Tottenham Focus - Out of shape Spurs squeeze Inter Europa League quarter-finals
The collective sigh of relief in N17 could probably be heard in Milan. Tottenham lost 4-1 in the San Siro but go through to the quarter-finals of the Europa League courtesy of an away goal by Emmanuel Adebayor.
The enjoyable irony for Spurs fans will be that their North London rivals won in Munich the night before but are out of Europe. André Villas-Boas admitted that his team had been given a lesson, one that they need to learn if they wish to become a force in Europe.
This was arguably the poorest performance by Tottenham under Villas-Boas. The Portuguese coach as well as the players warned against complaceny, that the tie was not done and dusted. The message might well have go through but the poor performance may well not have been down to shape and selection rather than attitude.
Spurs started the match in a 4-4-2 formation. However, the formation left Spurs outnumbered in midfield. Inter played a 4-3-1-2 and had more numbers in the centre and pressed harder through Esteban Cambiasso, Mateo Kovacic and Walter Gargano. When either Gylfi Sigurdsson moved in from the left or Mousa Dembelé came in from his position on the right wing, Inter then had to much space on the flanks.
Jermain Defoe and Adebayor started up front, possibly with the intention of grabbing an early away goal to settle the tie. The tactic did not work. Adebayor has not endeared himself to fans this season but at least there was some movement and effort from the Togolese. By contrast Defoe may have had one of his worst ever games in the Lilywhite shirt, arguably offering nothing to Tottenham’s cause. There was little surprise when the Englishman was substituted early in the second-half.
The forwards though had little service. Tottenham appeared content to keep possession in deep in the midfield. When a more forward ball was played, possession would be turned over allowing Inter to press forward. This was arguably down to the centre midfield pairing.
Even if a team is outnumbered in the midfield, this can be overcome by sharp, creative passing; without this the forwards will struggle to get into the game. Jake Livermore and Scott Parker in centre midfield offer little creativity or nous to play the role.
A microcosm of this may have been late in the match. Parker was breaking forward with Aaron Lennon outside of him on the right wing, around 35 yards out and only Javier Zanetti in the way. By the time Parker released the ball to Lennon, the winger only had 10 yards to in which to work and Inter’s Christian Chivu had also come across. If the ball had been released immediately, Lennon could have had space to run at Inter. It was perhaps symptomatic of Spurs centre midfielders.
Spurs fans though will be happy going through to the quarter-finals, but may be concerned by the form and selection of some players and will hope the lessons referred to by Villas-Boas have been learnt.
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