After resting nearly all of the first-team dressing room in last Thursday’s UEFA Conference League match against Paços de Ferreira, Tottenham Hotspur went with the same group from their season-opening win against Manchester City last weekend. Featuring the same starting XI as well as the same 4-3-3 tactics from last week, Spurs seemed keen on keeping things simple but they also had the reinforcement of Harry Kane on the bench.
Many had expected Spurs to control the game and possess the ball against Wolves, but it was anything but that in this one. Attacking mainly through the channels manned by Adama Traoré and Nélson Semedo, Wolves looked dangerous all game long. Despite having the better chances and knocking continuously on the door, Hugo Lloris never really looked threatened outside of one or two chances.
In the opening minutes, a rare Spurs possession led to Dele Alli drifting into space behind the defense where attacking left back Sergio Reguilón connected with him. As the ball came into Alli, a touch of the ball put him in position to win a penalty against Wolves goalkeeper José Sá. With Kane on the bench at the time, Alli took the penalty over Son Heung-min and slotted the spot-kick into the back of the net.
For the rest of the first half, Spurs had to stay compact and within their shape. Despite the likes of Traoré operating on the flank defended by Japhet Tanganga, Spurs never really let in any game-breaking opportunities. With the help of Oliver Skipp and even Lucas Moura, Spurs did their best to help out Tanganga against Traoré. And while Traoré did his best to put Wolves in a position to equalize, there was never really a finishing product from the likes of Raúl Jiménez or Rúben Neves, who played more in the middle.
After being out-possessed 59 percent to 41 percent in the first half, Spurs looked a bit more comfortable on the ball and grew more into the game in the second half. Perhaps the most eventful moments in the second half happened between the 50th and 65th minute. In the 55th minute, a quick and long, weighted ball had Son in on goal only for the angle to be altered. A few minutes later, Eric Dier, largely having a good day at the time, gave the ball away and led to a counter where Neves threaded a ball in where Traoré lost out to Lloris in a one-on-one situation.
At the 70th minute mark or so, Harry Kane made his long-awaited Spurs debut in the new season, replacing Son which opened a few eyes. Son did leave pre-game warmups with the trainers, so perhaps he was playing with a knock or he was taken out to keep his legs fresh ahead of Tottenham’s second leg against Paços de Ferreira on Thursday.
Despite opportunities to kill the game late, Spurs halted any of Wolves’ chances and were able to see out the result. As we had done in our post-game analysis against Manchester City, let’s play another game of Rose, Thorn and Bud from today’s result.
Again, 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.
Playing with the same tactics as well as the same line-up, Spurs’ shape is definitely the bright spot from this game. The attacking quartet of Son, Dele, Lucas and Steven Bergwijn was once again in full effect in this one. And while Spurs were not able to create as many chances as they had created last week against City, the four were consistent in their defensive work rates, all of which can be attributed to the 4-3-3 shape that they have showcased in both opening Premier League matches.
Something else to consider is that Tottenham once again dug their heels in deep to come up with three points. In last year’s campaign, Spurs dropped more points from winning positions than anyone else in the league. This season, Spurs have held their own to see out results for three full points, both on home and away surfaces.
Despite the full three points, this was not a great performance by Spurs. Against Wolves’ press and their attacking outlets, Spurs looked pretty pinned in their own half for most of the game. Even when they occupied the ball, the passing was not neat and tidy by any means. It became pretty apparent early in this game that the lack of ball-progression ability became apparent from this line-up.
Pierre-Emile Højbjerg and Skipp have been admirable in the middle of the park in assisting the defense, but neither of them have the ability to wriggle in space and pass through the lines. Tottenham’s best ball-carriers in midfield are Tanguy Ndombele and Giovani Lo Celso. While Lo Celso came on in this one, the uncertain future of Ndombele definitely makes you wonder.
On top of ball-progression, another way to break the Wolves’ press with consistency is by having an individual who could hold the ball and link play up. Once Kane came on, Wolves’ press immediately took a turn for the worse and Spurs looked much more dangerous on the ball. Just like with Ndombele, if Kane departs, Spurs once again need more consistency to hold the ball up and wait for reinforcements.
Another thorn that can be discussed here are the inconsistencies of players in the squad. In last week’s win against City, both Lucas Moura and Davinson Sánchez had spectacular performances. What has plagued both of them in their tenures in north London has been their inconsistencies.
Due to the influence of Traoré, Sánchez was dragged out of position multiple times as the duo of Sánchez-Dier was certainly not as good as it was last week. In Moura’s case, while his work rate will never be questioned, he lost the ball a ton in this one and his passing was not as good as it was last week. Both seem to be huge parts of Nuno’s plans. Spurs were able to get the result despite it, but the club cannot afford too many ‘Jekyll/Hyde’ performances from either individual.
Despite the shaky performance today, what is clear is that Spurs have work to do in the transfer market before the first of September. Spurs will surely showcase their first team a lot more than they did the first time against Paços de Ferreira. As Spurs look to utilize their first-team and put away a Portuguese side on Thursday, they will have a home match next Sunday against newly-promoted Watford.
Lastly, with Spurs hopefully adding more talent into the squad, I am curious to see how they will evolve and adjust. At this moment, we have seen back-to-back games of the same shape and the same players. Depending on the outgoings and incomings ahead of the end of the window, Spurs are not yet the finished article. And while the three points are all that matters, the performances in the future will need to be better than this one if the club wants to get back into the top four.
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