There is so much to say about what was bad about this game, that we shouldn’t forget what was good. Spurs have advanced in one of four trophy competitions they still have all to play for in early December. The final score was fair—we should and could easily have been two goals down at the break. Then again we could easily have scored another in the second half on the Bale run that misfired with an errant pass to Son. Of course we have to be a lot better than this Sunday and in all competitions going forward, other than perhaps the nice January match with Marine.
I’ll dispense with the positives. I thought Tanganga was our best player, and in fact only competent, member of the back four tonight. He even had a nice run forward which sputtered but kudos for the attempt. Hart kept it close before he didn’t—making one fine save by becoming big against an onrushing LASK forward. He was slow on both the first and third goals, however, and made a complete mess of the second. I thought Bale had his best game despite that misjudged pass. He made several intelligent plays, was generally good with possession and one could see how against certain teams in certain formations he will be very valuable. But let’s be honest—he no longer has anything close to that burst we saw in the early years and Madrilenos witnessed in his first few years there. And the confidence must be lacking because ordinarily, I would have expected him to bury that ball. Tanguy Ndombele was active as usual (more on the failed pairing with Lo Celso in a minute) and made the one sublime play to give us the goal through Son that at least took most, but not all, of the suspense about the result. And Steven Bergwijn I thought was quite active and threatening once he came on—he won the penalty that in the end supplied the final goal we needed to advance.
As for the rest, where do I begin with this mess of a game? Sadly, it must be Davinson Sanchez who was abject for much of the game, beaten badly for the second goal, and slow to close down on the third and generally less than satisfactory throughout the entire match. He has now deservedly dropped down to becoming our fifth best centre back, which means, assuming Joe Rodon will find a spot on the Europa League roster going forward, he may have only sparing match time before one assumes his Spurs career will end. Ben Davies at left back was adequate on defence but so disappointing going forward—bad touches, poor passes, ineffective runs—it made one wish for the old Danny Rose or the new Sergio Reguilon and while this Welshman will continue to play, I just don’t see the quality. His counterpart I thought was even worse—there is a reason Aurier has been picked for the two big league games recently and came on at the end, though it didn’t prevent that final goal. What does Doherty give us? Beaten badly on the one rush Hart saved, and he slipped and fell, allowing the break that led to the second goal, and I thought his passing and general play was substandard throughout most of the game. The midfield trio didn’t work, and I’m not entirely sure why. Hojgberg didn’t have his best game and Lo Celso made a mess of one run when he tried to split two defenders after a nice move to break free with two or three good passing options available. But somehow it was LASK who kept opening up space and advancing, particularly in the first half. And Son up until his nice run for the goal—he was better afterwards—was pretty average, I thought—as was Lucas.
It is a reminder that in what could easily be a three or four team battle for the title, Spurs are still working fine margins. We have a clear starting XI which, set up a certain way against certain sides, gives us a great chance to win. Our flexibility beyond those players, despite seeming depth, is as yet uncertain and will depend on performances by substitutes which have been fleeting these first few months. Lucas, Lamela, Dele and of course Bale all have things to offer—as does Lo Celso—but they have yet to show the type of consistency needed to plug them in without hesitation. I’m getting more confident about centre back even as I bemoan the back-up options at the positions where rest will be most necessary because of distance covered—the wings. And our reserve goalkeeper has holes that we’ve all seen over the past five years as his once stellar career with a champion team came to an end.
Yet the ultimate conclusion is easy. Trade a draw tonight for a win Sunday? All day, every day. We may not have had the rhythmic cohesion of the Von Trapps—but we got out of Austria alive just the same.
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