Although Tottenham’s excursions in the Europa League have, rather disappointingly, only produced three points from their opening three group games, they still have a chance of qualifying for the knockout rounds and this Europa League campaign did not seem to affect their Premier League form earlier on in the season.
However, all that changed when Andre Villas-Boas’ former club, Chelsea, visited White Hart Lane. Until that game, Tottenham had been unbeaten at home this season (albeit with a couple of draws) and had looked in relatively good nick. But, when the European Champions turned up at White Hart Lane, Tottenham were far too passive in possession (particularly in the first half), and deserved to go in at half-time behind, thanks to a terrific volley from centre-half Gary Cahill. In the second half, Tottenham improved dramatically and scored two very good goals to turn the game on its head. The problem then was the defending, which has been a problem ever since. The double from Juan Mata could have been easily averted. The shot to make it 2-2 was weak at best, and there was practically no pressure on the ball, as the Tottenham defence allowed Mata time to set himself, time to pick his spot and then just strike it pretty tamely, it has to be said, into Brad Friedel’s left-hand corner.
Chelsea’s third goal was again a smart finish from Mata, but the defending from Kyle Walker was atrocious as was his defending in the build-up to Chelsea’s fourth goal. Instead of just clearing the ball for a Chelsea throw-in, Walker decided he’d try a little trick and ended up presenting the ball to Juan Mata who found Daniel Sturridge at the far post who tapped the ball in with consummate ease.
In their most recent game against NK Maribor, a side from the north-east of Slovenia, Tottenham looked shaky in defence. There is no doubt that Tottenham were much the better side and should have won the game, but when they were tested by the Slovenian outfit (who were bidding to become the first Slovenian club to beat an English club) Tottenham looked as though they weren’t up to it. Maribor are considered a relatively weak team, so this fact is both staggering and concerning for manager Andre Villas-Boas who has made a mediocre start to his Tottenham career.
This unsteady defence was most evident in Tottenham’s concession of Maribor’s goal. Again they allowed the ball carrier too much time to come as far as he wanted, then Tom Huddlestone sold himself in the penalty box and Maribor were able to scramble it home after a kafuffle in the six-yard box. They got back in the game eventually and should have gone on to win it, but that is not the point and if Tottenham’s defence continues in this vain, they have no chance of making the Top Four this season.
But, that is not to say that Tottenham have not had some good days this season, because they most certainly have, most notably against Manchester United, who were condemned to their first home defeat of the season by Tottenham, who deserved the win. Andre Villas-Boas said he thought his team were “incredible” during that game, and that opinion has been widely echoed since. This “incredible” performance meant Tottenham claimed their first victory at Old Trafford since 1983. They were also very commanding in their away game against newly-promoted Reading, who could have proved tricky opponents for the North Londoners, but they were swept aside by a fast, free-flowing Tottenham performance.
Going forward, then, has been Tottenham’s strength this season (other than in the first half against Chelsea). This is reminiscent of previous seasons where Tottenham have qualified for the UEFA Cup/ Europa League but, in order to break into the Top 4 and make another appearance in the Champions League, they need to shore up their defence.