An abject Eric Dier after Spurs 2-2 Gent in the Europa League.

Spurs 2-2 Gent: failure to win from wide

Failure to take advantage of the wide areas saw our Europa League tie finish Spurs 2-2 Gent at Wembley.

Miscues, misjudgements, misdemeanours and missed chances saw us crash out of a highly winnable Europa League tie. A red card for Dele Alli made this a mammoth uphill struggle. However, we also failed to capitalise from the wide areas against a narrow Gent side. It saw the match finish Spurs 2-2 Gent and the end of our brief Europa League journey.

Gent condense the centre

Both teams lined up with three centre backs. Whereas our formation sought to maximise width by continually looking for the wingbacks, Gent used theirs to condense the playing area. The Belgian side played extremely narrow in an effort to crowd the space around Christian Eriksen, Harry Kane and Dele Alli.

Gent often held the shape of a narrow back five with three central players in front to try and disrupt our passing.

Back five with three central midfield screen during Spurs 2-2 Gent in the Europa League.

Narrow back five with three central midfield screen.

Up top they were trying to make it as difficult as possible for us to play out. Gent had Danijel Milicevic, Kalifa Coulibaly and Moses Simon try to close down our back three.

Gent try to play 3v3 up top during Spurs 2-2 Gent in the Europa League.

Gent try to play 3v3 up top.

Initially it made playing out from the back difficult, but soon the trio backed off. Simon and Milicevic were needed far more in the centre of the park to block us off.

Spurs attack the right

Gent also played with an extremely narrow formation and it gave us space in the wide areas. The biggest benefactor of their tactics was Kyle Walker who had acres to run in.

Walker in space against narrow defensive shape during Spurs 2-2 Gent in the Europa League.

Walker in space against narrow defensive shape.

Rested against Fulham, Walker was lively and full of energy. Time and again he got on the ball in excellent attacking areas. Walker was either 1v1 against left centre back Rami Gershon or with the freedom of the flank.

With Kenny Saief failing to track, as he did excellently in the first leg, Walker got in time and again to either cross or shoot. He took three shots at goal, stinging the palms of goalkeeper Lovre Kalinic, but also put in a game-high 14 crosses that varied in menace.

Spurs take the lead

An early goal was needed with us down 1-0 on aggregate. Christian Eriksen supplied it with Gent’s narrow formation and their closing down providing it.

As the passage of play began, Gent had us going backwards. Good pressure by Kalifa Coulibaly forced Toby Alderweireld to have to pass back to Hugo Lloris in his penalty area. Hugo then moved the ball out to Eric Dier who was immediately closed down by Danijel Milicevic.

Eric Dier under pressure sends the ball downfield during Spurs 2-2 Gent in the Europa League.

Eric Dier under pressure sends the ball downfield.

Dier sent a long, hopeful clearance down the right flank. Anderson Esiti, Kenny Saief and Rami Gershon all went in for the header and somehow construed to miss the ball. It cannoned down off Gershon and in to the path of Christian Eriksen in oceans of space beyond their back line. Eriksen dribbled forward and passed his shot through Lovre Kalinic’s legs to get the early goal we’d craved.

Up one-nil and we had a spring in our step. The right side was yielding chances as Christian Eriksen and Kyle Walker dovetailed nicely out here to create space for the right back. Seconds after taking the lead, Walker raced down the right again. This time his pull back found a wide-open Dele Alli in the box, but he could only shank his shot on the turn wide.

Gent levels the score

Gent really were on the back foot and struggling to create much at all. Their best chances came from our corners where they were leaving two men up on the halfway line to counter attack. A poor refereeing decision and misjudged header from Harry Kane saw them get back in the game.

A quick break after Jan Vertonghen had burst in to their box to attempt a cut back saw Gent counter attack. Toby Alderweireld expertly closed down Danijel Milicevic and thought he’d won a goal kick. Alderweireld’s challenge saw the ball squib off the end of Milicevic’s foot, but referee Jorge Sousa still gave a corner.

The ball was swung in, as many of Gent’s corners were, towards the back post. Eric Dier was out jumped. Then Harry Kane, trying to deny Moses Simon, miscued his header to nod it in to his own net. A vital away goal as Gent levelled the scores up to the delight of their travelling fans.

Dele dismissed

With the score at Spurs 1-1 Gent we knew we had an uphill mission on our hands, but one that was achievable given the flow of the game. The task got an awful lot harder with the dismissal of Dele Alli on 39 minutes. Dele was fouled as he was pulled back, but his reaction to lunge in on Brecht Dejaegere was petulant, reckless and stupid.

Spurs in the inside right channel

Down to ten men, Spurs were arguably better than with eleven. It was difficult to tell whether Gent were unsettled by having a man advantage or were tiring?

The Belgian side became lapse in their positioning. Gent started to give away space between their lines, which had previously been so compact. This started to afford Christian Eriksen room in the inside right channel.

Ten minutes after half time and Eriksen fed Harry Kane through the inside right channel for a glorious chance. However, Kane when 1v1 against the keeper could only rifle his shot the wrong side of the far post.

Harry Kane gets in through the inside right channel during Spurs 2-2 Gent in the Europa League.

Harry Kane gets in through the inside right channel.

Mauricio Pochettino then introduced Son Heung-Min from the substitutes bench. We were in a 3-4-1-1 formation after the sending off. Son’s introduction saw him play as an auxiliary striker off Harry Kane as Mauricio Pochettino moved to a 3-4-2 set up that made interesting use of Jan Vertonghen as a left centre back and left full back combined. This saw us have a back three without the ball, but just Dier and Alderweireld with it as Jan sought to get up the line.

Son floating about almost got us back in to the lead before Christian Eriksen popped up in the inside right channel to set up Victor Wanyama. Son had dribbled to the by-line to cut the ball back for Eriksen, but he saw his goal bound shot blocked unwittingly by Harry Kane. We then retrieved the ball and fed it out the other side to Kyle Walker once again in space on the right against the narrow defence.

Wanyama finds Walker in space during Spurs 2-2 Gent in the Europa League.

Wanyama finds Walker in space.

Walker drove infield and attempted to play a one-two with Eriksen who had run through the inside right channel. However, Eriksen’s back flick went in to the path of Victor Wanyama to coolly curl the ball in to the corner of the net. Wembley erupted, as the unlikely task of turning the tie around seemed to be within reach.

With the score Spurs 2-1 Gent, we continued to create through the inside right channel with Christian Eriksen heavily involved. Three minutes after taking the lead, Eriksen darted through here once again, but pondered and was thwarted by Rami Gershon’s last-ditch tackle. Eriksen claimed a penalty, but the defender timed his challenge expertly.

Eriksen gets in through the inside right channel during Spurs 2-2 Gent in the Europa League.

Eriksen gets in through the inside right channel.

With 86 minutes on the clock, Son Heung-Min then raced through the inside right channel to take a pass from Harry Kane. With the goal at his mercy, Son could only fire his shot inexplicably high and wide in to the stands.

Gent sucker punch

With an own goal, a red card and not being helped by poor refereeing decisions, a Gent sucker punch from a ridiculous defensive error rounded this night off as truly Spursy.

Dier jumps up as Vertonghen goes back during Spurs 2-2 Gent in the Europa League.

Dier jumps up as Vertonghen goes back.

What Eric Dier was thinking jumping up trying to play offside only he would know. To then compound his error by chesting the ball down to Jeremy Perbet and then having the shot deflect off him in to the corner summed up what was a poor night. It levelled the score up at Spurs 2-2 Gent and our brief Europa League adventure was over.

Spurs 2-2 Gent overall

Spurs didn’t do enough over the two legs to warrant going through, which is a concern. Dele Alli’s red card really was the turning point and he owes the fans an apology, not just his team mates.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Dele’s petulant behaviour get the better of him. He is only twenty, but this moment needs to be a real education for him to mature as a player.

Losing the tie isn’t all on Dele, we failed to capitalise on the amount of chances and opportunities we created down the flanks. The right side was particularly fruitful, where Kyle Walker was putting on a man-of-the-match performance. The problem for Walker was that he had very few targets in the box and only Harry Kane to aim for after Dele Alli was sent off.

Wembley continues to prove a difficult place for us to become accustomed to. Opponents love to play there and raise their game as if it were a cup final. Gent described it as a “Mecca of football” and they are not the only team that the famous venue has appeared to inspire. A major concern if we are to be based there next season.

Final score: Spurs 2-2 Gent.
MOTM: Kyle Walker.



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8 Responses to Spurs 2-2 Gent: failure to win from wide

  1. Carrigbawn 24th February 2017 at 7:57 pm #

    10 man Spurs outplayed Ghent. Unfortunately they didn’t take their chances! It’s as simple as that. Kane, Son & Eriksen missed chances they usually bury in the back of the net. Ghent had 2 chances and took one of them (their first goal was a Kane own goal). That’s the way the cookie crumbles in football: you can dominate a game, but unless you take your chances you don’t win.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 24th February 2017 at 11:14 pm #

      Yes we did have some good chances to win, but our finishing, as it has been since the WBA game, has been poor.

  2. Antonyj7 25th February 2017 at 7:21 am #

    Agreed if you don’t take your chances then life becomes difficult…….

    However it also shows clearly that the squad is not good enough to mount any serious challenge when you look at the bench and see the paucity of choices facing Poch game after game.

    Let’s hope that in the summer he can let go those who are clearly unable to perform at the level needed and bring in some who can.

    Does he have the budget?
    Who is doing the scouting, and can they step up?
    We will see…… Thanks

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 25th February 2017 at 10:16 am #

      Yes the squad is thin, scarily thin compared to what we’d imagined when the season kicked off. So many of our signings have been duds, which is a major mark against our scouting department and depending on just how much they are involved in selection and not just sign off of players, Levy and Pochettino too.

  3. Ilikespurs 25th February 2017 at 2:48 pm #

    Great article as usual Mark. My thoughts-overall, we’re just not good enough or deep enough to compete in Europe. Our bench is shockingly thin, with no real options on the attack. Why we didn’t reinforce in January, knowing the full schedule of 3 competitions on the horizon, is beyond belief. Hasnt anybody in power at Spurs noticed that we play great in December and January when we only play in1 competition? It then gives us false confidence that the squad is good enough, but it never is, we don’t add reinforcements, and come February and the restart of Europe and the other competitions, and we start to fade and then eventually struggle and Peter out. One more thing, I think that we need experience on the team, a player or 2 that has been through the wars, ideally who has won a trophy. I love Poch, but he needs to mature as a manager and allow himself to be challenged. He always wants and has the youngest team in the league because it’s his way or the highway. I think he was tainted and burned by the “Kabul Kabal” when he first came on board so has been reluctant to have veterans on the squad as a result, and its to the detriment of the team, especially during the business end of the schedule. Regarding the specifics of the Gent game, right after Wanyama scored we had to get all 3 subs off the bench & into the game to keep the energy and attack going! Clearly we had used up so much juice to get back a goal, there was no way to sustain that pressure with the same 10 men. He has improved his tactics this year for sure, but his use of subs, and particularly giving them enough time to have an impact, has been woeful.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 25th February 2017 at 7:49 pm #

      Good points Ilikespurs. I think we do need a couple of heads that have been there and done it. Not to play every week but definitely around the squad. All good teams are a mix of youth and experience and I think we need to address the blend.

      Poch’s use of subs has been the one consistent knock against him. It’s something he really needs to look at and consider more. As you say he often doesn’t give them enough time to make an impact and it’s a concern as it’s affecting matches.

      • Mark from Virginia 26th February 2017 at 1:39 am #

        Hi Mark,
        Well done again sir! I agree – we need a couple of heads that have been there done that, for influence and to help finish out games. Poch’s subbing is erratic – sometimes great, sometimes crap. I thought Jansen should have come on for Dier around the 70th minute with Wanyama stepping back to help cover on defense. Jansen would have caused many problems for Gent.
        Also – what is going on with the finishing? It’s like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – either great or junk! Are they working on this in training? It’s almost like the players are outsmarting themselves trying to be cute with it. I say screw that – put the ball in the firggin’ net.
        Ciao

        • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 26th February 2017 at 11:45 am #

          Hi Mark, yes it was strange Janssen wasn’t brought on earlier, especially as we knew we had to go for it. Our finishing has been really poor recently and I really am not sure why. We were on fire up until the WBA game, now we seem to either be going to close to and hitting the keeper or splaying it high or well wide. More practice required!