That final half-hour was excruciating. By the 80th minute I texted a fellow Spurs supporter “it’s not a question of if but when they score”. And as with Liverpool. Palace. Newcastle (admittedly aided by a bizarre VAR decision). West Ham. The goal came late as our defence was finally not good enough, Winks wandering into space doing nothing, Davies beaten on the run by Saiss, Kane a bystander. And I will simply say we were probably fortunate they only got the one, such was the utter futility of our performance in that second half.
There is a tactical question that must be addressed even before we get to the Mourinho mindset and what, of anything, his players or the manager himself can do to shake it. Teams have now realised how dangerous Kane is in space in the middle of the pitch. So they are playing an accordion-like collapsing defence which allows us position with just modest pressure in our third, but utterly denies us the channels or the space to do much in the middle third. Son gets bullied, Kane gets surrounded, and increasingly any possibility of a break is stifled at inception. We are forced to boot long balls over the top either Route One or down the flanks, because nothing else seems to work. Only Tanguy Ndombele yesterday or Gio Lo Celso in other games has the nous to actually penetrate the midfield defence and open up the final third for something special. When Tanguy was subbed out for the final half hour that skill disappeared. Solving this problem is on the manager for without it we will be lucky to finish in the Top Six, let alone the Top Four this season.
As for the defence, generally they played well at what they were forced to do. Eric Dier had another gruesome giveaway early in the game that could have led to bigger trouble than it did. Sanchez gambled once on a header near midfield, and when he lost created a break for Wolves that luckily for him sputtered out. Davies—and Reguilon while he played—was generally pretty effective coping with the constant threat that is Adama Traore. But it was down that flank that the fateful corner was won and the Welshman was slow to react to Saiss’ run for the goal. He does deserve credit for a nice pass back to Tanguy for the goal.
The central midfield was a different story. I though Winks was fairly effective in the first half until his booking. He stupidly lost the ball and then lashed out in frustration. After that he was pretty passive and had one miserable sequence where he made a heavy touch then couldn’t chase the ball down as it spirited out of play. Hojgberg was meh—he will never be the engine going forward, but I though some of his possession was sloppy and ineffectual. Ndombele was the one bright light, not only with the goal but also with several forays through Wolves’ players—I thought he erred on the first half 3 v 2 by passing to Reguilon, who made a poor attempt on goal, on the left rather than Kane on the right. But at least with him you knew something might happen, which wasn’t the case with nine other outfield players.
Kane and Son looked knackered—and why wouldn’t they be given the fixture pile-up? One or both must sit against Fulham or an injury risk might really put a dent into this season. But they were both pretty miserable—Son made a curious decision to try a long ball toward Reguilon when Kane was sitting open just fifteen yard directly ahead of him. They were pretty miserable trying to find each other at the end when we were trying for a winner. As stated earlier, Kane is simply not given space in the middle third anymore, so any notion of him playing some deep Number 10 role has been lost. Both made sloppy passes. Steven Bergwijn had one great chance for a break in the final ten minutes but blew it with a horrific first touch. Not good enough—all the way around. How much of this is fatigue? Or poor skill? Or a mindset produced by the manager? It is hard to say—but I suspect all of them are at work. But I do know this—we have to break out of this current patter if we want to win a trophy or two or contend for top-four position this season. We need more creativity in the middle of the pitch. We need players who can link up well together rather than just chasing the opposition or trying to corral another Lloris goal kick. There was a moment before Wolves scored where our pressing (which was better tonight) produced a turnover and within seconds the ball had been sent back from the midfield stripe to Hugo for yet another kick that surrendered possession—I almost threw something at the television at that moment.
Anyway, it is clear to me which of our players we must see more of to get through these next two weeks with ambition still alive. So Jose—if you’re listening—swallow your anger and pride and put Dele in. He’s better than Ozil and a lot of other players too.
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