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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Tottenham’s major stumbling block continues to be themselves

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From Gtech Community Stadium – ‘Insanity’, doing the same things over and over and expecting different results. For Tottenham followers, the pattern of starting dreadfully before pulling off great escapes will have driven them to madness this season alone, a plot that is even a shade dumbed down from that of Groundhog Day.

Antonio Conte’s men had to try and come from behind for a ninth straight match in their 2-2 draw with Brentford on Boxing Day. The glaring faults of a squad in need of reinvigorating was as evident as the top-end quality that keeps bailing them out.

Tottenham were missing core figures in Hugo Lloris, Cristian Romero and Rodrigo Bentancur for their short trip to west London, and their replacements (Fraser Forster, Japhet Tanganga and Yves Bissouma) all notably put in subpar displays.

It was a performance in-keeping with their season so far – start slow, dip into the depths of mid-table standards and come up with a great rescue act. It is a story that can’t keep on.

Despite some impressive recruitment in the last couple of years, the chinks in Spurs’ armour remain the same. When trying to build, they’re heavily reliant on one or two standout players. When trying to defend, everyone’s at panic stations. The gap between the floor and ceiling of this team is too big to be a serious competitor for major honours.

There are problems which have needed fixing for years but just haven’t been sought to – Eric Dier’s continuity, lack of replacement for Kyle Walker over five years after he left, midfielders who can’t play a ten-yard pass let alone control a game, the squad is too thin for Conte to make changes even for fitness’ sake.

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It’s not by design that Spurs keep finding themselves in these situations, but Conte and his cohort admitting they can’t play at 100% every game has certainly helped their opponents, who stand a good chance of taking the points if they can survive late onslaughts.

Fortunately for Tottenham, their stars keep coming up with the goods. Harry Kane is enjoying one of his finest scoring seasons, Dejan Kulusevski’s return from injury has brought another dimension back to their attack, and at least one of Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Bentancur will seemingly chip in with a goal when needed. Son Heung-min’s form has been alarming, but you’d imagine such a cold streak will be snapped in the near future.

When the match tilts in a way that allows Tottenham to snatch back control of it from their opponents by psychological means – usually by putting them under pressure at the thought of blowing a lead – then that is when Conte’s men have been at their best this term. The obvious problem is that they need to find a way to create this circumstance without falling behind.

The logical solution would be to up the ante for full 90s like they did last season when they were England’s top scorers, but with such a packed schedule for the rest of the year, Conte is unlikely to resort to this tactic. Unless their January recruitment is flawless, Tottenham might have to continue riding this risky wave.

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