Should Tottenham be praised for the way they defended against Chelsea, or should Ange Postecoglou have changed his tactics?

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Ah, Tottenham. After a blistering start to the season saw new manager Ange Postecoglou’s Lilywhites sitting ever-so-at the top of the Premier League table, having only dropped 4 points, everything seemed to come crashing down on a fateful Monday night as they faced long-time arch-rivals Chelsea. A straight red card awarded for a typically overzealous follow-through from Cristian Romero has seen the Argentinian out for three games, while Destiny Udogie’s second yellow sidelined him for one game, after a first half booking for a reckless challenge which arguably warranted an early bath in itself

Most damaging, however, were long-term injuries sustained by young centre-half Micky Van de Ven and arguably the player of the season so far, James Maddison. With his centre-back pairing and talisman out for the forseeable future, the honeymoon for Big Ange is well and truly over. It was a truly disastrous night, one which even elicited a vague tinge of sympathy from me as an Arsenal supporter (amongst a mildly sadistic wave of relief and satisfaction).

The game itself was bizarre, a true comedy of errors. Amidst the injuries, there were four disallowed goals, plenty of handbags and so many opportunities spurned by the Blues that striker Nicolas Jackson managed to underperform his xG tally of 3.37 despite netting a hat-trick. Perhaps most unusual, though, were the tactics employed by Tottenham in the second half. With Romero already sent off, and the stricken Van de Ven replaced by the considerably less mobile Eric Dier, anything other than a pragmatic low block seemed completely out of the question.

Amidst the injuries, there were four disallowed goals, plenty of handbags and so many opportunities spurned by the Blues

It beggared belief, but as the second half began, the Spurs back four took position on the halfway line as Chelsea lined up to attack, in the hope of catching Mauricio Pochettino’s attacking unit offside. At first, it somehow seemed to be working, with Jackson, Raheem Sterling and Cole Palmer all mistiming runs on several occasions. Even when Chelsea did break the trap, they kept fluffing their lines, as goalkeeper Vicario was incredibly sharp off his line and a seemingly immovable force in goal. Even more shockingly, Postecoglou and his shoestring defence remained vigilant and kept up the high line when Udogie saw red for a late challenge on Sterling in the 55th minute. They couldn’t do it, could they?

Unfortunately, fate took over, and the inevitable unfolded. It took much longer than Chelsea would have liked, but they eventually found the net, with Sterling bursting between Emerson Royal and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg at the perfect time and squaring to Jackson who coolly tucked away in the 75th minute, a full 20 minutes after Udogie was given his marching orders. While there was one more false dawn for Spurs, with Dier finding himself completely free at the back post and firing home a beautiful volley, he was a good yard in front of the Chelsea backline. Mind, the VAR operators kept the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium waiting with bated breath for a good few minutes as they needlessly scrutinised still images of the incident, obviously terrified of getting anything wrong after the previous Saturday’s officiating controversy at St James’ Park.

Alas, there was to be no more fruit for Ange’s magnificent nine, with Jackson firing home two more times in stoppage time with just two white shirts to be seen in the box each time. The game ended 4-1, with the home fans applauding the efforts of their players who had remained on the pitch.

The game was a neutral’s delight with an unfortunately comical conclusion

Ultimately, while Tottenham were incredibly brave, running a high line with even one man less was very risky, and with nine men the offside trap was simply unsustainable as outlined by the result. The game was a neutral’s delight with an unfortunately comical conclusion, which certainly detracted from the incredible efforts of the Spurs boys. While the media still awarded heavy (and slightly over-the-top) praise to the team following the game, the reality is bleak for Postecoglou and his troops, as they face their first major test as a unit. With two star players in Van de Ven and Maddison out until 2024, they must rally around their weaker rotation players if they want to prop up any rapidly fleeting dreams of a first Premier League title. Their first test ended in a heartbreaking last-minute 2-1 defeat at Molineux after a mediocre performance all around, hardly a solid endorsement of their credentials against the likes of Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool. Whilst the future always has surprises in hand, one thing is certain as it stands: things aren’t looking too pretty for Spurs.

Image: Bluejam via Wikimedia Commons

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