“Never ever pre-judge a football match. Never think you know. Never think it's over. Never write a script before it's written for you. This was meant to be Bale's game. It was Kane's game. It was Son's game. It was Tottenham's game. Rip all of that up. It's Lanzini's game.”
That’s what the match commentator Peter Drury said at the end of an absurd game at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Sunday. What Drury said may not happen most of the time in football, but it always applies to the game.
At the end of the first half, it felt like Tottenham had picked up from where they left off two weeks ago against Manchester United. Tottenham had a 3-0 lead in about a quarter of an hour from the start, which led most of us to believe that Harry Kane's performance would be the highlight of the game.
Unfortunately, football doesn’t work like that, it isn’t about what happens over 45 minutes but what happens for the entirety of the 90 minutes. On Sunday, the highlight of the game was Manuel Lanzini’s thunderbolt from just a few yards outside the Tottenham box in the last minute of added time.
Jose Mourinho has been deemed as a manager who employs outdated tactics and his teams have often been accused of playing boring football. However, what we have seen in the past few weeks has been quite the opposite. It certainly feels like Tottenham have an identity and a distinct style of play this season.
The Lily Whites are scoring for fun and that isn't too difficult with Son Heung-min and Harry Kane in your squad. Putting the ball at the back of the net was never the problem for Mourinho's side, it has been preventing that from happening at their end of the pitch.
Mourinho has to address Tottenham's defensive problems
Defence has been the problem area for the Portuguese since he took over the job at Tottenham from Mauricio Pochettino last November. In his first game in charge (also against West Ham), the circumstances were similar to Sunday night's game.
Tottenham were comfortably leading 3-0 and a late surge from the Hammers saw them score two goals. However, on that night, Mourinho’s men survived the late scare. Fast forward 11 months and Tottenham have kept just seven clean sheets from 44 games during Mourinho’s reign.
However, what happened on Sunday cannot be solely blamed on the defence. It seemed like the entire Tottenham team switched off in the last ten minutes. The substitutions didn’t help either and several individual mistakes denied the team all three points.
Two of the three West Ham goals scored resulted from a set-piece. The remaining goal went into the net because of an individual mistake from Davinson Sanchez. It is evident that Tottenham are most vulnerable to set pieces. Six of the eight goals they have conceded in the league this season have come from either set pieces or penalties.
Nonetheless, defending set-pieces is one thing but unnecessarily giving away free kicks in the first place is what has hurt Tottenham
Tottenham conceded two needless fouls in the final third against West Ham almost at the same spot. Both resulted in goals (the second one wasn’t converted directly though). They conceded a similar goal from a similar position in their first game of the season against Everton.
Besides this, individual errors have let them down on several occasions. Sanchez will be heavily scrutinized after that own goal, but that wasn’t his first mistake. The Colombian gave away a penalty in the first minute against Manchester United.
Eric Dier was also at fault as his handball gave Newcastle United a penalty in added time when the two sides met this season.
Mourinho has plenty of decent options in midfield and attack but a lack of depth at the back is apparent.
On the positive side, the way Son and Kane are combining for goals is poetry in motion; two individuals at the peak of their powers. Enter Gareth Bale and the possibilities seem even more intriguing.
We haven’t seen much of Bale in a while, but we got a glimpse towards the end of the match on Sunday and it would have been a dream return had the Welshman finished the chance he had against West Ham.
Tottenham's blazing forwards have done serious damage to opposition teams and have the potential to do even more, but their defensive shortcomings have tainted their attacking prowess.
However, Mourinho can take heart from the fact that it is a wider problem and all the top teams in the league are struggling defensively. He will be aware that he needs to improve things at the back to prevent any more slip-ups this season.