In a match that encapsulated the Tottenham Hotspur season, a positive but not productive enough first half gave way to a brutal second-half beating at the hands of Brentford in a 1-3 loss at home.
It was supposed to be a day of celebration for Spurs, with the last game at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium of the season, also Harry Kane’s 300th Premier League match. Things went according to plan for 45 minutes as Tottenham dominated the ball but not enough of the scoreboard before things went south in an abhorrent final 45 minutes that may cost Spurs Europe next year.
Free-flowing first 45-minutes for Tottenham
Over the last two months, there has not been a lot of positive for Tottenham Hotspur; however, for 45 minutes on Saturday afternoon, all that seemed to disappear. The first half of the London derby against Brentford was all about Spurs.
Injuries to Pierre Hojbjerg and Cristian Romero meant change was coming to the starting XI Lilywhites, but some adjustments from Ryan Mason made even more. Davinson Sanchez, Yves Bissouma, Dejan Kulusevski, and Arnaut Danjum all came into the side. Maybe even more significant than the player swaps was the tactical shift to a back four and Kane dropping deep to facilitate possession.
Whether it was the new players or the tweaked system, for 45 minutes, Tottenham put on the kind of display of football that we have longed to see. With more than half the possession, nine shots on target, and five shots on goal, the kind of aggressive attacking football reminds us of the glory days we all long for.
All the possession did lead to a goal, which came from one of the rarest of sightings, a Kane free-kick. Tottenham showed some nice ingenuity on the set piece, with two players creating space and another running over the ball to move the wall before Kane struck the rolling ball to perfection. Unfortunately, the possession and dominant display only resulted in a one-goal lead.
Spurs regressed to form in the second half
After looking like a team who potentially had the plan and the pride to play for Mason in the future, they came out ready for the golf course in the second half. Brentford made adjustments, taking away the space Spurs were running into and working to pressure Tottenham into mistakes to take advantage of a slow-footed defense. Alas, the changes made by the Bees worked, while Mason and Spurs had no response.
Errors and execution are failure points for Spurs
Ben Davies failed on multiple fronts against Bryan Mbeumo as Brentford tied the game. First, Davies allowed Mbeumo to dribble toward the middle of the goal onto his favored left foot. Then making matters worse, the Welsh defender failed to close the space between him and Mbeumo, allowing the Cameroonian enough space to expertly place the ball between defenders and past a helpless Fraser Forster.
On the second goal, Kane failed to hold the ball near midfield, and although he may have been fouled, the timing and placement of the lost possession – near midfield and in transition – left Spurs wide open for a counterpunch, which Brentford struck with precision, as Mbeumo had a brace and the Bees had the lead.
The third goal resulted from Oliver Skipp’s inability to maintain possession outside his penalty box. Then Mbeumo showing his unselfish side, playing an assist to Yoane Wissa in the middle of the box, ended the game and maybe Tottenham’s chance at Europe.
Spurs did try to fight back, with Richarlison coming on and forcing two saves from David Raya, but it was too little too late. As we have seen repeatedly, Tottenham cannot recover when teams make adjustments, and the results are regrettable.