Tottenham Hotspur laid an egg on Saturday, falling 1-0 at home to Brighton & Hove Albion thanks to a late goal from Leandro Trossard. That’s the bad news. The good news is that while Spurs will undoubtedly look back at this match as a missed opportunity, Arsenal’s loss at Southampton means that the top four race is still very much on... although we can now officially welcome Manchester United to the party.
Here are some observations from today’s match.
Tottenham could not deal with Brighton’s Press
It’s been a while since Tottenham faced an opponent with such a well executed press — Brighton caught Spurs a bit unawares today. No doubt Antonio Conte had his team train to prepare for a high intensity encounter over the week, but as I write this in the 56th minute of the game, Tottenham are yet to show that they can consistently beat Brighton’s press. Since the first minute Brighton have beaten Tottenham on 50/50s and effectively trapped the home side in their own end of the pitch. Bentancur and Hojbjerg, who have both been rock solid since the Uruguayan came in from Juventus, have been for the most part nullified this game with Brighton players flooding the midfield. As with any press, it’s opened up channels behind for Kane, Son and Kulusevski to run into but Spurs have been unable to get enough time on the ball to pick it out a good pass.
Lack of Wingback Involvement
This is a bit of a chicken-egg observation — are Spurs struggling because their wingbacks have not been involved in play, or are their wingbacks not involved because Spurs are struggling? The truth is likely somewhere in the middle. Neither Emerson Royal or Sergio Reguilon have been able to make an impression on the game, both being largely relegated to defensive duties to stymie the Brighton onslaught. More importantly, Kane hasn’t been able to drop deep and link up play as much as he has in the past — this is one of the main ways that Spurs are able to progress the ball with numbers, and a big reason that Tottenham have found it difficult to create chances on a consistent basis.
Cucurella got the best of Kulusevski
Another part of Tottenham’s build up that Brighton did well to nullify was the link up play between wingbacks and the outside forwards, Son Heung-Min and Dejan Kulusevski. Marc Cucurella’s performance against Kulusevski serves as a microcosm for the overall feel of the game. Cucurella did well to be a constant nuisance on Brighton’s left flank, and neither Kulusevski or Royal could do much to stop him. Defensively, Cucurella also put in some important challenges in and round his 18 yard box - it wasn’t an individually stellar performance, but Brighton’s system set him up to succeed. Of course, his performance culminated in Kulusevski throwing his elbow out, but the larger takeaway is that this was probably the most obvious case of Brighton’s players unsettling Spurs and never letting them get into the game.
It was clear after the first half that Brighton had the perfect counter for Tottenham’s system. Conte has come in in the middle of the season, and there’s been a lot of interviews in which he states that he’s still getting Spurs players acclimated to his system. It’s unfair — and short sighted — to expect Conte to have a Plan B ready to be rolled out when the opposition counters his system. That said, it’s probably one of the first things he will want to tackle in the pre-season.