Another long break after another tough loss

Posted by John Crace

It could have been worse. The score could have been 1-0. This may sound counter-intuitive, but bear with me. A single-goal loss can be explained away as one of those things, a game where Spurs did all the pressing and the opposition gets a lucky break. Those things happen. Most of us have seen plenty of them at White Hart Lane. These are the matches that can be written off as a bad day at the office.

A 3-0 home defeat can't be so easily ignored. It is catastrophic. The worst home loss that I can remember since Spurs lost 5-1 to Manchester City early in the season two years ago. At least that was against a strong City side that was just beginning to gel and would go on to win the Premier League. Sunday's defeat was to an 18th-place West Ham team that had just two draws in its previous away fixtures. Spurs, remember, were meant to be the form team.

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After the match, Andre Villas-Boas tried to make the best of it by saying, 'In the second half we came out strongly with the right frame of mind and deserved to take the lead. But they had the corner that led to the goal and that put us in a very difficult position, especially as we tried to make the changes to try and score, we ended up conceding again.

"You can always be vulnerable against teams that defend well, control the spaces well and make it difficult. They look to hit you on the counter and West Ham did that well. They deserve credit for what they did. We were unlucky not to score at the start of the second half and then ended up chasing the game from a difficult position."

Which is exactly what you would expect a manager to say in public. It's called damage limitation. But if that's what AVB really thinks and what he said to the players in private after the game, then he's got it seriously wrong. The 3-0 defeat is not, in the wider scheme, a big disaster. Spurs may have lost momentum, but the team is still only three points off the top of the table with under a quarter of the season gone.
No need for knee-jerk reaction or panic, then.

But plenty of need for a good, hard look and some choice words about players' attitudes and a rethink about tactics. It shouldn't be a surprise when a team comes to White Hart Lane and packs the midfield to stifle Spurs' creativity. Clubs have been doing that for some years now.

Yes, it can be frustrating, but the players have to be patient and back themselves. What they mustn't do is lose heart, which is what seemed to happen Sunday. When the chips were down, several Spurs players went missing. Rather than upping the tempo and creating havoc, Spurs seemed stunned and rudderless, as if no one had ever told them what was required if they should ever find themselves a couple of goals down with 20 minutes to go.

AVB must also rethink his tactics. There's no point in him being technically in the right about what system he chooses to play. If his players can't -- or won't -- play the way he wants them to, then whatever AVB thinks is irrelevant. AVB needs a Plan B that can be put into action mid-game when Plan A is not working. There's no sign of one at present, so his team understandably gets more and more anxious the longer games go on without finding a way past stubborn defences.

There must also be questio nmarks over personnel. The arguments over Roberto Soldado-vs.-Jermaine Defoe remain. Defoe had a bit of a shocker on Sunday, but my own view is that he had earned the right to get a start after his previous performances, even if they were only in the Capital One Cup and the Europa League. Goal-scoring is a lot about confidence and Defoe was the one in form.

Of greater concern is Sandro's continued omission. Presumably, there is a reason for this, but I can't see it. It's clear Mousa Dembele is not playing particularly well at the moment and it must be at least worth seeing what Sandro can do alongside Paulinho, because at the moment the Spurs central midfield is no real threat to anyone. After a couple of good games, Kyle Walker is once again resembling a headless chicken. Does he know what he's supposed to be doing? I sure don't, other than he's not doing whatever it is he is meant to be doing. And if he's injured, as some have suggested, then give him time to recover.

The biggest worry, though, remains at left back where Danny Rose's absence continues to be keenly felt. Kyle Naughton had another day he'd rather forget and Fryers has looked no better in the games he has played.

There were rumours at the weekend that Spurs were preparing a January bid for Leighton Baines. It will be great if Baines comes, but still leaves the manager having to fill the slot for the next three months. If he isn't regretting sending Benoit Assou-Ekotto out on loan to QPR, I am.

Spurs, then, need to use the next couple of weeks to think hard about how they are going to take on teams like West Ham in the future and the players need to be honest with each other about their commitment and desire. Champions League football doesn't always just go to the most talented teams; it also goes to those who really want it and are prepared to make the necessary sacrifices.

As with the defeat against Arsenal, the international break couldn't really come at a worse time. Just when the team needs to get together as a squad, it is scattered across the globe. Still, the last time Spurs returned from the break and delivered their most comprehensive performance of the season with the 2-0 win against Norwich. So there is hope. And there will be even more hope if Spurs can accept the 3-0 loss to West Ham for the comprehensive beating it was, rather than delude themselves they just didn't get the rub of the green.


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