Opinion: It’s the players, not selection or shape

Harry Winks
Chloe Knott - Danehouse/Getty Images

I gather the South Stand mood was pretty foul last night. But why? Did any but the most irrational expect us to win or, even if we should, to do it by enough goals to advance? Did they not think the effort was good even if, as is so often the case, the results were lacking? Did they think Gollini cost us this tie? Or Conte?

I thought all told, the performance was pretty good. Tanganga botched a coverage; Gollini made a poor gamble—and there was the killer goal. Chelsea were never going to be threatened—if we had survived one of those VAR reviews (all of which came to the correct conclusion) I still don’t think they let us get within a whiff of a two-goal victory.

All those second-half counters attacks which came to nothing were annoying.  Kane created the best but then it was his poor pass that put Lucas too close to Kepa, Luca misfired or held up the action a couple of times, so did Ryan Sessegnon. It is a truism that now extends past managerial impact or style, our attackers despite having played with one another for at least the past 30 months (and longer in a few cases) are rarely capable of finding each other in space—except for Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son. But the talent disparity is painfully obvious. Other than Kane—and if he is chosen over Lukaku, it is by a whisper—not one of our other starters last night would be selected over their Chelsea counterparts. And when we made a sub, it was Oliver Skipp, bless him, a young player with great potential. They would bring on N’Golo Kante to play a similar position, one of the best 20 players in the world.

So can you blame Conte for giving Lloris a rest, preserving our two best LB options, keeping Skipp off for the first hour? Delaying Romero (we hope) and Dier’s return from injury until Sunday?  That game matters so much more than this one. It had been nearly 30 years since a team had overcome a 2 goal deficit in a League Cup semi-final second leg—it wasn’t ever going to happen last night.

A win on Sunday and the door to a Top Four finish opens wider—a loss and it comes close to slamming shut given our brutal fixture list yet to come (away to City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Man United). Whatever else is happening re: Ndombele (who I doubt will play again in a Spurs shirt), Dele, or the transfer window, Conte knows he must produce a win Sunday. And so must the players. They’re not stupid—they know, that for this year at least, the Top Three are out of sight. We have to focus on the lesser battle—and games like the NLD are everything in that fight.

As for a few others, I thought this was Emerson’s best game in some while—one poor cross chipped over everyone, but a host of good tackles, good runs and smart decisions. And I wish that Gio Lo Celso could channel even 70% of Christian Eriksen’s playmaking ability—it could have come in handy. Harry Winks hustled and occasionally interlinked well, but his final pass let him down. Ben Davies and Davinson Sanchez were both adequate. It was a team closer to 8th than 3rd playing one closer to 1st than 4th in terms of talent and capability. It would only end one way.

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