Inexperienced Spurs side show character despite defeat to Juventus in Australia
Mauricio Pochettino has shown his willingness to put his faith in Tottenham’s youngsters on plenty of occasions, and they will usually thank him for it.
But after 15 minutes of today’s clash against Juventus at the MCG – when Spurs were already 2-0 down - some of his academy players might have been wondering if their manager was really doing them any favours. After all, three members of the back four have never made a competitive first-team appearance.
Kevin Wimmer is part of the touring party but he was missing from the matchday squad. Perhaps he is behind the rest of the group in terms of his fitness, having returned late due to his involvement at Euro 2016 – or maybe he is only in Australia to help with the club’s Snapchat account and produce Tottenham-branded street art (see Tottenham’s Twitter feed).
Either way, his absence – along with that of Spurs’ senior stars – meant that both Cameron Carter-Vickers and Dominic Ball were both needed at centre-back, while Will Miller – a 20-year-old attacking midfielder – was asked to play out of position at left-back.
When Kieran Trippier is by far the most experienced man in your back line, there is the potential for trouble - and after the early, one-sided exchanges and two rather calamitous goals, the young trio looked set for a demoralising outing and the wrong kind of ‘experience’.
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Indeed, all three were at fault when the deadlock was broken. Miller played a loose pass and Ball, who initially seemed to have secured possession, lost it while Carter-Vickers missed his tackle, allowing Paolo Dybala to fire home.
Another demoralising blow followed as Spurs failed to clear their lines from a corner and Medhi Benatia headed home – and Ball caused another scare with an underhit pass to goalkeeper Michel Vorm.
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Yet, despite all of that, the group continued to play in Pochettino’s favoured style, seeking to pass out from the back, and they gradually grew in confidence.
Miller did his best to push Juventus onto the back foot, wriggling into the box at one stage and appealing for a penalty when he hit the deck.
If the early defending was abysmally poor, underlining Spurs’ need to sign a centre-back to provide cover for Toby Alderweireld, Pochettino will at least have been pleased with the character of his largely inexperienced side as they fought their way back from a difficult position.
By the end of the first half, Spurs had settled into the game and were enjoying their fair share of possession - although they were not really troubling their opponents.
While Tom Carroll was seeing more of the ball in his central role between the midfield and front line, Nacer Chadli and Heung-Min Son were struggling to get into the game and new recruit Vincent Janssen had precious little opportunity to show his ability.
When the Dutchman did get a brief moment to threaten, finding space between the centre-backs and running into the space in front of the goalkeeper, right-back Trippier wastefully overhit his cross from the right-hand side.
It summed up a poor first half from Trippier and a potential rival, DeAndre Yedlin, might feel a little disappointed that, when he was introduced at half-time, he became the next player to be deployed out of position at left-back.
The American still managed to play a nicely-weighted ball over the top to 17-year-old livewire Marcus Edwards, who was unable to control it – but he had to wait until the final 12 minutes to get a go in his best role.
Yedlin then looked bright, beating his man on the outside and putting in a useful cross, but he might be wondering if he is really going to get a chance to impress Pochettino, of if he is just in Melbourne to make up in the numbers. Perhaps he will get a better opportunity against Atletico Madrid on Friday.
The real game-changer, though, was Erik Lamela, who entered the fray at the interval, and halved the deficit.
It was new signing Victor Wanyama who did most of the hard work. The former Southampton man’s passing was a little rusty at times but he was solid on the ball and, in the 67th minute, he strode forward to win the ball in Juventus’ half – which will have delighted his manager - before freeing Lamela, who fired clinically into the bottom right corner.
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Meanwhile, a fresh influx of youngsters pushed gamely for an equaliser. Harry Winks, Josh Onomah and Edwards were all brave on the ball and tried to create openings, and striker Shayon Harrison teed up Lamela for another shot with a neat touch before being denied by a low save in injury-time.
An hour and a half earlier it had seemed highly unlikely that Tottenham would get close to a leveller.
So, while the ultimate result was a 2-1 defeat and it remains to be seen how many members of this group will be regularly involved in the first-team squad next season, Pochettino will hope to see similar character throughout the next 10 months.
Follow me on Twitter @BenPearceSpurs