A brief look at Royal Antwerp and Tottenham Hotspur’s Europa League group stage match last night.
Jose Mourinho admitted he selected the wrong line-up against Royal Antwerp last night – not just with his substitutions, he also said as such. Spurs lost 1-0, as Lior Refaelov scored in the 29th minute for Antwerp, with Mourinho making four substitutions at half time and a final change in the 58th minute.
Dele Alli, Steven Bergwijn, Giovani Lo Celso and Vinicius were all taken off at the interval for Pierre-Emile Hoejbjerg, Erik Lamela, Lucas Moura and Heung-Min Son – then Gareth Bale was soon replaced by Harry Kane. What was striking about Spurs in the first half was their ability to bypass Antwerp’s press, but then create very few chances.
When the ball went back to Hugo Lloris, Antwerp would be high up the pitch, stopping simple balls out from the goalkeeper to the two central midfielders, centre backs or full backs.
Lloris wasn’t afraid to kick the ball long – which seemed to be the right approach. Vinicius and Gareth Bale both showed at times they were able to win the first ball, and then other members of the front four were able to pick up the knock downs, or flick ons, and move towards Antwerp’s goal.
The issue with Tottenham’s build up play came afterwards. The passing was very deliberate and to feet most of the time – with nothing direct, or even penetrative, being made besides Lloris’s kicks. Dele Alli gave the ball away in the final third, and in the opposition’s penalty area, several times mainly due to a lack of off ball movement. There were no Tottenham players moving Antwerp defenders around, or running into space.
However, Antwerp moved well off the ball. When Haroun’s run wasn’t tracked because Reguilon didn’t tag Miyoshi off to Lo Celso, Davies was pulled out wide forcing Winks to follow Mbokani’s run.
Refaelov moved into what would have been Wink’s zone and manged to get a shot away.
Antwerp’s goal actually came from their press and Tottenham’s lack of movement. Spurs were forced back to Ben Davies, who couldn’t see any options, only to be pressured by Mbokani who won the ball.
This led to a two on one, and Mbokani squared it to Refaelov who scored.
Despite the changes in the second half it appeared the ship had sailed for Spurs. They were much more direct, made better runs and tried to be more aggressive in their passing, but still struggled to find the right ball in a crowded final third. The Belgian side were more than happy to sit back, invite Tottenham’s pressure and attack on the counter – creating chances doing so.
Even when Kane dropped deep (as he has done numerous times this season) and Son and Moura pushed on, Antwerp still defended incredibly well. Kane could drag one centre back away from Antwerp’s back line, but they still had another two in their three-man defence, meaning they would be in a position to recover.
Is this a problem for Spurs going forward? Probably not. They moved off the ball much better in the second half, and the issues that led to their loss appeared, on the surface, to be personnel based. Davies has normally been a left back under Mourinho, despite playing at centre back in the previous Europa League game against LASK, and he was given a hard time by Mbokani. The front four, that offered little to no movement, were completely replaced by the hour mark.
It’s only one match, but it may signify the end for both Steven Bergwijn and Dele Alli. Bad performances deserve bad results. Tomorrow 11 AM training.