Spurs carried on much in the vein of how they ended last season – with a whimper.
An opening day defeat at St James’ Sports Direct Park might not seem particularly newsworthy but for new boss Andre Villas-Boas it represented something of a setback.
Much is made of Villas-Boas’ tactical nuances – the defensive high line, pressing in the opposition half, the 4-3-3 formation – and some of that approach was evident. But, on the evidence of today, the Tottenham squad don’t look like they’ve fully come to terms with the new managers’ methods.
Not that it’s a surprise – it’s only been one pre-season and Villas-Boas is a very different beast to former manager Harry Redknapp.
Spurs lined up somewhat as expected with a loose 4-3-3 formation, Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon flanking lone-striker Jermain Defoe with two holding midfielders in Jake Livermore and Sandro behind them and attacking midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson in between. The back four sitting in front of goalkeeper Brad Friedel saw a surprise inclusion for William Gallas alongside Younes Kaboul in the center of defence, with Kyle Walker and Benoit Assou-Ekotto either side.
In the first half Spurs hit the post and bar through Defoe and Bale, while Demba Ba saw a deflected shot trickle past Friedel’s right hand post. Spurs were just about edging it but it was a low-key affair until Ba’s brilliant 55th minute opener curled past Friedel. Spurs leveled with a scrambled effort from Defoe after 76 minutes but, 10 minutes from time, substitute Rafael van der Vaart and Lennon clumsily brought down Hatem Ben Arfa in the box. The French midfielder picked himself up and scored the winner from the spot.
The most disappointing thing was that Spurs seemed disjointed and a little unsure of themselves. The strategy was something we saw at times under Harry Redknapp with Bale and Lennon coming inside in support of the forward and the full backs – notably Kyle Walker – performing as auxiliary wide midfielders. But the performance was flat and there was a lack of character and leadership – qualities that you’d probably associate with injured midfielder Scott Parker and retired defender Ledley King.
There were chances created early on but the second half was very disappointing with little available on the bench to change the flow of the game. The fading Sigurdsson was replaced by van der Vaart and Harry Kane replaced Sandro late on. When Harry Kane – a young, limited forward who I’m pretty sure is not long for the Premier League world – is your plan B, there’s clearly a need for some fresh faces.
No doubt Daniel Levy is trying to get the best deal for the club but his brinkmanship in transfer negotiations could cost Tottenham points, much like it arguably did last season.
On today’s evidence there is much work to do.