The title drought continues for Tottenham Hotspur. Against Manchester City for the League Cup Final, it seemed like 80% of the game was played in Tottenham’s defensive third. Hardly surprising given the recent departure of first team manager Jose Mourinho earlier in the week and the sheer quality of the opposition (nothing less than the best team in Europe at the moment.)
Some people might be extremely critical of Tottenham players because, again, the drought continues, but I’d imagine there are some that, although disappointed, can accept that this was always going to be an incredibly tough match to see out with a victory. I’d place myself in the latter group, and noticed a few things worth calling out during the match.
The Curious Case of The Missing Tanguy
Tanguy Ndombele has been Tottenham’s best on the ball midfielder this season bar none. In fact, he was one of the few players that benefited from Mourinho’s coaching, undergoing a resurgence earlier in the year. As such his conspicuous absence from the starting XI raised eyebrows across many a Spurs fan face. Somewhat surprisingly, Winks was brought into the starting lineup to replace the Frenchman.
Ndombele’s incredible dribbling ability might have been a huge boon for Tottenham. His average of 5.73 attempted dribbles per match, with a 63% success rate (just below Son and better than the likes of Pogba and Bruno Fernandes.) City were always going to squeeze Tottenham as much as possible - a player that can get out of tight spaces and become a platform for an attack might have been invaluable for a team that was doomed to little possession from minute one.
Off the pitch/health reasons aside, I can think of two possible reasons that Mason decided to start Winks. First, Ndombele can sometimes hold on to the ball for a long time. Of the 13.61 offensive duels he’s involved in every 90 (retaining possession from a defender) he wins about 50%. Everyone loves the magic that Ndombele can pull off, but against such a dangerous team Mason will have wanted to limit the amount of times Spurs are caught in defensive transition. Winks on the other hand only attempts 2.49 offensive duels/90, a safer option (regardless of his performance today).
The second reason might be attributed to Winks’ history at Tottenham. Mason was never going to ‘out tactic’ Guardiola, he needed to rely on the pure desire and belief from Spurs players. Given that, he might have thought Winks would show more than Ndombele.
Spurs Shift to a 4-3-3
Mason seems to be a fan of a 4-3-3 during most phases of play. It’s difficult to say that he should be commended for this move given that the formation did not succeed - the best it could be said about it is that it slowed Manchester City down - but regardless it seemed like a formation the players were comfortable with. There was rarely visible confusion in regards to man or zonal marking, a stark contrast from Mourinho’s matches as recently as two weeks ago.
A 4-3-3 demands incredible work ethic from both wingers, which Son and Lucas executed well (more on Son later). Unfortunately, this was the second final running that Harry Kane didn’t look incredibly healthy, so either was unable or was reluctant to help out defensively.
Lucas and Lo Celso Off, Bale and Sissoko On
It’s difficult to criticize Mason too much but this decision really boggled the mind. Mason has said that Bale is a big game player and can produce moments of magic, which, fair enough, is largely true. But at the moment of substitution, both Lucas and Lo Celso looked to be the only ones playing well for Spurs. Lucas won the ball back from City players a few times and used his pace effectively to escape City defenders. Although his game ended in the 67th minute, he recorded the most amount of dribbles for Spurs (3). Lo Celso had a couple moments where he found a great pass to transition into attack, and did a commendable job protecting the right side that City were focusing in on.
Sissoko must have been brought on to offset Bale’s reluctance to track back on the right side and further protect Aurier - a gamble that didn’t pay off, with Bale not doing anything of note.
Son Heung-Min was very sad
This is a sad one. After wanting nothing more this season apart from some shred of hunger or desire from Spurs players, we witness Son unable to contain his sadness at the final whistle.
A heartbreaking moment - this is Sonny, the man with the radiant smile that is always in a good mood. Unfortunately, he really struggled today. He misplaced more than a few simple passes that led to Tottenham’s attack breaking down. It must be said that his off the ball work was exceptional, as always, tirelessly running up and down the left and middle channels.
Perhaps the overwhelming emotion was fueled not just by the loss, but the fact that he didn’t have the impact in the game he knows he’s capable of. Either way... :-(
Bonus: Hooray for the CBs!
To end on a positive note, I’ll add a short fifth point. Eric Dier and Toby Alderweireld were excellent. No doubt due to just how busy they were, but alternatively, the busier a center defensive pairing is the higher the likelihood of a mistake. Dier was beaten by a lofted pass from De Bruyne to Sterling but apart from that neither put a foot wrong. This might be the pairing we see for the rest of the season.
The title drought continues for Tottenham Hotspur. But, weirdly, this is the most optimistic I’ve felt about Spurs this year. Let’s see what happens by end of May.
In the upcoming days I’ll have a Youtube video out to discuss these points in more detail + share my thoughts on where Spurs go from here. Subscribe to our Youtube channel for weekly videos on everything Tottenham!