Tottenham’s display against Manchester United on the weekend was arguably the worst of their season so far. After putting a bad run of form behind them that included losing a cup final and being dumped out of Europe, Spurs seemed to be back on track after two straight wins. But Mauricio Pochettino’s young team capitulated at Old Trafford, evoking painful memories of last season’s displays against the league’s top dogs.
United did put in a great performance but for a team that was hoping to assert themselves in the race for a top four finish, Spurs were completely out of their depth. Louis Van Gaal may have finally found a formula that works, Carrick and Herrera were incredibly effective at the base of midfield, but that doesn’t excuse Tottenham’s poor showing. There wasn’t the real energy, commitment and fight that we’ve come to expect this year. They could barely string three passes together.
Despite their good showing, there were still weaknesses to exploit in Van Gaal’s team. The team has been shifted around constantly and they had far from a settled, or particularly imposing, back four. Pochettino shouldn’t be devoid of any blame; his game plan didn’t allow his side to get a foothold into the match. Their press high up the field against United’s midfield three was completely ineffective. You don’t make a change thirty minutes in without good reason, but by then it was too late.
A lack of real muscle anywhere on the field allowed Marouane Fellaini to profit from United’s direct play without interruption. Excluding Federico Fazio seemed naïve. Combine that with Spurs looking like they had just jumped off the team bus a minute before the first whistle and you have a recipe for disaster.
However, it’s important to put it all in perspective. Yes, it was a tough loss against a top four rival. But it was just one game. There is still time to put together a run. Over the next four games, against Leicester, Burnley, Aston Villa and Newcastle, Spurs have a chance to put their season back on track. It is vital that they gain maximum points against all four of these struggling teams, half of which will be at home.
This month will allow the club to show they mean business. String together four results and it will give them a consistency to carry into the final four matches of the season. It can work as a massive momentum boost. It’s not going to be straightforward, it never is, but it is certainly a realistic goal.
Pochettino may be tempted to tinker with his first team slightly. Eric Dier may come out to allow the more rugged, experienced Fazio a spell in the team. His organization of the backline and pure dominance in the air has been missing since he was dropped. The more defensive Benjamin Stambouli could finally be given a run in place of Ryan Mason to shore up the midfield. There are options available.
Not many thought Spurs had a chance at competing for a Champions League place before the season started, so credit must go to Pochettino for still keeping the club in the race this late.
He has done a great job implementing his positive philosophy into the club without anything close to a whole squad he can rely on. He has made talented youngsters from the academy important members of his first team and taken the club to a cup final. They currently lie just six points off of fourth place and eight off of second.
It is important Tottenham take advantage of the next four games. It could prove to be an invaluable boost heading into the conclusion of this season and beyond. All hope isn’t lost just yet.
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