Opinion: Back four – travelling horror show

Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
Dom Le Roy

I have quibbles elsewhere. The first half selection—forced by the three suspensions—didn’t work. I don’t understand why Sessegnon won’t try to round his defender and get free toward the box. Lucas tried a few too many hero passes for my liking. But the effort was there, the team scored the two goals that should have been enough for a victory, Ndombele began to really boss the midfield, and yet in other ways we were fortunate to even take the draw.

The back line is pretty much a disaster. And the goalkeeper isn’t much better. I had hopes for Juan Foyth. By all accounts he has been playing well for Argentina in what are admittedly friendlies but in South America can be tough rites of passage for a young defender. And yet his foolishness cost us a goal. He ran into trouble—and then was bullied off the ball.

I’d like to think Alderweireld paired with either Sanchez or Vertonghen is a first rate central defence. The facts continually say otherwise. After the Foyth error, where was Toby? Late. On the Pukki VAR non-goal (what a travesty—this goal plus ones for Brighton and Palace were ruled out for a millimetre. In this case I’m not even sure it existed let alone mattered) Pukki was given acres of space by Toby and Jan. Jose was quick to make judgement, yanking both Foyth and Vertonghen at halftime, and kudos for that. We might lose—and we didn’t win this game—but he’s never going to sit back and just let it happen. And where was Sanchez or Alderweireld on the final Pukki run? How could the one player you don’t want to let best you be given so much space? Aurier was more unlucky than anything else but the goal was a product of a total breakdown in the back line.

Unless and until we return to the days when a Spurs side would concede 30 goals or fewer a season, rather than 29 in barely half that time and a boatload in the Champions League, we will not contend for any cup and we will not make Top Four. Sure our competitors for 4th are flawed, but there are at least three of them, and that presumes Arteta cannot turn water into even grape juice at Woolwich. We have to outgun and outluck three different similarly talented teams in Chelsea, Wolves and Man United. This is almost the 180 degree opposite of a classic Mourinho team, and eventually he will fix it, whether it means benching players now, adding a body or two in January, or more likely producing an entire makeover in the summer. And while Gazzaniga is not the major culprit, I no longer expect him to make the one save a game that can often make the difference between three points and one. That first goal by Vrancic might have been reached by a different keeper on a different night.

And finally Son can’t be let off for all of this. It is hardly a guaranteed win now on New Year’s vs the Saints, whose form has improved markedly the past few weeks. If Jose bets it all on Dele and Kane again, then surely they will both miss the FA Cup fixture at the Riverside, along with a few others, and we risk ending another cup competition before it ever begins.

The supposed #19 player in the world is too valuable to his team to remove himself from action for nearly 10% of the schedule over a moment of red mist. I don’t care how bad Rudiger acted—did you see Kane work Kevin Friend for the penalty tonight? It’s part of the game. A kick to the ribs in retaliation for the type of foul that occurs every single day was a stupid act of frustration. As good as he is, as much as we love him—the fact is that he’s done this twice in the past seven months. A third time and I think management has to consider whether he’s worth the trouble.

For the rest, they played hard. Eriksen made a brilliant free kick and was at least capable if not stirring in his playmaker role. Kane never stopped and his efforts paid off with the leveller. Dele was active if not at his best—the first half miss was brutal. Lamela and Lucas were both whirling dervishes, particularly the Brazilian, and as I said Ndombele got better and better. If we could only defend it wouldn’t be a half-bad side, now would it?

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  1. I don’t rate Foyth, but in his defence he received an elbow to the neck when being stripped of the ball. Does VAR not look at all goals?


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