With the 3-1 win over Borussia Dortmund still fresh in the memory of every Spurs fan heading in to today’s game against Swansea at Wembley, the bookmakers put us down as understandably heavy favourites to pick up 3 points and move in to the top 4 of the Premier League.
Pochettino raised a lot of eyebrows with his team selection heading in to the game, with Aurier, Davies and Dembele – all instrumental in the win over Dortmund – starting the game on the bench as substitutes. With Davies – our only recognised fit left back in the squad on the bench – it looked to be Son who was going to play as the left wing back for the game – a position which he famously struggled in when put there against Chelsea in the FA Cup Semi-Final back in April.
The first half finished 0-0, with neither side being able to create many clear cut opportunities – Swansea adopting Burnley’s tactic from 2 weeks ago by putting everyone behind the ball when Spurs were in posession and looking to hit us on the counter attack with the pace of Tammy Abraham and Jordan Ayew.
The teams come out for the second half, with Pochettino looking to have made minor adjustments to the way he set up the side as we looked for an opener. Trippier moved out to left back, with Sissoko moving in to right-back and Son playing as one of the three attacking midfielders in behind Kane, who was feeding off scraps in the first half.
The change in tactical setup looked to be working, with Spurs having roughly 70% of the posession, piling on the pressure for the entire second 45 minutes. However, with Mawson and Fernandez marshalling Swansea’s back line brilliantly all game, Eriksen and Dele failed to find gaps in the Swansea side and therefore struggled to create opportunities to get the goal which would’ve won the game. In the 57th minute, talisman Kane missed a great chance and hit the bar from 8 yards out, failing to round off a move which saw Spurs probe for an opening for several minutes. As the game progressed, there was a feeling around Wembley amongst Spurs fans that the goal wasn’t going to come, given the way the game had gone up to that point.
Aurier was given the nod by Pochettino to come on after 65 minutes, replacing Sissoko at right back and for the rest of the game the two full backs were essentially playing as wingers, given how high and wide they were pushed up by Pochettino, looking for the winner. Kane went close again from an Eriksen corner, his clever header producing a world class save from ex-Arsenal keeper Fabianski, further adding to the desperation amongst the Spurs fans.
Fernando Llorente made an appearance off the bench for Spurs with 15 or so minutes to go, partnering Kane up top as the home side threw everything at the visitors, who were at this point clinging on for dear life. As dominant as Spurs were, it all seemed very predictable for most of the game, with periods of play starting off by either Alderwiereld or Dier from deep, with Alderwiereld’s long diagonal passes to either full back not being very successful at all. In the games Spurs have played this year, I have not seen that long diagonal pass tactic work often (or at all?) so far. With the crosses being whipped in by either full back, Swansea were well organised and dealt with every opportunity comfortably.
As the game headed in to the last 10 minutes of normal time, the major talking point from the game took place. Aurier, who burst into the box following a clever pass from Dier saw him bear down on goal, controlled the ball with his chest and was bought down by a Swansea defender in what looked to be a blatant penalty. Mike Dean, who was referee for the game, blew the whistle, but gave a free kick to Swansea and booked Aurier for what appeared to be a dive. Aurier was booked by Dean who signalled it was for a handball by the Spurs right-back – a decision which is farcical when you see it on the replays. Spurs should’ve had a penalty which may very well have won the game, but didn’t.
A ripping 20 yard volley from Trippier went just wide and seconds later, Dean blew the full time whistle to round off one of the most frustrating games of football you’re ever likely to watch, if you’re a Spurs fan.
A rollercoaster week, Spurs need to find a way to beat the teams who come and “park the bus” when they visit the national stadium. When away sides are expansive and attack us, we always seem to find a way of exploiting the gaps and pick them off (such as Dortmund on Wednesday, Everton last week etc), but the issues seem to be coming from the more defensively minded sides who are happy to camp in their own half and nick a point. The neat, tidy, short passing to try and open up teams looks good when it’s successful, but can be incredibly frustrating when savvy teams like Swansea fill the gaps and there’s no end product – so many times today we saw the ball go out to the wide men, only for the cross to be poor quality or for the full back to snuff out the chance. Dele and Eriksen were ineffectual, often dropping deep or moving out wide to pick up the ball, then looking out of ideas when looking for an option. Llorente, who was clearly bought to add another dimension to our attacks when chasing a game, didn’t get the service required to actually be effective – another thing to work on in training for Pochettino & co.
Spurs’ next game is at home to Barnsley in the Carabao cup on Wednesday night.
Enjoy your weekend.