Spurs predictably poor in loss at Norwich

Posted by John Crace

It never promised to be a classic. Spurs' Premier League record on a Sunday after playing away in Europe the previous Thursday has been ropey at best. Players have looked tired, uninterested and unprofessional. But this Sunday's performance was easily the worst of the season. Only Hugo Loris could leave the pitch with his head held high.

With all four teams above them having already won this weekend, and with Manchester United having regrouped with a victory over Palace, Spurs should have needed no extra incentive to go to Carrow Road in search of a victory against struggling Norwich. As it was, they lined up with a formation that looked as if it had come for a draw. The midfield was packed with defensively-minded players, Emmanuel Adebayor was left to hold the line on his own and the back four looked decidedly weak.

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Some of the team's make up was defined by injury, but mostly by a lack of attacking intent that had been the hallmark of manager Tim Sherwood's early reign. It looks for all the world as if Sherwood is turning into Andre Villas-Boas part II, albeit an unsophisticated one. Even when they were playing badly under AVB, there was a hint of a tactical plan. On Sunday they just looked clueless. Worse, they looked as if they just didn't fancy it. If they had spent as much time holding off the opposition as they had rowing with each other, Spurs might have been in with a shout.

The first 45 minutes must rank as some of the most tedious and mediocre football played in any Premier League game this season with neither side creating much in the way of opportunities. The closest Spurs came to a chance was when Mousa Dembele failed to control the ball after being put through by Paulinho. But for some inexplicable reason, Aaron Lennon was playing on the left wing and Dembele was on the right despite never knowingly used his right foot in his life. His failure to take advantage of the opening was a foregone conclusion.

When Etienne Capoue went off with an injury on 15 minutes and was replaced by Nacer Chadli, it felt that as if the team might be marginally better balanced. Sadly, the promise was unfulfilled. What first half chances there were generally fell to Norwich, as the defensive weak link of Kyle Naughton and the hapless Michael Dawson were repeatedly caught out if position and exposed for lack of pace.

With the score level at 0-0, there was the hope that Spurs might yet again recover from a first half lack of intensity and tempo. Spurs, though, began the second half as they had ended the first. Within two minutes of the restart they were a goal down. Nabil Bentaleb lost possession near the halfway line leaving Danny Rose and Jan Vertonghen out of position and Robert Snodgrass finished clinically. The goal instilled a little more urgency into Spurs' play, but not much in the way of skill, creativity and purpose. Adebayor, who Spurs are increasingly dependent on, nearly took advantage of a rare defensive error by Norwich but his touch was too heavy and goalkeeper John Ruddy made a simple save.

With Spurs still behind and with just half an hour to go, it was clear that changes needed to be made. The situation was crying out for someone with the creativity of Christian Eriksen as Spurs' long-ball routine was being easily contained. Instead, Sherwood chose to bring on out-of-form striker Roberto Soldado to go 4-4-2. And on Soldado's first touch he lashed the ball wide from the edge of the six-yard box; his second touch was to head wide from just inside it. Thereafter he continued his habit of making some useful touches outside the penalty area and some desperate ones inside it.

With ten minutes to go, Sherwood made his third substation. Surely now he would bring on Eriksen? But no. Enter the out-of-form Andros Townsend to contribute little on the left-wing and Spurs went three at the back. Indeed it was more likely that Norwich would increase their lead than for Spurs to get an undeserved equaliser. A Norwich free kick struck the crossbar with Loris well-beaten and Spurs' new formation left them cruelly exposed.

This defeat may not have ended all hope of a fourth place finish but it has revealed deep weaknesses in both the team and the club's management. Dawson's time is up; his selection unsettles the whole back four as no-one has the confidence in him that they once had. He is a walking accident and he knows it.

Naughton, Rose and Townsend might have been improved by loan spells but none of them would have made the Spurs team of two years ago. Rose, in particular, had a horror game and was exhausted and outplayed long before he was hauled off. Lennon still plays the role of the ingenu when he should be taking responsibility like the senior he now is. Of the new players that were bought with the Gareth Bale proceeds, only Vlad Chiriches and Eriksen appear to be marked improvements to the squad. The rest seem to be interchangeable with the likes of Jake Livermore, Tom Huddlestone and Jermain Defoe who have all moved on.

Only a wild optimist would imagine that Spurs are playing for anything more than a place in next year's Europa League, a competition about which they have always shown total ambivalence and which always seems to affect their form in the Premiership. The thought of watching any games like this next season is enough to make even the hardiest Spurs fan despair.

It's also hard to avoid the thought that there will be a major clear-out of both players and back room staff in May. Spurs, it seems, are destined to be a team always in upheaval and always a work in progress. Some of us are beginning to wonder if there will ever be a finished article.


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