After heavy rotation against Bristol City in the cup midweek, Vilahamn reverted to a more typical league lineup with a few small changes. Asmita Ale started at right back with Angharad James moving into midfield instead of Ria Percival, and Zhang Linyan replaced Jess Naz on the left wing.
Look folks, it was really bad. I’d rather not sit here and describe all seven goals to you, so I’ll link the highlights once they’re available and get into some talking points instead.
How do you solve a problem like Bunny Shaw?
Bunny Shaw has been tearing up the league for three seasons now. She scored five goals against Spurs last year. You absolutely cannot afford to give her that much space in the box, she will take advantage of it. She is very good, and she made our center backs look like cones, but that Vilahamn didn’t seem to have a plan for how to deal with Bunny is hugely concerning.
Failing to deal with Chloe Kelly and Lauren Hemp
Of course, it’s not just Bunny Shaw. It’s generational talents Chloe Kelly and Lauren Hemp feeding her from the wings. If you know your centerbacks can’t deal with Bunny Shaw, then you need to minimize Chloe and Lauren’s danger on the wings. Ash Neville did a fine job shutting down Chloe Kelly to start, but Asmita had a few scary moments against Lauren Hemp that resulted in easy crosses into Bunny. Things broke down more on both sides as the game progressed.
On a good day, Asmita does better there. But this was her first start in months, and she’s barely had any game time. Of course Lauren Hemp was going to torch a rusty Asmita Ale. That said, Vilahamn had pretty much no choice other than to play Asmita Ale at right back today. Angharad has shown she’s weaker off the ball in the right back position, and our injury concerns meant we needed her in midfield. I would rather see Asmita there ten more times than Amy Turner there again ever.
It’s not just the right back position–losing Drew Spence and Olga Ahtinen is a severe hit to Spurs’ collective technical quality on the ball. The side still tried to possess the ball, but they were unable to do so against a City side that was just better all over the pitch.
Spurs’ form is overly dependent on key players that cannot get injured. Injuries to Becky Spencer, Luana Buhler (yeah, I know she had a bad game today. Still, she’s better than the alternative), or Martha Thomas would spell further disaster. The side needs reinforcements in January if they are to build on the good work Vilahamn has already done. On a positive note, it looks like these reinforcements will actually arrive. Vilahamn confirmed there will “absolutely” be players arriving in January, and Emma Sanders reported Australian defender Charli Grant as a potential name.
I was really excited to see Linyan get the start, but she seemed physically outmatched on the wing. She and Ash Neville have yet to form a partnership, and their inexperience playing with each other led to multiple turnovers on that wing. In hindsight I would’ve elected to play Jess Naz or Grace Clinton there. I think Linyan is a really promising talent, but she needs time to adapt. Throwing her in against a rip-roaring City side and then withdrawing her at half feels bad, man.
Things fell apart
I thought there was a chance Spurs would emerge from the halftime dressing room invigorated, and with a new plan for dealing with Bunny Shaw. Instead, Spurs totally switched off in the second half, and City sure took advantage of it. They sliced us up all over the pitch, and by the end of the game we simply looked too exhausted to keep pressing or attacking. Yes, we had a midweek game. Still, this does not fill me with confidence ahead of Spurs’ upcoming games against *checks notes* Manchester United and Arsenal.
On the plus side, and I’m grasping at straws here, I don’t think we conceded from any of the ten or so set pieces City had (I could be wrong, I stopped taking notes after the sixth goal and became the “lie down, try not to cry, cry a lot” meme). That may be the only positive I can think to take, other than the fact that it looks like Beth England is back on grass and should hopefully be making a return soon.
Despite my extremely negative reaction to this game, I don’t think it’s worth throwing our toys out of the pram just yet. We know Vilahamn is here to build something in the long term, and most of the problems we saw today can be fixed by further investment in the team come January and next summer. I’m also not totally opposed to Vilahamn’s flaw being “he sticks to an attacking game plan at all costs, even when facing Bunny Shaw the destroyer.” In fact, although it sucked to learn, I think I like that in a manager, and I think it’s a good fit for Tottenham Hotspur. As long as we continue to see progress and good vibes, let’s let him cook.