It would be premature to suggest that Tottenham are in somewhat of a crisis based on their season-opening defeat to Everton. As lackadaisical and toothless as they appeared, the result demonstrated a lack of conditioning and cohesion amongst the team, as opposed to offering a trailer for the rest of the season.
I also believe that the biggest issue facing Tottenham’s manager, Jose Mourinho, lies in the selection of his best eleven, as I do not attribute their failures to a lack of personnel but rather sub-optimal team selections. In light of recent developments regarding the incoming acquisitions of Gareth Bale and Sergio Reguilon, I especially expect this Spurs side to challenge for the top four and trophies this season as these two signings would automatically improve the starting eleven.
The game was a tale of the debutants, with Spurs starting new signings Matt Doherty and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, whilst Everton started all three of their new arrivals, most notably James Rodriguez. In what shaped up to be a mismatch in midfield, Everton seized control of the game as the trident of Andre Gomes, Allan, and Abdoulaye Doucoure completely dominated Harry Winks and Hojbjerg.
The Everton midfield outworked, out-thought, and outclassed their counterparts, prompting the second-half introduction of Moussa Sissoko and later on Tanguy Ndombele, who I shall refer to later on. The substitutions made little impact as Everton continued to have the lion’s share of possession and created the better chances.
What would concern many is the side’s inability to carve out clear-cut chances
Mourinho cited limited pre-season preparation, the influx of coronavirus in his squad, and “lazy pressing” as the main reasons for their lacklustre performance, to which I largely agree. The team appeared very disjointed both in possession, when they attempted to build play through the phases, and out of possession when they trying to counter-press.
What would concern many is the side’s inability to carve out clear-cut chances for striker Harry Kane, who on Sunday only had two touches in the Everton penalty area. Dele Alli, who not so long ago was a certain starter for the English national team, was hauled off for tactical reasons by Mourinho and has attracted criticism from his manager, as revealed on the club’s ‘All or Nothing’ Amazon documentary.
Mourinho must find a way to churn out consistent performances from Alli, akin to his 2016/17 and 2017/18 seasons if he is to aim for a top-four finish. With the addition of Gareth Bale, Alli is not guaranteed a starting berth in the side, and if the Welshman rediscovers the form he displayed both during his tenure at Spurs and the majority of his time at Real Madrid, the best performances of Alli may still not be enough.
Long term, I believe Mourinho must make alterations to his starting eleven to fully maximise the potential of this squad, however, these changes can only be made if certain players live up to the hype they generated upon arrival. This is where I will reference Ndombele as a key example.
Spurs are equally as good as Manchester United and Chelsea
When the Frenchman first arrived, he was tipped to transform the Spurs midfield after lighting-up Ligue 1 with a season of dominant displays at the heart of the Lyon midfield. His ability to drift past players and accelerate the tempo of a game was exactly what this Tottenham side required, and on his debut last year he showed why he was their club-record signing at around £54 million.
However, Ndombele has been plagued by a string of injuries which have both limited his availability and impacted his performances on the rare occasions he has been called upon. Most notably, he received scathing criticism from Mourinho following his dismal performance away at Burnley last season where he managed zero sprints in the first half.
On the ball, he was the best player for Spurs, but off the ball, he was completely non-existent, and this, unfortunately, has been the theme of his short time with the club thus far. For me, he is the single-most-important player Mourinho must look to find his best form. The French international is the key to unlocking the potential of the team, and he has the talent to truly take hold of this side and be their lynchpin for many years to come.
This may come as a surprise to some people, but I truly believe that with him on form, Spurs are equally as good as Manchester United and Chelsea. The squad depth that they now possess is quietly as good as their counterparts, and with the addition of a striker to act as a deputy to Harry Kane, there are few areas of weakness in the team.
Not too much stock should be placed on their shoddy performance against Everton
Additionally, their squad now has the ability to shape up in a multitude of formations, as they could play in a 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1, 4-1-4-1, 4-4-2 diamond, as well as also having the flexibility to utilise a three-man defence.
Whilst Spurs chairman Daniel Levy may have before failed to adequately back his manager, he cannot be accused of doing so on this occasion. The club has swiftly added to last year’s impressive signings by strengthening the right back and central midfield areas, plus it must be remembered that the market for top-quality strikers is exceptionally competitive whereby demand significantly outstrips supply. Allied with the reality of a backseat role to Harry Kane, recruiting a suitable player is very difficult.
If this can be addressed, Mourinho would be equipped with all he needs to both challenge for the top four and secure a trophy for the first time since Spurs’ 2008 Carling Cup win over Chelsea at Wembley.
Overall, not too much stock should be placed on their shoddy performance against a resurgent Everton side on the rise, especially as when Mourinho took over they were 14th placed in the league. What is required are three things:
- Rediscover the peak fitness and form of Ndombele;
- Find the consistency of Alli;
- Ingratiate the new signings into the squad and settle on a starting XI and formation which maximises the ability of the aforementioned players.
Recommended Starting XI (3-4-3): Lloris; Sanchez, Alderweireld, Davies; Doherty, Hojbjerg, Ndombele, Reguilon; Son, Bale, Kane
Substitutes: Dier, Bergwjin, Hart, Sissoko, Alli, Winks, Aurier