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Nuno’s Spurs squad has shown a frightening lack of heart

Tottenham fan Dan Carrier looks at where it's all going wrong for Spurs following Sunday's 3-1 thumping by north London rivals Arsenal

28 September, 2021 — By Dan Carrier

YOU didn’t need a crystal ball to see how badly Tottenham were set up to meet rivals Arsenal on Sunday.

On the whiteboard at Spurs Lodge, Nuno Espirito Santo drew up a team with one defensive midfielder – Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg.

The Tottenham boss had, perhaps boldly, he told himself before kick off, pushed Dele Alli out to the right, and Tanguy Ndombele to the left.

Neither player in their correct position. And neither player known for tracking back.

It left Hojbjerg and the long-suffering Spurs’ centre-backs, Eric Dier and Davinson Sanchez, horribly exposed in the first 30 minutes. Arsenal revelled in how badly the Tottenham formation had been laid out.

In the post match autopsy, Nuno at least showed some qualities lacking under predecessor Jose Mourinho: he protected his players, taking the blame for the defeat while perhaps subtly suggesting he now knows which of the squad he can rely on and who he needs to usher out the door.

Will Nuno be given the time to do so? And is it partially reliant on when Mauricio Pochettino has had enough of a PSG board that provides him with new shiny toys?

From three straight 1-0 wins in the Premier League to three straight, and comprehensive, defeats in London derbies, Nuno is already on the rocks.

Losing these games back-to-back in this fashion has surely tested Daniel Levy’s patience – but even the trigger-happy Spurs’ chairman wouldn’t pull the plug on Nuno after just six games, would he?

Already the rumours are circulating that Nuno won’t make three months in charge. Could Levy look again at Brighton boss Graham Potter, Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers, or Eddie Howe, who is currently busy gardening and in need of a job? Such a move would be damning of the mismanagement at a higher level.

It means, for now, Spurs have to stick with Nuno, and the manager has to work out which of his players are up for the fight, and which are not. These are issues that have been in place since the spring of 2019, long before Nuno’s arrival.

Mousa Dembele’s 2019 January transfer to China and Christian Eriksen’s sense he’d done his time in north London kick started the demise. The rot was partly hidden by the Champions League run and the distraction of the bars at the new stadium that served half time pints that filled up from the bottom.

But that spring, Pochettino’s Spurs side had lost their zip, lost their shape, and seemed bored of the coaching they had previously lapped up.

It seemed like the squad believed they had earned the right to play like a team of graceful dressage horses, and not the hardworking pack of Shires that had brought success.

With Eriksen gone mentally, and Dembele gone physically, two crucial planks were removed. Two years later their replacements, Ndombele and Giovani Lo Celso, have yet to even claim a regular spot in the team, let alone reach anywhere near the levels that Dembele and Eriksen once brought to Tottenham.

Mourinho’s sour approach and lack of enthusiasm when it came to improving the hand he had been dealt showed what a disastrous decision sacking Poch was.

It was believed that Nuno would shore things up, recreate that missing pack mentality, make Spurs organised and create the platform for the genuine top players to work their magic.

Instead, Nuno’s squad has shown a frightening lack of heart, and his tactics smack more of wishful thinking than anything correlating to the reality of the form and strengths of the players he has in front of him.

Nuno must urgently separate those who have the stomach for the season ahead and those who have been offered numerous chances but have failed to take them.

So what tools does Nuno have at his disposal to see out the season?

Here is a run down on those who played a part in the humbling 3-1 defeat at the hands of Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday.

Hugo Lloris: Into the final year of his contract, the Tottenham captain has been consistently good this term. He could not be faulted for any of the Arsenal goals, and kept the scoreline semi-respectable with some good stops. It is with sadness that Lloris’s long tenure is no doubt coming towards its natural end. A fresh challenge in the summer – perhaps at PSG – seems likely. Will Pierluigi Gollini be good enough to take over in goal long-term?

Sergio Reguilon: Patience is needed. The left-back started well, but had some wobbles as the team fell to bits last term. He could really do with Ryan Sessegnon upping his game and offering competition, as Ben Davies cannot genuinely now be considered to be pushing for a starting berth.

Eric Dier: A criticism magnet, Dier is treated harshly by the fans. He has underperformed along with the rest of them, but his experience and passion for the club are important. He has suffered from the lack of a defensive shield in front of him, which has led to poor decision making and positional play as he fire-fights the errors of his teammates.

Davinson Sanchez: Another player who attracts criticism, and another who suffers from the imbalance within the first-team. His development stagnated after Poch left, and he has been hampered by a lack of consistent game time, and not playing alongside a regular defensive partner.

Cristian Romero: Get him fit and get him playing. Nuno does not have time to tinker. Spurs have been struggling to play out from the back – partly due to the midfield failing to drop in and collect the ball. The sooner Romero gets fit the better.

Japhet Tanganga: Another who is blameless. Played at right-back, he at least has shown desire and has excellent qualities that need nurturing. But like Joe Rodon, the question of how to help him grow as a player remains unanswered. It is a great shame that their natural mentor, Toby Alderweireld, is no longer at the club.

Emerson Royal: Too early to judge, but so far he has not impressed. The fact that close season Spurs target Takehiro Tomiyasu – who was ditched in favour of Emerson – was brilliant for Arsenal in the derby will have had Tottenham’s director of football, Fabio Paratici, breaking into a cold sweat.

Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg: The midfield enforcer’s strengths are diluted by him having to continuously scurry across the pitch to plug the gaps left by teammates. He played like a crab trying to stop a tide destroying a sandcastle on Sunday. Outnumbered, Hojbjerg is showing worrying sign of physical exhaustion after two years of non-stop football.

Dele Alli: We get it. Mourinho didn’t like him, and he didn’t like Mourinho. He bust a gut over the summer to get fit, and his reward has been a show of faith from Nuno. Now he has to make it count. Nuno says he wants Dele to be a box-to-box all-action midfielder, but so far it’s not happening. Possibly the only option left – apart from a fresh start elsewhere – is to play him just behind the centre-forward. It is his natural position, but frankly is he still good enough to do this for a side who wants to be in the top-four?

Tanguy Ndombele: What a waste of natural ball control. It’s time to admit this £62m investment has been as bad a decision as any the club has made in a long line of terrible choices. He was bought to help plug a Dembele-sized hole, but Poch saw immediately the midfielder was neither fit nor up for the challenge. If Spurs can claw back anything like half the original fee, Ndombele should be moved quickly.

Giovani Lo Celso: As an unused sub, he may feel like it’s not his fault. But when he can’t get in this side, he needs to have a hard look at himself. Where does he play? What does he do? Two years after signing, it still isn’t obvious. Unless he gets a run in the team in a deeper midfield position and miraculously locates his inner Luka Modric, Lo Celso is increasingly just another signing that hasn’t worked out.

Heung-Min Son: Deserves to play alongside teammates that put in the same effort that he does week in, week out.

Lucas Moura: One that is hard to criticise. He has been giving the team his all and plays by example. But the Brazilian can’t do it all alone, and watching him beat three players to then run into the fourth as his teammates fail to offer a pass is a sad indictment of both the players he has around him and his own ineffectiveness at dragging them into the game.

Harry Kane: He is broken, and it is Tottenham’s fault. He’s been run into the ground. Kane has suffered from years of no one genuinely pushing to play in his place. He has watched a team of comparable talent disappear from beneath his feet, and Spurs fail to create a new platform for his world class talents to shine. That Kane wanted out in the summer is hardly surprising. The experience has made him look foot-heavy and frustrated. Like a relationship heading for the divorce courts, you can see he still loves the club but the daily grind of domestic life has worn him out and the time has come to split.

Bryan Gil: A silver lining and one Nuno must now be brave enough to throw in against Aston Villa at the weekend. Gil’s limited time on the pitch shows a young man delighted to be here, desperate to play and with bundles of natural flair.

Oliver Skipp: Has done nothing wrong so far this term, and showed why there is a buzz about this home-grown midfielder. The biggest error of the day surely was not starting him alongside Hojbjerg against Arsenal. His stock has only been enhanced by not being involved in Sunday’s disastrous first half. His introduction at the break will surely be the beginning of a very long run in the team.

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