Spurs need more competition for places in attacking positions as reserves are defeated at Anfield
When the board of the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters’ Trust last sat down with Spurs’ hierarchy in September, the subject of domestic silverware came up.
The minutes state: “DL (club chairman Daniel Levy) confirmed that the increased squad strength made fielding strong teams in domestic cup competitions very achievable this season.”
Mauricio Pochettino certainly did not field a strong line-up at Anfield in Tuesday’s fourth-round League Cup tie – indeed he could hardly have picked a weaker side from his group of senior players.
There were 10 changes from the team that started at Bournemouth in the league on Saturday, and the Lilywhites lost 2-1 to exit the competition that gave them their last trophy in 2008.
The priority was clearly to rest as many first-team players as possible, and understandably so - Spurs are only one point off the summit in the Premier League, while they are also trying to make the most of their return to the Champions League, and key figures needed a break.
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The onus was therefore on the reserves to step up to the plate against a similarly weakened Liverpool side – Jurgen Klopp made 11 changes of his own – and the Lilywhites fell short. Indeed they could have been embarrassed.
The hosts were threatening to run away with the game when they went 2-0 up in the 64th minute, and it took the introduction of two senior players – Erik Lamela and Victor Wanyama – to turn the game around and give Spurs a fighting chance, with Vincent Janssen halving the deficit from the penalty spot.
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Tottenham do indeed have “increased squad strength”, in Levy’s words, compared to last season - Wanyama has been a superb signing and there is now cover for the injured Harry Kane.
However, Janssen is still finding his feet and Spurs’ other attacking players – Josh Onomah, Tom Carroll and Georges-Kevin Nkoudou - offered little on Tuesday.
Unlike their hosts - who struck twice through Daniel Sturridge and went close to adding to their tally as Michel Vorm denied Divock Origi, Georginio Wijnaldum and Danny Ings - there was a lack of a cutting edge in the final third until Lamela replaced Carroll, which was a much-needed substitution.
It is difficult to assess individuals when they are surrounded by other second-team players – Kevin Wimmer would probably look comfortable next to Toby Alderweireld but he was vulnerable alongside 18-year-old Cameron Carter-Vickers.
However, on this evidence, there is not a great deal of competition for places in the offensive positions – and that is precisely what Spurs need at the moment, having failed to win any of their last four games and scored just twice in that period (one of them being Janssen’s penalty).
This is exactly the time – a testing period featuring seven games in 23 days – when a squad is truly examined, and the latest results have been disappointing.
While the first-team defence has remained solid, keeping keep clean sheets against Bayer Leverkusen and Bournemouth despite Alderweireld’s absence, things have been less rosy at the other end.
Janssen is yet to score from open play and Dele Alli has missed chances, while Christian Eriksen, Heung-Min Son and Erik Lamela have not at their best since the international break. Moussa Sissoko has so far failed to justify his £30million fee and is now suspended.
Who will take the Frenchman’s place against Leicester at White Hart Lane on Saturday? Pochettino may well opt for Lamela, Alli, Eriksen and Son behind Janssen - and that is probably his best front five in the absence of Kane – but who looks ready to make an impact off the bench? Onomah and Nkoudou both had chances to make their case at Anfield but neither took it.
They could be forgiven for being a little rusty, along with Carroll and Wimmer, but it is a circular problem. Their lack of match action increased the chances of a defeat on Tuesday, and that defeat is now likely to limit their playing opportunities even further.
Pochettino may quietly be relieved that his side won’t have to play a fifth-round League Cup tie in November, or a two-legged semi-final in January.
However, the League Cup served a useful purpose and the Argentine now has a different headache - how to handle and motivate some of his reserve players, who look set for a prolonged spell on the fringes, and when next to hand a start to some of his youngsters.
Follow me on Twitter @BenPearceSpurs