When the final whistle blew, it was plus three points for Tottenham Hotspur. Up against the defending champions in Manchester City, Spurs put in a spectacular display and shift, utilizing the atmosphere and crowd to their benefit. Against a City side that likes to dominate possession, Spurs shaped up quite uniquely via a narrow formation that led to a bevy of counter-attacking opportunities.
For the American broadcast viewers of today’s game, the Two Robbies (Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe) gave Spurs’ shape the moniker of a ‘Christmas tree’, given the indication of the 4-3-2-1 shape that they had predominantly spent most of their time in. You can argue that this was more of a 4-3-3 instead, but that might be splitting hairs.
As the outside seemed so scoped in on the Harry Kane saga, Tottenham looked quite cohesive, well-drilled and played with a sense of togetherness. Spurs decided to continue with the attacking quartet of Son Heung-min, Dele Alli, Steven Bergwijn and Lucas Moura that they had showcased so frequently in their preseason matches.
While Son may have his questions regarding consistently holding up play in the attacking part of the field, he was extremely lively and showed once again his clinical finishing ability. The duo of Lucas and Bergwijn were truly exceptional today. Both Moura and Bergwijn were integral in the way that Spurs navigated up the field via the counter-attack. Defensively, the two were aggressive and put in shifts of excellent work rate. In these types of games where Spurs set up to counter-attack, the end product, whether it is the final ball or via finishing, between Bergwijn and Moura need a bit more consistency.
While Dele was given the license to play more in attack, he handled his defensive duties alongside Pierre-Emile Højbjerg and Oliver Skipp as part of the 3 from the aforementioned 4-3-2-1. When going forward, Spurs seemed to pick their spots as to when they would release either holding midfielder. At times, Spurs kept both Højbjerg and Skipp back whereas other times Skipp came back into the line of defense and allowed Højbjerg the freedom to move up the field and play in a number eight role, providing some similarity to the role he played and did so well in during the EUROs tournament.
Defensively, the centerback duo of Davinson Sánchez and Eric Dier did their part. The last time Spurs played against City in the league, the duo was eaten alive at the Etihad and was remembered for a meme of Sánchez trying to make a block with his head. In today’s match, Sánchez was given a lot of room to move around and cover space. He was physical and did not seemed threatened. Next to him, Dier’s positioning was excellent and did not make any of the mistakes that have costed him in the past. New incoming player Cristian ‘Cuti’ Romero made a brief cameo to shore up the defense in the waning minutes of the game.
On the flanks, Sergio Reguilón and Japhet Tanganga were superb, the latter in particular. Tanganga kept Raheem Sterling in his pocket for the entirety of the time he was on the field. We did not see Reguilón getting forward as much as we saw him last season, but his dribbling and short bursts of speed to win 50-50 balls were important in the team’s performance. Tanganga tired out in the latter stages of the game and Matt Doherty came on and held his own on the side that Jack Grealish was operating on.
At goalkeeper, Hugo Lloris had a big blunder in the first stages of the game, whiffing on a ball that came in, leaving an empty net where a City header went just wide. Ultimately, the veteran club stalwart organized his defense rather well and was pretty ‘steady Eddie’ in the second half.
With all of the above being said, let’s jump into a game of ‘rose, thorn and bud’ to reflect on today’s performance and what it means ahead of Thursday’s UEFA Conference League match against Portuguese side Paços de Ferreira and Sunday’s Premier League match away at Wolves.
[Writer’s note]: I am hoping to write these types of articles for each game that I can. We can use the idea of ‘rose, thorn and bud’ for the purpose of reflection. This exercise provides the following idea:
- 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.
The obvious rose is Nuno Espírito Santo rallying the group to put together a sensational performance against one of the better outfits in Europe. With all of the uncertainty of transfers in the club and the Kane situation up in the air, not many had pinned Spurs to defeat the champions, but they did just that and ultimately looked like the better team through most of the game.
We spoke about it earlier, but Tanganga rose [Editor’s note: lol] to the occasion in this one. There has been a lot of talk regarding possible incoming Takehiro Tomiyasu playing in a RCB/RB role for Spurs, but Tanganga looks to be already capable of doing that. Sure roster depth is important, but the 22-year-old’s performance today showed that he can still play a big role on this team.
Another player shoutout should be directed at yet another academy product. Last season, Skipp played in 45 games for now-promoted Norwich City. Against City, this was going to be some challenge for Skipp. He held his own and looked good for the most part and showed why Spurs are opting not to send him out on loan again.
The obvious issue from today’s game was the lack of traditional number nine presence that Kane would have brought to the attacking front. While Son is a special player, it is not a knock on him that he does not have the hold-up and linking play that top strikers do. While the attack was quick and crisp, Spurs looked a bit static in possession. Fortunately, this type of game did not call for Spurs holding most of the ball. Whether Kane does return to the fold or gets sold, Spurs need to find a striker presence. Surely, if Kane goes to City, Spurs would utilize some of that money to bring in a striker.
As Spurs move on from this game and look ahead to their upcoming fixtures, it will be interesting to see how Nuno mixes and matches his tactics and team choices. More players should be coming into the group and more players will likely be on their way out. For what it is worth, the duo of Fabio Paratici and Steve Hitchen were sitting pitch-side. We continue to see pictures of Paratici with his wired headphones. One would have to imagine that with a few weeks until the end of the summer window, Paratici and Spurs will certainly have more business to take care of.
To close out, I wanted to also make note of a comment that Nuno had made during his post-game presser alongside the NBC Sports trio. When asked about his players and tactics, Nuno had mentioned that it is his and the coaching team’s responsibility to make the job easier for the players, alluding to the idea that he is choosing his team’s set-up that is to the benefit of the players he has available to him.
All in all, Spurs looked up for it today. Whether it was the fans in the stadium or not having to deal with José Mourinho on the touchline again, it has started out all fine and dandy so far for Nuno’s Spurs.
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