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Tottenham 2 - 2 Norwich: Spurs punished by an uninspired first half

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It was too little, too late for Tottenham in a game defined by a heavily rotated squad and an unfamiliar system.

Norwich City v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images

Spurs traveled to Carrow Road this afternoon expecting a win. Jose Mourinho’s hand in squad selection was somewhat forced by the suspensions of Heung-min Son, Moussa Sissoko and Harry Winks, after a red card and accumulated yellows, respectively. They started the match with an unusual defensive line — Vertonghen, Foyth, Alderweireld, Aurier — with Sessegnon potentially slotting in to Vertonghen’s left as a wing back. The midfield featured all of Spurs’ summer signings, with Lo Celso getting a much-deserved first start. In his pre-match comments, Mourinho expressed some uncertainty about Ndombele’s fitness, saying that the central midfielder was ready to start, but maybe not play 90 minutes.

Norwich played with belief throughout, getting the better of Spurs twice in the first half. Although Teemu Pukki’s goal was later disallowed for offside, and the chance on which they scored was fairly improbable, Spurs entered half time trailing 1-0 and with much work to do. Throughout the first half, Tottenham players looked uncertain of their role in the system, and although there were flashes of individual brilliance, team play was lacking. That changed at halftime, when Lucas Moura and Davinson Sanchez came on for Jan Vertonghen and Juan Foyth, boosting the squad’s energy and giving the team a more intuitive shape to play. The reward came soon after, with Eriksen firing home a beautiful free kick in the 50th minute. But only ten minutes later, Teemu Pukki caused enough confusion in the Spurs back line that Serge Aurier stumbled awkwardly over a ball that had spilled free from a challenge by Alderweireld and directed it past Gazzaniga for an own goal. Kane earned and converted a penalty to even the score before Norwich settled into a strong defensive structure that Spurs ultimately failed to penetrate.

First Half

3’ — Spurs begin the match on the front foot, with the fresh starts hoping to make an impact. But it is the home side who string together the first ball through on goal, which is comfortably scooped up by an onrushing Gazzaniga. In their confidence and excitement, Spurs will need to remain composed defensively.

8’ — Norwich have another shot on goal. Nothing to worry about, but Spurs aren’t dominant so far.

9’ — Eriksen and Ndombele collide as they both try to challenge the same player and bring each other down, giving Norwich a chance to fire directly on Gazzaniga, who saves well. Norwich have gotten off all of the shots in the first ten minutes. It will have to be tighter from Spurs, who seem to lack midfield coherence. On the other hand, this is a significantly changed lineup from what any Spurs player is used to

11’ — Kane breaks free in space, and slots Dele in for a first-time shot on goal. He skies it far over the net and will be disappointed; his feet never looked set for a shot. More of this, please.

12’ — Foyth looks good in his first defensive involvement, going shoulder to shoulder and displaying more strength than he has in previous games.

16’ — Kane found by a long ball over the top, but denied by Tim Krul, who looks to be having another better-than-average game against Spurs.

16’ — Much better from Spurs now, with Dele and Sessegnon each having a crack within the span of a minute.

17’ — 1-0 Norwich. Vrancic scores for Norwich. Foyth looked awful under pressure, giving the ball away cheaply, leaving Vrancic through on net. Nobody could track back in time, and he slotted coolly past Gazzaniga. Both teams have looked frantic and disorganized, and that has somewhat evened the odds for Norwich: clearly Spurs have more quality, but the match has been end-to-end without much structure from either side. Tottenham have a way forward, but they need to find their shape.

20’ — Ndombele brought down by Vrancic with a slide tackle from behind at speed as he tries to accelerate out of the Tottenham third, and the Norwich goalscorer receives a yellow for the move.

23’ — Dele is looking to be a real thorn in the side of the Norwich defense, pressing them vigorously and making better, more ambitious runs off the ball than his teammates.

25’ — There is something disjointed about Tottenham’s attacking momentum: players aren’t moving in unison or getting open effectively. It doesn’t help that Aurier seems capable only of smashing the ball off Norwich defenders and crossing into Tim Krul’s arms. Lo Celso hasn’t found much of a way to get involved; Eriksen has been occasionally threatening. Only Dele, Kane, and Ndombele look likely to make something happen.

33’ — 2-0 Norwich. Teemu Pukki found by a long pass from half field after Aurier gives the ball away cheaply. He does well to bring the ball down with one touch and slot home with the next.

34’ — 1-0 Norwich. The goal is brought back by VAR. Can’t complain about a call that improves Spurs’ odds, but that was a dismal decision for football. Never mind the outcome of the goal, Tottenham are hardly the best side today, and that’s just not good enough.

38’ — Sessegnon and Lo Celso have looked ineffective. Perhaps they’re trying too hard to make a good impression, as they obviously have the quality, but they’re bringing little to the table. Dele and Ndombele have looked better. Lo Celso needs more playing time to settle in.

40’ — Spurs win a corner, Eriksen to take. Krul punches it away and it comes to nothing. Tottenham attackers are finding space, but not finding each other in it: the passes and runs aren’t in sync at all.

45’ — Why Aurier, of all people, seems to be the most popular recipient of Spurs’ forward passes is beyond me. Very little has chained down the left flank, perhaps due to some confusion between Vertonghen and Sessegnon. Overall, Mourinho needs to clarify to each player what their role is in this system at half time, because at the moment they seem to be playing a bit free-for-all.

HALFTIME: Something needs to change. Spurs seem on unsure footing, but the talent on the field is good enough that hopefully, Mourinho can provide some on-the-fly instruction on tactics, get the team into a solid shape, and send them out with a mentality to score. There aren’t any obvious substitutions to make, and the match is far from gone. Ndombele looks most comfortable receiving the ball at or before the half-field line and pushing it forward before finding a pass. If Spurs can sort out the runs ahead of him, he looks capable of an assist.

Second Half

45’ — The second half begins with a rage substitution by Mourinho. Only kidding. Davinson Sanchez is on for Juan Foyth, while Jan Vertonghen makes way for Lucas Moura. So Sessegnon will be playing left back with Moura ahead of him. That seems astute: Vertonghen and Sessegnon had too much overlap in the first half, effectively turning two players into one.

46’ — Eriksen finds Dele making a brilliant run down the right flank, but he’s chased down and stopped at last ditch by Christopher Zimmerman as he prepares to fire home. This looks far better from Spurs already.

48’ — Lo Celso and Vrancic have knocked heads, and both stay down. Lo Celso’s up first as Vrancic goes to receive treatment.

52’ — A hand ball by Jamal Lewis just outside the Norwich box gifts Spurs a free kick in a dangerous area, while Mourinho is agitating for a red card. He’ll get away with a yellow. Eriksen to take.

54’ — GOAL SPURS! Christian Eriksen pings a free kick just over the wall and into the upper 90. Tottenham are back in it, and on the front foot. The free kick was preceded by menacing play from Moura and Kane, and Mourinho will be asking for more of the same.

57’ — The attacking structure looks much better from Spurs.

58’ — Go on Dele! He’s offside, but he flicks a lofted ball from Christian Eriksen right over Tim Krul’s head and into the back of the net with a single brilliant touch. Norwich are quaking in their boots.

60’ — A good counterattack by Norwich finds Pukki in the Spurs box, but his back is to the goal.

60’ — 2-1 Norwich. Own goal by Serge Aurier. Alderweireld dispossessed the racing Teemu Pukki, and the ball ran awkwardly into Aurier’s legs. Still, he could have done better than stumbling over it and redirecting it past Gazzaniga. On further reflection, more could have been done by Alderweireld and Sanchez, who both looked flat-footed under rapid passing by Norwich.

65’ — Lo Celso takes his second shot on target in the last five minutes. Promising.

68’ — Lucas Moura receives a yellow after pushing Max Aarons far out of bounds as the two raced down the touchline.

73’ — Subsitution: Erik Lamela replaces his countryman Giovani Lo Celso, who, for all his potential, has not made much of a splash in this match. Not sure that Lamela brings more to the table, but he’s been Spurs’ super sub in the past. Hopefully he can repeat today.

75’ — Norwich are getting forward occasionally, but for the most part are emphasizing a robust defense under Spurs’ attack, and so far it’s working. They’ll need something special — two special moments, in fact — to unlock a win here.

80’ — Penalty! Harry Kane wins a penalty for Spurs after brilliant play between himself and Dele. Dele flicks it to Kane as he sprints down the right flank; Kane cuts inside as a Norwich defender slide tackles in front of him, then goes down fairly for the penalty. He stands over it now. Kane and Dele look to be returning to their special chemistry: they’ve linked up well all night.

82’ — GOALLLLLLLLLLL HARRY KANE! 2-2. Take that, Norwich. Kane fires powerfully into the right corner, unphased by Tim Krul’s shenanigans.

85’ — Tottenham have some pep in their step now. Will it be enough to get a win and keep the pressure on Chelsea?

86’ — Lamela fires a gorgeous dipping effort at Krul, who parries it over for a corner.

90’ — Seven minutes of added time for either team to steal a win. Both have everything to play for...

90’+7 — One last corner for Spurs, driven into the first man by Christian Eriksen. Full time.

Reactions

  • Dele and Kane’s linkup play was great this game. If those two can cement a new chemistry under Mourinho’s leadership, good things are coming for Spurs.
  • The halftime substitutions made all the difference, which does not reflect well on Juan Foyth. As soon as Sanchez was in, Spurs’ defense looked much more solid, while on the other side, Sessegnon looked much more comfortable as a left back than as a wing-back-midfielder hybrid role he was playing before.
  • For the frequency with which he takes the ball into the corner, Aurier needs to develop a better repertoire than passing backwards and crossing poorly.
  • Ndombele is surely the most consistent of the new signings. He had a solid game again today, including a beautiful rabona cross that came to nothing.
  • Lo Celso and Sessegnon both seemed competent, but nothing special. Lo Celso did have a few good shots, and it’s clear that with more game time, he’ll establish himself.
  • If Spurs can start a match the way they finished this one, a return to form is imminent. If they continue to find quality only once they’re in trouble, it’s hard to see a way out of the current mediocrity.