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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.