Tottenham fans needn’t hit the panic buttons just yet, but their 3-0 humiliation at home to West Ham has raised a few eyebrows – and a few questions about Andre Villas-Boas’ tactics.
The most obvious place to start is from the front. Villas-Boas clearly has a system in his mind involving just the one striker, forcing him to choose between Roberto Soldado, Jermain Defoe and – supposedly – Emmanuel Adebayor.
In the league, Soldado has hitherto won that battle, but Defoe’s scoring spree in both the Europa League and Capital One Cup earned him a start against West Ham.
AVB also has to contend with the tricky situation whereby Defoe is a firm favourite among the Spurs faithful, and the Portuguese boss may have caved in to that pressure by starting him on his own.
Soldado may have scored few from open play so far, but when Defoe was presented with an opportunity, sadly he did not take it. Following his strike against Anzhi on Thursday, Defoe was warned by his manager that it would not guarantee him a start.
AVB was forced to eat those words, but as Defoe is the sort of goal-poacher that can change a game at any moment, Soldado was not brought on until it was too late and the Spaniard never really settled into the game.
The striking problem is not as simple as an unquestionable victory for Soldado. Between them, Spurs have notched up just six goals in seven Premier League matches this season.
Compare that to league leaders, Arsenal with fourteen, or even Manchester City, who have scored seventeen and sit level on points with Tottenham. For all the lack of goalmouth action, there was little between the two sides in the first half, so how Spurs found themselves 3-0 must be a mystery to themselves.
After the 1-1 draw against Chelsea, talk of the title was still whistling through the rafters at White Hart Lane, fuelled by the knowledge that the following week, Spurs were playing a side that sat eighteenth in the table.
It is, of course, early doors and the result was almost certainly a blip in what should turn out as a positive season for Tottenham after their heavy summer investment. It will undoubtedly take time for the squad to gel after a huge summer revamp.
Few criticisms can usually be levelled at the defence, though Hugo Lloris was left exposed for Kevin Nolan’s goal. Prior to Sunday’s match, only Olivier Giroud and John Terry had got past Spurs’ defence, but the Lilywhites appeared to crumble after the first goal as they switched formation in search of an equaliser.
The position of left-back looked vulnerable without Danny Rose, as his replacement Kyle Naughton looked out of sorts. Loaning Benoit Assou-Ekotto out to QPR now looks like a decision that could come back to haunt the club, and a rumoured January bid for Everton’s Leighton Baines would go a long way to ensuring a result like this does not happen again.
Jan Vertonghen was one of few to take the bull by the horns and lead the charge forward in an otherwise sluggish attack, but this subsequently left Spurs exposed.
AVB looks reasonably sure of his Premier League starting XI – though it resembles his Europa League one far too closely, and fatigue was certainly evident against the Hammers. Tactically, however, there are a few tweaks still to be made, such as whether to be Gylfi Sigurdsson on the wing or further down the middle. Andros Townsend must also work on his final ball in training, but like Aaron Lennon in his formative years, the young midfielder’s pace made him a threat.
Disappointing though it may be, the West Ham defeat must not define Spurs’ season. Seeing fans leave in their droves after the second and third goals was equally, if not more disappointing, but it is now up to AVB’s men to heed what can only be seen as the most startling of wake-up calls.
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