A mess of a match
From the high of Sunday to the low of Thursday, this was one of the worst Tottenham Hotspur performances in recent memory.
Tottenham’s fringe players have struggled together before on the road – Antwerp and Zagreb immediately spring to mind.
Jose Mourinho said after the defeat in Belgium – also 1-0 – that he could no longer trust a full starting XI of players who were not regular starters.
From that point on, he used a couple or more of his key players in every European or domestic cup game and the flipside of that was the tiring of some in his squad as the season progressed and they were overplayed.
On Thursday night in Portugal, Nuno Espirito Santo had his own experience of Tottenham’s fringe players as he threw together a starting XI had five players starting their first competitive match for the club – three new signings and two academy starlets.
Either the Spurs boss had too much faith in his fringe players or he knew it might be a struggle but the newly-created Europa Conference League is simply less of a priority than other competitions this season.
The changes the Portuguese made were dramatic and more than his predecessors would have done.
It was a bold choice to leave all 11 players who started against Manchester City back in the UK, before you add in Harry Kane and Moussa Sissoko left at home to train, Joe Rodon injured and Tanguy Ndombele and Serge Aurier left out of the squad for the two play-off matches.
Few teams can afford to leave 16 first team players out of their travelling squad and expect to come away with a victory on the road.
Perhaps Espirito Santo had struggled with Wolves when playing Premier League games after Europa League matches with his smaller squad at the Midlands club and he assumed that Tottenham’s squad could absorb so many changes better in order to keep players fresh for the trip to his old club on Sunday.
They couldn’t and what resulted was a mess, without even a single shot on goal from the visiting side.
Whatever people’s opinion of the new Europa Conference League and the level of the teams within it, this was no FA Cup match against a team of part-time non-league players.
Pacos de Ferreira finished fifth in the Portuguese top flight last season, beating Porto in the process, and they combine technical football with plenty of aggression.
Although they did not create much themselves around the goal, the hosts were more organised and showed more fight that their visitors.
Espirito Santo would have known before the game that he had the home leg to fix whatever happened in Portugal and the safety net of his big guns.
However, he would still have been disappointed by the disjointed nature of a performance with rusty players, newcomers, young academy teenagers who need more time and better conditions in which to develop.
The switch from the 4-3-3 that served Spurs well in pre-season and against City to a back three also looked clunky and awkward for much of the encounter.
“Not good, not good. First half we lost too many passes – and the goal came from that, we were imbalanced, but not a good performance, honestly not a good performance,” Espirito Santo told football.london.
“Of course [we were disjointed], players coming back, players that require [time], but the decision was basically trying to give them minutes.
“We need players to get minutes in their legs and increase their levels of fitness, but of course things take some time, it was not so good. Individually some players put in good situations, did the things that we want to build on.
“But as a team we were not organised enough and did not play the ball fast enough to break a team that was really compact and did not allow many spaces.”
A mixed night for Cristian Romero and the defence
It was a strange night for Spurs’ biggest summer signing so far as Cristian Romero showed glimpses of what he can bring but also his own rustiness.
The 23-year-old was starting his first match since the Copa America final on July 10 and much of the time since has been spent recovering from a knee ligament injury sustained in that game as Argentina won the competition.
On Thursday night, Romero showed some of the characteristics that led Tottenham to strike a loan deal with Atalanta that is expected to eventually become a £42m permanent move, with a six-year overall contract already agreed with the player.
The Argentine is aggressive in the tackle, confident in what he does and very comfortable on the ball. In the first half in particular, he won duels in the air, using his head and occasionally some very good chest control.
He also looked happy to bring the ball out of defence to stride up the pitch, on one occasion in the first period remaining up in a striker’s position after looking to play a one-two with Giovani Lo Celso.
The centre-back struggled at times with his positioning, particularly as he tired later on and as he was clearly unsure where others in the makeshift back three were meant to be at times and whether he should cover or not.
That was perfectly demonstrated by Da Silva’s winning goal just before half-time as the Pacos attacker found acres of space in between Romero and Cameron Carter-Vickers.
Carter-Vickers is waiting for either a permanent move out of the club before deadline day or yet another loan deal in his relatively young career.
The same age as Romero, the USA international impressed with Bournemouth in the Championship last season after a similarly successful campaign at Luton Town the previous year.
However, while Davies was more controlled on the left albeit with the odd wayward pass, Carter-Vickers looked nervy at times and some of his headers and tackles were misjudged.
He then went off with an injury late on that might make it difficult for him to secure that move away if it proves to be serious.
Romero will also have to be looked at as he seemed to be in pain, holding his knee on a couple of separate occasions later in the game, although he was able to complete the encounter.
That will have worried Espirito Santo who clearly has high hopes for the Argentine and believes he will need little time to adapt to Spurs and the Premier League.
Romero will look much better in a settled defence and the Tottenham boss is expecting plenty from his new signing.
“Romero he played a good game, intense and this is what we want from our defenders, to be strong in duels,” said the Portuguese.
“We need to be patient with all the players because the Premier League. When a player changes country we need to realise that we need to support him, but honestly I think with the quality and talent that Romero has his adaptation will be very fast.”
When asked whether Romero will start at Wolves, Espirito Santo was giving nothing away, simply saying: “We have to return, prepare for the next game, work with all the group and on Saturday make a decision.”
Talented but wandering Gil and the youngsters
It was the cliched game of two halves for another new Spurs signing in Bryan Gil.
The 20-year-old Spaniard arrives as one of the brightest young talents in his homeland and with an eye-catching display in the Olympics football final this month as his last match action.
He started the game on the front foot, very comfortable with the ball and confident with every touch, one of his first touches of the ball taking him past a defender on the touchline with ease before setting up Ryan Sessegnon for a half-chance.
Gil in full flight is difficult to stop and he’s always moving when his team are in possession. The way he glides past defenders with the ball will bring back memories for Spurs supporters of David Ginola and he’s going to quickly gain a lot of fans among the Tottenham faithful.
The problem for Gil on this first outing was that he likes to wander.
He started the game on the left but was only to happy to pop up in the middle of the pitch and at one point on the right, with uneven pressing and it affected Tottenham’s tactics at times. One foray across the pitch brought a shout from Harry Winks to get back into position as the midfield shape was a complete mess.
As the second half wore on, he made very little impact as he tired and was utilised first on the right and then as a support striker behind and at times alongside 17-year-old Dane Scarlett.
Espirito Santo gave football.london his thoughts on both Gil and Spurs’ first new signing of the summer Pierluigi Gollini, who had little else to do other than pick the ball out of his net on that crucial one occasion.
I think Pier had a good game. He was stable and in the action he had to do he did well. With the goal it was a one vs one situation and it was difficult,” he said.
“I think Bryan started well, but that’s my responsibility. I think we still have to find the right position for him and give him exact tasks.
“In this game he changed two times his position and it’s not the best way to go to improve a player.”
It was a tough night for the young players.
Left wing-back Sessegnon struggled in the first half alongside Gil but improved when the Spaniard switched sides and he was able to push down the left himself.
His much older fellow full-back Matt Doherty put in a disappointing performance on the other flank with very little quality shown in the opposition half.
Midfielder Nile John made his first competitive start for the club in an advanced role on the right, but he also failed to catch the eye and was withdrawn at half-time for Jack Clarke, who made even less of an impact.
Dane Scarlett had a tough time up front with very little service from his team-mates, although as Espirito Santo pointed out, nights like this will be educational for the talented teenage striker.
“He’s young. He’s very young. He has talent. As a team we should have made more chances for him, we didn’t finish the actions, we didn’t make too many offensive situations for him to be able to even shoot on goal. That’s our responsibility,” said the Spurs boss.
“For Dane, it was good. The point when he realises he’s playing and he has to leave the game, he has to be faster on his decisions and his movement.
“With tough centre-halves on his back its difficult. So there’s things we have to improve and we’ll work on it. We honestly believe there’s a lot of potential there and we have to develop and improve it.”
The same old transfer problem
This performance showed that Tottenham still need another creative playmaker of a midfielder.
Giovani Lo Celso looked very rusty on the night, struggling with his passing and positioning.
Meant to be alongside Harry Winks, the Argentine got caught upfield at times and that meant Winks’ poor night in the middle was made even worse as he failed to pick up the pieces in midfield as he was left overwhelmed at times.
Whatever Tanguy Ndombele has done to upset Espirito Santo means he’s not an option right now.
That leaves a hole in the team for another attacking midfielder and it’s why the club have been looking at the likes of Mikkel Damsgaard and the more direct Noni Madueke, who was once on their books in the academy, but neither will come cheap.
Spurs have struggled to replace Christian Eriksen since the Dane’s form went downhill before his departure to Inter Milan.
Lo Celso and Ndombele are naturally deeper players and there has been no direct replacement constantly feeding killer balls into the front men.
Managing director of football Fabio Paratici, who again was on his phone almost non-stop on the pitch before kick-off, will have his usual long list of potential targets to fill the spot.
The problem for Tottenham, as it often has been in recent years, is getting players out of the door and no more incomings are close at the moment as they focus first on trimming down Espirito Santo’s squad to create space.
Time is running out though and it remains to be seen whether that desperation to clear space, get wages off the books and fees in the door leads to chairman Daniel Levy considering bids in the days to come for players that the club had been set to keep.
Tottenham want to sign another new centre-back but that department is now packed again with Romero joining Davinson Sanchez, Eric Dier and Joe Rodon, while Japhet Tanganga and Ben Davies can also play in the role.
Bologna’s Takehiro Tomiyasu was targeted because he can play at right-back and also in the centre of defence as yet more cover, but Tanganga’s top drawer display against City will have given pause over loaning the England U21 international out.
Spurs must decide whether to push through a deal for the Japanese international and then if they do what that might mean for Doherty.
Another option is the incredibly versatile Nahitan Nandez, who Paratici has held talks with Calgliari about signing.
The 25-year-old Uruguayan can play anywhere across the midfield – in the centre, on the right or left as an attacking midfielder or even as a right-back, where he played for Uruguay during the Copa America.
However, again players need to be heading out of the door first or at least in the process of doing so.
With Daniel Levy still refusing to negotiate the departure of Harry Kane, the club are looking to sign another striker to support him, but the longer they wait to strike a deal so their options dwindle away.
While Erik Lamela and Toby Alderweireld have gone out the door, more need to depart if the squad is to change, with the club looking to move on Serge Aurier and Moussa Sissoko as quickly as possible.
From the latest transfer news to those glorious wins in north London and beyond! There might even be a laugh or two too.
Another centre-back will need to leave if Spurs are to sign a new one. The problem with that is that the one who is attracting interest, Davinson Sanchez, in the most in-form of the centre-backs, having put in superb displays against City and in the final pre-season friendly against Arsenal.
The Colombian has impressed Espirito Santo, having returned with confidence since his third place finish with his country at the Copa America, but he is also one player who can provide funds to rebuild the team.
There are just 11 days left of the transfer window and Paratici will need all of his nous to bring in new faces and they must be ones that improve the squad.
This Sunday, Spurs are back in Premier League action and Espirito Santo returns quickly to his old stomping ground of Molineux.
The players left behind have been training this week at Hotspur Way with assistant head coach Ian Cathro, who remained behind in the UK to work with them and prepare them for the game.
For Espirito Santo it will be a case of slipping seamlessly into their training, albeit with bleary eyes following his late flight home and night in The Lodge hotel at the training ground.
The Portuguese’s pre-season friendly team selections brought with them two sides to the one coin.
He mostly used the same core of players who are now all fit and ready for the Premier League, as evidenced by their fitness and workrate on Sunday against the champions.
However, those players who only got minutes here and there during pre-season look way off the pace as Thursday night proved.
Espirito Santo will find it easier to step back into the groove with his key players for the trip to Wolves but he needs to find a way improve the others if he is to keep Tottenham playing consistently across the competitions this season.
More new faces and subsequently an improvement in quality across the squad will also help.