5 talking points from Tottenham’s goalless draw at Sunderland

Mousa Dembele is hacked down by Jack Rodwell as he attempts to break. Picture: PA

Mousa Dembele is hacked down by Jack Rodwell as he attempts to break. Picture: PA - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Tottenham were held to a goalless draw by Premier League strugglers Sunderland at the Stadium of Light tonight. Here are five talking points.

1. Mauricio Pochettino opts for four (actually, two) at the back

Tottenham’s manager seemed to have settled on a 3-4-2-1 system after having great success with that formation for a month either side of the new year.

But, having switched to 4-2-3-1 for Saturday’s FA Cup tie against Wycombe Wanderers on Saturday, he also elected to play with just two centre-backs at Sunderland tonight.

Perhaps the Argentinian felt it was excessive to play with three centre-backs against the league’s bottom side, or maybe he wanted to get Heung-Min Son – who struck twice against Wycombe at the weekend - into his line-up, in addition to Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli.

Either way, Spurs’ full-backs pushed forward and effectively operated as wing-backs once again, leaving Toby Alderweireld and Eric Dier and their protector Victor Wanyama to defend Michel Vorm, who deputised in goal in the absence of the ill Hugo Lloris.

2. Kevin Wimmer is dropped

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Pochettino has previously made it clear that he likes the balance of having one left-footed and right-footed centre-back at the heart of his rearguard.

After all, when Toby Alderweireld missed 10 games earlier in the season, it was the right-footed Eric Dier who stood in on the right side, rather than the left-footed Wimmer, who had been desperate for game time.

It seemed clear at the time that Wimmer was only ever going to deputise for Jan Vertonghen, on the left side of the defence – as he did this time last season.

And, when Vertonghen suffered an ankle injury against West Bromwich Albion earlier this month, the Austria international duly started the following two matches against Manchester City and Wycombe.

However, he was substituted in both games after shaky displays, and it was notable that Pochettino opted to play with two right-footed centre-backs, Toby Alderweireld and Dier, at the Stadium of Light this evening, while Wimmer was on the bench.

Has his expected run in Spurs’ strongest line-up already come to a premature end?

3. Tottenham are drawn into a battle

Spurs started positively, dominating possession and pinning Sunderland back. Mousa Dembele was everywhere and Walker and Rose got early opportunities to attack the box from wide areas.

However, Black Cats goalkeeper Vito Mannone only had to make one save when the Lilywhites were on top – a comfortable one from a hopeful 25-yard Wanyama effort – and the home side grew into the game.

The first half gradually turned into a battle, with Jack Rodwell setting the tone with a cynical, scything tackle on Dembele as the Belgian waltzed past him into space on the counter-attack.

Spurs lost Rose to injury as he came off worse in a challenge with Billy Jones, necessitating the introduction of Ben Davies, and Walker also spent a couple of minutes on the turf after a clash of heads amid a succession of aerial duels.

When the half-time whistle blew, the match had become an attritional affair that suited Sunderland far more than Tottenham.

And, although the visitors were able to regain a measure of control in the second half, they lacked imagination in the final third and were unable to find a breakthrough.

4. No obvious game-changers on the bench

It became increasingly clear as the second half wore on that Spurs needed fresh inspiration from the bench. However, there was no obvious game-changer in reserve - the likeliest scorers were already on the pitch.

Harry Winks could perhaps have added some energy and incision, but the real issue was the lack of a consistent threat in the final third and Pochettino chose to stick with Dembele and Wanyama in the middle of the pitch.

He eventually threw on Moussa Sissoko and Vincent Janssen in the closing stages, but one suspects it was more in hope than expectation.

Spurs declined to make any signings in the January transfer window, which closes at 11pm tonight (Tuesday), and that is entirely understandable given the lack of value in the winter market and the club’s position in the table. There has been no need for a panic-buy.

However, the Lilywhites looked short of proven game-changers this evening. They could do with having Erik Lamela available again to bolster their attacking options.

5. Spurs are frustrated but overtake Arsenal

Tottenham will leave the Stadium of Light feeling extremely frustrated, having dropped points and failed to score against the league’s bottom team.

However, Arsenal suffered a worse result tonight, going down 2-1 at home against Watford – and that allowed Pochettino’s Lilywhites to overtake their north London rivals in the table and move up into second place on goal difference.

Some will call it a silver lining, others will call it grasping at straws after a disappointing night for the Lilywhites - especially as both Manchester clubs will have the chance to gain ground in the top-four fight tomorrow.

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