Tottenham Hotspur dropped points again last weekend having come back from being a goal down to leading the match for a period of time, then falling to the now typical late game equalizer. It’s a story that Spurs fans are no strangers to, but there may be reason to think that this was different than capitulations from the past.
Namely, because Tottenham lined up with a newish look - Japhet Tanganga, Joe Rodon, and Carlos Vinicius all starting is something we’ve seen very little of in the Premier League. Along with Davinson Sanchez and Sergio Reguilon, it made for a relatively young lineup on both ends of the pitch, although these two certainly have more experience than the former three.
Regardless, Mourinho took a bit of a gamble and it didn’t pay off. Rodon aside - his performances so far warrant their own deep dive so I will not address him in this article - the young players struggled to make an impact against Newcastle.
From the first minute, the young Brazilian striker struggled to keep up with the pace of the game. Newcastle’s press was nothing amazing, but they had clear instructions to press Vinicius when he received the ball as his close control can be lacking.
It was a challenging game for Vinicius, which culminated in a half time change for Son. His substitution was understandable because during his 45 minutes on the pitch he lost six offensive duels (duels in which he has possession and is challenged for the ball), more than any other Spurs player, and completed only 5 passes.
And, this may be harsh, but he arguably should have done better covering Shelvey in the GIF below. Shelvey found too much space and should have gotten an assist for his pass.
Vinicius has been great for Spurs this season, but this was not one of those great games - and it just happened to coincide with other Tottenham player’s off days too.
Tanganga, Sanchez, and Reguilon
In hindsight, it’s pretty bold of Mourinho to think that a player that’s gotten very little opportunity this season, and Sanchez, who is not known for his mental fortitude, can shore up the right side against a team that likes to cross.
As seen in the previous clip, Sanchez (and yes, I do count him as a young player - 24 is young for a centerback, and I’m convinced we have yet to see Sanchez’ peak performances at Spurs) misjudged a couple of passes of play that could have been costly for Tottenham - indeed, one did result in a Newcastle goal as each of Sanchez’ clearances magically found themselves landing on a black and white shirt. He had a staggering 18 losses of possession, his average being closer to ten per 90. Of course that includes any wayward passes - which were 9 out of 12 long passes that did not find their mark.
Purely defensively, he recouped the ball and maintained possession only 5 times. Against Villa, for example, he regained possession 14 times.
Tanganga had similar lowlights, winning only one out of six tackles attempted. He had no offensive saving grace because that’s not the type of player he is, but this was probably the clearest example of how much Tanganga still has to learn.
If Tanganga has little in offensive traits to lean on should he come up short defensively, Reguilon certainly doesn’t. In fact, when both Tanganga and Reguilon are on the pitch, the latter is consistently expected bomb down the left side to maintain Tottenham’s width in the attack.
Unfortunately - you guessed it - Newcastle proved to be a bigger challenge for him than he might have realized. He typically averages 3 progressive runs and 11 losses of possession per 90. Against Steve Bruce’s side, he made zero progressive runs and lost the ball 14 times.
Why is This OK?
I just spent 500 words ripping on four young players, because they didn’t perform well. But why do I think this is ok? Why was I, somehow, not extremely upset when Spurs gave up the inevitable equalizer?
It’s because this is just what happens when you play young players. Mistakes happen. Dips in form occur. If Tanganga or Sanchez were putting in consistent 10/10 performances, Spurs would struggle to keep them. This is not to say that only average players should be at Spurs - rather that age and circumstance offer these players a longer line of credit than others. It’s been wildly reported that Spurs are desperate for a leader to come in and make a centerback position his own - why then would I expect Sanchez to magically become better midseason?
Of course, other questions arise for Mourinho at this point - there’s little reason to not play Toby Alderweireld against a side that likes to cross, especially when you have Tanganga and Sanchez shoring up the right side. If the Belgian is unavailable - perhaps a bit of extra protection with Moussa Sissoko would be warranted?
I’m not big on hindsight games. But I do think that if Spurs fans want to, genuinely, see young players excel at this club, they need to have more patience.