has the advantage of being in a position where there aren’t many options, however.
Fans will be disappointed that Troy Parrott didn’t get into the side at all with Mourinho opting to use Victor Wanyama as Spurs’ final late substitute, but this was more about taking a longer look at the pieces that could reasonably contribute in the Premier League for Spurs. Hyped or not, Parrott and Tanganga are not yet Premier League ready.
2. Spurs still need a central midfield solution.
Considering how utterly dominant Spurs were against Burnley last weekend, it’s not surprising that Mourinho turned to the same midfield pivot that worked so well the last time around. Eric Dier and Moussa Sissoko seemed to complement each other completely against the Clarets. Against Bayern, they were all at sea.
Dier continues to struggle with his passing — the constant theme of his performance at Spurs this season — and Sissoko seemed to revert to the gaffe-prone player who can’t hit the broad side of a barn when he shoots. It’s puzzling. Just when Mourinho thinks he has a solution, things start to fall apart again.
It’s clear that Mourinho wants a solid defensive midfielder as part of his pivot, and Dier, whom he admires, is the guy to bring that solidity. That could, however, be why he opted to give Victor Wanyama a runout as well. But Dier has his problems, and Wanyama appears to be crocked. This may be an area that Mourinho will want to address in January, assuming he has the funds to do anything with it.
Spurs were without Tanguy Ndombele and Harry Winks who were both in London injured, and he opted not to experiment with someone like Lo Celso in the pivot. But there are options there, assuming people get healthy and in form. Oliver Skipp came in as a sub and played passably well, though I still have my doubts as to his readiness for consistent Premier League performances. It could take a bit more tinkering before Jose finds his preferred central midfield, but Spurs will need to try and find what works soon, or better yet a couple of workable possibilites — the holiday period will require rotation, and every player will need to be ready.
3. All lists need three items. This is the third.
When making a list, it’s important to have at least three points that you want to make, because three is a good number and makes the list look more complete, even if you really only wanted to talk about two things. So that’s the third thing we learned: lists need three items or more.
Also, this match was kinda dull and really didn’t matter one bit in the grand scheme of things. Onward to Wolves at the weekend.