We have to settle for second place in Europa League Group C as we lose Besiktas 1 Spurs 0 at the Ataturk Stadium.
After three pitch invaders in our last Europa League match, this time we saw two floodlight failures, affecting a game that was decided by a single goal.
Whether by far means of foul, the lights failed after a promising start and right at the end of what was an intriguing game, mainly due to the state of the pitch. The surface at the Ataturk Stadium was not only full of bobbles that caused players to have to take extra touches and provoked miss-controls. It also saw several slips and changing direction quickly at speed was nigh on impossible, slowing the tempo of many an attack.
Spurs through balls
Before the lights went out we had a glimpse of how we could create good chances from open play, Mousa Dembele through balls.
The Belgian was deployed in a more attacking number ten position, pushing up behind striker Roberto Soldado. His early threaded pass through the inside left channel sent Nacer Chadli beyond the defence. His cross was agonisingly too high for Soldado who just failed to get on the end of it.
After the lights came back on, Mousa Dembele continued to thread the through balls. Next he almost got the wide forward on the opposite side, Andros Townsend, in on goal straight down the middle.
Townsend was unfortunately marginally offside, as he clipped the ball over the on-rushing Besiktas keeper.
As half-time approached, Dembele put Soldado in with a neat pass as we broke on the counter. Besiktas were trying to press up the field, allowing us to occasionally get out on the break in the rare moments that we could move the ball quickly across the difficult surface.
Soldado had to take a touch to steady himself and settle the ball, allowing the defender to recover and block his shot.
Whilst through balls were causing Besiktas problems, we also had numerous chances from set pieces. These came in the form of corners, but also a number of free kicks in good areas.
Paulinho was on most set piece duties, later Andros Townsend would take over, but the Brazilian’s delivery was more miss than hit. A rare occasion where he did deliver a decent ball saw Younes Kaboul head down and Soldado fluff a guilt-edged chance with just the Besiktas keeper to beat.
The number of free kicks in decent areas was one thing, but we also had a great number of corners. Again Paulinho was the man on dead-ball duty and once more his delivery was often poor. A rare chance fell to Soldado, but his shot on the swivel was deflected wide for another set piece.
Full back forays
With Nacer Chadli and Andros Townsend playing as wide forwards and drifting into central areas, the width was once more provided by the full backs. Danny Rose has often been bursting his lungs to get forward and back down the left this season, but over on the right it’s been a different story.
The return of Kyle Walker here provided some much needed balance to the team. Eric Dier, Kyle Naughton and Vlad Chiriches have done an admirable job filling in, but none of them have the athleticism of Walker to get up and down the sideline.
Whilst not nearly 100%, Walker provided plenty of attacking thrust going forward. He was often up on the overlap, looking to get into crossing situations, something we’ve often missed from the right side.
Overall, he and Rose put in eight crosses from open play between them, as both were looking to get high-up above the 18-yard box.
Besiktas expose Walker
The problem with asking your full backs to be both a big part of the attack, whilst also having to defend, is that they need to be at peak physical condition.
Mauricio Pochettino went with a number of players here who were not regulars in the side, but also several returning from injury. Among those were Walker and Rose, both tired as the game wore on in so much as that they were often much slower to get back from attacking positions. Besiktas exposed this, taking advantage of both, but Walker especially. Kyle noticeably tired as the match went on and we were made to pay.
The passage of play that saw Besiktas take the lead started with an error from Younes Kaboul. Besiktas were pressing for a large part of this game and surrounded by several opposition players, Kaboul for some reason tried to flick the ball to Paulinho. Suddenly Cenk Tosun had possession and unleashed a wickedly driven shot that rattled back off our crossbar.
Visibly shaken by the error and almost conceding, seconds later the ball was in our net as Besiktas twice got Olcay Sahan in-behind Kyle Walker who was tired in his recovery.
The first phase of play saw Walker caught in midfield pressing the ball, as Sahan peeled off behind him with Townsend trying to get back.
Sahan was slowed by the surface and unable to deliver first time. He twisted and turned, finally chipping the ball across goal.
It was only partially cleared and as it was recycled, it was chipped over the head of Walker back to Sahan. The winger was once again running in-behind as Walker was caught pinching in to his centre backs.
Sahan made no mistake with his ball across goal this time as his half-hit effort was bundled home by Tosun.
It was the kind of scrappy goal that the bad surface dictated would happen. It seems harsh to pin too much blame on Walker as he was clearly not match fit, but Besiktas continued to try and get in-behind him.
Ten minutes later and they were at it again as our centre backs, left back Danny Rose and midfielder Paulinho were attracted to the ball. Kerim Frei and Sahan raced on to the flick with Walker slow to get back.
Frei tried to give Michel Vorm the eyes and fired at the near post when a shot across goal surely would’ve scored.
A game doesn’t seem to go by where we’re not questioning Mauricio Pochettino’s use of his substitutes. With Walker almost out on his feet and Rose also suffering, Besiktas were getting great joy on the counter attack, as our full backs couldn’t get up and back anymore.
Moments after the Frei chance, Mauricio Pochettino went to his bench. It was obvious we needed to get at least one or both of our full backs off, but the head coach made some really curious changes.
First up Soldado and Paulinho were replaced by Lamela and Lennon. Maybe the switch was made with Swansea in mind, but all it did was take away any attacking focal point we had. Nacer Chadli was put up front and he offered very little in terms of a player to hold the ball up or run in-behind. Soldado had missed some good chances but at least offered a focal point to play off.
Lennon had come on presumably to offer width, but also better defensive cover for the tired Kyle Walker. The change offered very little to slow down Sahan and Tore on the counter and it wasn’t until 76 minutes, almost 20 minutes after the Besiktas goal, that Walker was removed. Bringing on Etienne was another strange switch as Stambouli went to right back. Our set-up now looked as dysfunctional as the changes.
With Pochettino asking so much from the full backs in his system, if he was intent on getting something from the game, then he should’ve made changes in these positions. Rose and Walker off, Ben Davies and Fazio should’ve come on with Chiriches moving to right back. Lennon for Townsend would’ve given Vlad some support with a fresh Ben Davies overlapping the in-field moving Chadli on the other side.
As it was, the changes barely affected the game. The lights going out for a second occasion as we entered stoppage time halted any momentum we were trying to build.
Besiktas 1 Spurs 0 overall
Mauricio Pochettino went with a number of players here who were either returning from injury or have not played many minutes this season. As the game wore on, fatigue and lack of full match fitness definitely played a part.
The floodlight situation didn’t help and we did miss a number of good chances that the players and Mauricio Pochettino will be left to rue.
“I’m disappointed because we dominated, but in football you need to score when you create chances and dominate. We had clear chances but we were unlucky in front of goal. This is football.”
We created well from Mousa Dembele’s through balls in the first half, but also had many opportunities from set pieces throughout the match. Dead ball situations have never been a forte at Spurs, but something we need to focus on for games like these where difficult surfaces can hinder passing football.
Final score: Besiktas 1 Spurs 0.