Four London Derbies down now and Tottenham Hotspur have taken losses in all of them. Conceding ten and scoring just one goal in those derbies, the reality is that Spurs have been far from good enough in big matches duringb Nuno Espírito Santo’s first season in charge.
Sunday’s away loss at West Ham was the latest derby defeat for Spurs. Playing roughly the same formation against one another, both Nuno and David Moyes seemed to feel comfortable that their starting lineup was simply better than the other’s.
While the match was expected to be a cagey one, Spurs looked second best through the opening 15 minutes. However shortly afterwards Tottenham, via interchanging play from Tanguy Ndombele and Son Heung-min, created two dangerous opportunities that nonetheless ended to no avail. But it was Spurs that ended the first half as a side that seemed poised to earn at least a point. A proven tricky opposition over the years for Spurs, West Ham have improved significantly under the David Moyes and a point on the road would have been a good result so far for Nuno.
Midway through the second half, the game shifted when West Ham worked the ball through their pockets of space in front of Spurs’ defense and left Sergio Reguilón exposed defensively. A poor ball led to Reguilón intercepting the pass. As West Ham attackers approached him, Reguilón opted to try and dribble out from defense, recognizing the space in front of him. Instead, West Ham forced a turnover and then won a corner kick. A lazy challenge from Harry Kane led to Michail Antonio having a flick on that went past Hugo into the bottom corner of the net.
Another set piece goal given up for Spurs, but perhaps what is most concerning was that Spurs had just six second-half touches in West Ham’s box until the 85th minute. Another concerning aspect of this game is that both teams had European games on Thursday. However, it was Spurs who opted not to bring their first XI with them to Arnheim to play Vitesse in the UEFA Conference League. Spurs lost 1-0 in a lethargic clunker whereas West Ham put Belgian side Genk away comfortably by way of using five players that were in their starting lineup today.
It has been some time since I have done one of these, but let’s analyze this game by way of playing rose, thorn and bud. For those new to the series or need a reminder, see the definitions below:
- Rose: A highlight, success, small win, or something positive that happened.
- Thorn: A challenge you experienced or something you can use more support with.
- Bud: New ideas that have blossomed or something you are looking forward to knowing more about or experiencing.
Unfortunately, there were not a lot of good takeaways for Spurs from this game. Perhaps the only players who caught my eye in particular were Cristian Romero, Pierre-Emile Højbjerg and Oliver Skipp. I am still upset over the lack of midfield ball-progression outside of Ndombele, but Nuno has shown a preference for two holding midfielders and, after some hot-and-cold performances to start the year, Skipp is looking better and better each week. Today, he strung along a couple of through balls that opened up West Ham’s defense.
For Romero’s case, it has been a couple of seasons since Spurs have had a player of his quality in defense. And after taking a bit of time to adjust to the club and a new country, Romero has been extremely impressive. It was not the easiest task for him against Antonio today, but Romero’s comfort on the ball and game-reading ability were showcased once again in this game.
The main thorn is Spurs’ starting XI. Despite being the more rested side, they lacked the certain cutting edge that is needed to go on the road and earn a victory against a good Premier League side. It seems like for years now that, regardless of who the manager is, Spurs’ best attacking option has been to just wait for one Kane and Son do something special.
With another defeat in a London Derby, the truth is becoming clear that this job may just be too big for Nuno. He is surely a good bloke and has the character of an individual that is needed for a club still reeling from José Mourinho for nearly two seasons, but Spurs look in need of a serious refresh, from top to bottom.
After signing two of the best ball-progressing midfielders in the world two summers ago in Ndombele and Giovani Lo Celso, Spurs have opted to become more of a passive team that looks to play with more lethargy than with a free-flowing nature. Daniel Levy said he wanted to get back to be an attacking-minded team, yet they hired a manager who has proven to be more defensive-minded.
There seem to be no attacking patterns for Spurs when they have the ball. Spurs’ offense looks so reliant on either Ndombele doing literally everything, Lucas Moura taking on and beating every opposing player in front of him or Son making a run-in behind that unlocks the opposition’s defense.
On top of this, it was a game to forget for Kane, a player who has scored so many goals in this fixture over the years. On top of the defensive lapse that led to Antonio’s goal, he carelessly gave the ball away multiple times. Outside of a threaded through ball to Son in the first half, Kane was a passenger in this game. He put together quite a good performance last week against Newcastle United, but the harsh truth is that, due to how the transfer saga played out over the summer, his six out of ten performances are going to feel like three out of tens and his eight out of performances are going to feel like five out of tens.
Another thorn — I thought the fullback play of Reguilón and Emerson Royal left a lot to be desired. For me, Royal’s positioning has been questionable and he has not shown just yet a particular comfort on the ball going forward. Reguilón’s poor decision ultimately led to the goal-scoring opportunity. But even when going forward, he got pushed off the ball and his final passes were not consistent enough.
I could also make a point of Nuno’s substitutions here because the decision-making has led to some head-scratching for a few games now, but Spurs have far more pressing problems at the moment.
The bright spot for Spurs is that they seemingly have their starting XI sorted, but it is not because of the quality of the play shown. It is instead due to the inability of players behind this group of XI. There is not much to look forward to to be quite honest. Spurs’ long-term prospects this season are so up in the air. They have the quality in certain positions to beat a good side on their best day, but the inconsistencies and lack of quality attacking tactics will leave them to too many defeats in between.
Spurs did bring in a lot of new faces over the summer and while more reinforcements are needed, perhaps something to look forward to is the continued progression of the newer players being infused into the squad. With a League Cup tie at Burnley on Wednesday, Spurs will need to get right quickly before hosting Manchester United on Saturday.
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