If you thought that Tottenham Hotspur would be able to cope against Crystal Palace despite the injuries and absences within the squad, you were completely wrong. Despite the absences of starters Son Heung-min, Steven Bergwijn and Davinson Sánchez, I, myself, thought that Spurs would have the ammunition needed to take three points from a Palace side that was still getting suited and organized under new manager Patrick Vieira. Instead, it was anything but as Spurs suffered an embarrassing 3-0 defeat where they were really never in the game, as indicated by their terrible 0.08 xG.
Last season, Spurs went on the road atop the league table to Selhurst Park and were only able to muster up a draw, starting a run of games where Spurs dropped points from winning positions as if they were trying to. In today’s matchup, Spurs arrived once again top of the table at Selhurst Park, but the performance of the team was anything but like league-leaders, looking instead like the inferior team all game.
Without three starters, Nuno Espírito Santo opted to include Emerson Royal, Harry Winks and Lucas Moura into the starting line-up. Perhaps to replace the attacking influence of Son on the flank, Nuno shifted Dele Alli, who has been starting in the left-sided midfield position as part of the midfield ‘3’, to the left flank, which brought Winks into the midfield. Additionally, with the absence of Sánchez, Nuno opted for Japhet Tanganga to move alongside Eric Dier in the centerback duo, which gave way for Emerson to play right back against the dangerous Wilfried Zaha. For Moura, it was just a straight swap between him and Bergwijn. Sergio Reguilón kept his place in the side as the left back.
The trouble in this one really started at the six minute mark where Hugo Lloris laid off a pass from the box that was a bit too far for Dier. As Dier approached the errant ball to boot it long, he came up a bit injured in the process. Despite trying to stay on the pitch, Dier went down a few minutes later and Spurs were forced into making an early substitution by bringing Joe Rodon on to pair with Tanganga, making the defense even younger and less experienced. Fair play to Rodon, who played alright despite being thrown into the fire.
In the second half, Tanganga and Zaha had a dust-up which led to both players being given yellow cards. Just minutes later, a second yellow for Tanganga led to him being dismissed from the game, which gave way for Ben Davies to be introduced to the team. Playing with 10 men, Davies conceded a penalty via his hand being in an offensive position and also failed to close down Odsonne Edouard which led to a second goal. It is safe to say that Sánchez’s absence was easily felt in this one. With Dier’s potential injury, Tanganga’s card absence and the questions over Sánchez and even Cristian Romero, Spurs now face a serious conundrum at centerback with games on Thursday and Sunday.
In midfield, Oliver Skipp was able to play in this one despite leaving an Under-21 game earlier in the week with an injury. Pierre-Emile Højbjerg assumed his position once again in the midfield, with Nuno once again opting for the duo to marshal in front of the defense. Next to Skipp and Højbjerg, Winks was given the nod into the starting lineup over Tanguy Ndombele. As expected with the midfield choices, Tottenham received zero creativity from the midfield, failing to thread the ball from defense into attacking positions. There were countless opportunities in the first half where the midfielders failed to show bravery in making diagonal passes, showcasing once again Tottenham’s inability to progress up the field by spraying the ball around.
In attack, Spurs clearly missed Son’s influence. It ultimately led to Palace defenders being able to completely thwart Harry Kane from any game-opening chances. Dele tried to make things happen, but he seemed to be caught in a role between midfield and attack, which in turn made Spurs a bit convoluted in the process. Dele should be credited for running all day. Even when Spurs went down to 10 men, it was Dele who was jumping off the screen in the latter parts of the game for his fitness via running and tracking around the field. On the other side, Lucas had a couple of take-ons but could not create a dangerous opportunity. Perhaps, it would have behooved Spurs to play Dele in the midfield in place for Winks and instead have Bryan Gil in attack.
To continue with this series, let’s analyze the roses, the thorns and the buds from today’s defeat. For those new to the series, 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.
There were not many good things going on Spurs in this one. As mentioned before, they never really got into the game and looked second-best throughout. Perhaps the performances of both Rodon and Emerson Royal should be mentioned. The combination of Tanganga and Rodon hung in there and defended what was needed up until the moment Tanganga went off with the red card.
For Emerson’s case, the Brazilian came into the side less than two weeks ago. He was given a difficult first Premier League test against Zaha on the flank and while Zaha won out some battles, Emerson looked quite capable and certainly has the pedigree to continue to improve while getting accustomed to the club and the new league.
Spurs’ best player on the pitch was easily Højbjerg. It was a terrible team performance, but Højbjerg did his part. He stopped many key attacks and even opened up the middle of the pitch at times.
The thorns really started out prior to the game with the choices in the starting lineup. All of the concerns that Spurs supporters imagined with this midfield came to fruition in this game. Particular without Son on the flank, looking back to the start of the game, it was easy to predict that Tottenham were simply not going to be able to navigate through the middle of the pitch. And up until the red card, this game had the feel of a 0-0 draw. Sure Spurs came back from the international break with some injuries and absences, but this performance was unacceptable and it really starts with the choices from the jump.
On top of the lineup choices, the substitutions were woeful. Spurs were forced into an injury substitution early in the game, but Nuno should have made two changes at halftime. Spurs were crying out for creativity and in a game where the Lilywhites were expected to take three points, they should have been going for it more. Both Gil and Ndombele should have started the second half. Spurs had a single-digit number of touches in Palace’s box and when you have a player of Kane’s ability at striker, the manager must do everything in his power to take advantage of that even if it means conceding some pressure defensively. The game may be remembered for the decision of the red card, but this game was lost based on the decisions from the coaching staff.
Looking at the players, this was some clunker by Lloris. His errant pass ultimately led to the injury of Dier. And even after that, Lloris gave the ball away all game. He was even caught out of position later in the match, which needed the calm and cool clearance by Reguilón to head away. His feet have never been the strength of his game, but it was a real poor performance from the Tottenham skipper. There is a real concern over Dier’s injury and while he has not always been a favorite from Tottenham fans, his absence will surely be missed if he needs to spend time on the recovery table.
Next, both Winks and Davies were poor in this one. Tottenham did a really good job this summer in moving on from players and refreshing their squad. While the two were involved due to injuries and a red card, the duo of Winks and Davies showed once again that they do not have any business being in a side that has hopes of getting back into the Top-6, let alone the Top-4. From Winks’ inability to pass through the defense to Davies’ clear handball, the individual errors and inabilities from these two were easily felt in this game.
Lastly, we keep speaking about it but Spurs are in need of a creative dimension from their midfield. With the window closed, Spurs have to look within to find the answer to this issue and everyone in the club and the fans supporting it know the answer.
It has not been a perfect two years for Ndombele in north London, but the Frenchman can play a role and provide a solution that no other player in the squad can. If Nuno continues to opt for this somewhat dull and elementary approach, he will simply have to include Ndombele into the fold.
The bright spot for Spurs is that they can quickly forget about this game by playing on Thursday against French Ligue 1 side Rennes. Another bright spot for Spurs is that they likely cannot play worse than they did today.
With a few more days before another fixture, perhaps some of Tottenham’s absentees will be brought back into the fold. Spurs were short-handed and disjointed throughout the game in this one and it all stemmed from the recent international break.
It is easy to get bogged down from the points return, but the performance could not have been worse. As Spurs approach this next week with two games on the schedule, including an important London derby against title-contenders Chelsea, they simply need to take this performance and use it to identify what they need to be doing better to fix their current issues.
It seems that Spurs have started out under Nuno winning on borrowed time. The issues many had worried about over the first few games of the year came to the forefront in this game. Winning is the cure to everything of course and this game can easily be put in the rear-view mirror if they can win their first group game of the UEFA Conference League campaign on Thursday and also come out derby winners in the big game on Sunday. But the blueprint of Spurs’ issues has now been drawn out. It simply must improve and it must be done quickly.
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