Struggling to break the Italian team’s shape saw our friendly end Spurs 2-3 Roma in the International Champions Cup at the Red Bull Arena.
Top Italian teams are always good opponents in preseason as they are sticklers for retaining team shape. Spurs struggled to contend with the Roma midfield that was well marshalled by the excellent Daniele De Rossi and Radja Nainggolan. After the pair departed, four goals went in during a furious finish that saw a final score of Spurs 2-3 Roma.
Spurs struggle against Roma shape
Two factors were at work during the first half. Firstly, playing a back three, Spurs attempted to overload central midfield. Eric Dier, Mousa Dembele, Josh Onomah and Dele Alli were all stationed centrally in Mauricio Pochettino’s 3-4-2-1.
Secondly, Roma’s 4-3-3 was set up to stifle and rapidly counter attack. The Italians weren’t interested in pressing our centre backs. They would condense the middle third to shorten the playing area for our quartet. Up against our four, Roma deployed a tight-knit trio of De Rossi, Nainggolan and Gerson.
Even when the trio became stretched, their back four aided them. The Roma defence pushed up closely behind to snuff out any space.
The issue for Spurs was that our central quartet was strong and powerful, but lacked any kind of creative passing. As a result, limited time on the ball from Roma’s play saw our attacks frequently break down. Therefore, Harry Kane became increasingly isolated.
Roma counter attacks
Condensing the middle third, Roma sought to launch quick counter attacks. Once they regained the ball, the Italians were frequently looking for a pass in-behind our high defensive line.
Roma had limited speed on the field, but their front three used well-timed runs to beat our offside trap. Edin Dzeko had a great chance but delayed his shot, allowing Jan Vertonghen to recover after a neat pass from Bruno Peres.
Roma followed this chance by recycling the ball to win a rather dubious penalty. Aleksander Kolorov looked for Radja Nainggolan with a shorter through ball this time as he looked to run in-behind.
Nainggolan’s cross then flicked off Cameron Carter-Vickers’ arm. Referee Hilario Grajeda played on for some ten seconds before consulting the fourth official. Grajeda then awarded a spot kick. Diego Perotti calmly and rather casually converted.
Not content with taking the lead, Roma’s counter attacks continued to pose problems. Five minutes later and they almost added a second. Radja Nainggolan released Gregoire Defrel with a sumptuous through ball with the outside of his boot. However, the Frenchman couldn’t convert.
Tottenham attack the left back
Spurs are no strangers to Aleksander Kolorov. We know all about his good attacking play, but equally that he is a weak link defensively. Once we learned that the central area of the pitch was a congested minefield and that play had to go quickly wide, we picked on the left back.
Our best three chances of the first half arrived from getting at and beyond Kolorov. Josh Onomah fired a pass out to Kieran Trippier that took Kolorov out of the game.
Trippier’s dangerous cross was met by Harry Kane and Federico Fazio, pinging off the former Spurs defender for a corner. From the set piece, Mousa Dembele snuck in-behind Kolorov and rattled the cross bar with his shot. Later in the half, Trippier’s ball over the top released Harry Kane to run in-behind and fire a wickedly late-swerving shot that keeper Alisson Becker just got down to.
Spurs change shape
Mauricio Pochettino made half–time changes to both personnel and formation. Off went two of the strong central quartet to be replaced by more creative guile and passing. Thus Dier and Onomah were substituted for Christian Eriksen and Harry Winks.
Pochettino changed formation too. The 3-4-2-1 was switched to a 4-2-3-1 as Spurs sought to move the ball in to wide areas much quicker through the passing of Winks and Eriksen.
Referee Hilario Grajeda looked out of his depth officiating at this standard. Having continued play and then awarded a rather dubious penalty in the first half, he completely missed a clear foul on Harry Kane in the box by Federico Fazio.
The decision came at a crucial point in the game, where an equalising goal would’ve made a huge difference.
De Rossi and Nainggolan depart
Tottenham chances had been at a premium due to the play of Daniele De Rossi and Radja Nainggolan in Roma’s midfield. The pair was excellent in shutting the central zone off. The duo departing the game saw space open up and four goals in the final thirty minutes.
Tottenham attack the flanks
Roma had been blocking off the centre of the pitch. With Anthony Georgiou in the game, Spurs had a real outlet down the left. The youngster’s quick feet and dribbling were a problem for Roma. He was able to get away from his marker and deliver several dangerous crosses and get two good shots away.
Recognising the wings to be our route back in to the game, Mauricio Pochettino introduced Georges-Kevin Nkoudou. Two goals would be the result, one from each flank.
Christian Eriksen created the first as he got in-behind right back Bruno Peres.
Vincent Janssen shot Eriksen’s cutback across the goal. The ball rebounded back off the post, falling at the feet of Harry Winks to stab home at the second attempt.
Georges-Kevin Nkoudou was then found down the left by Toby Alderweireld’s raking pass directly to him. Nkoudou’s cross was touched home by Vincent Janssen to make it Spurs 2-2 Roma. It appeared as if a draw had somehow been snatched from the jaws of defeat.
Sloppy carbon copy goals
In-between our double strikes from the flanks, Roma scored two carbon copy goals from our sloppy errors.
The first put the Italians 2-0 up. Toby Alderweireld’s poor pass turned possession over and Roma could launch another one of their counter attacks. Kevin Strootman was found running up the line to get beyond Alderweireld and could cross towards Marco Tumminello.
The recovering Kevin Wimmer cut out Strootman’s cross. However, going for the ball with his weaker right foot saw Wimmer not get the connection he needed. The ball agonisingly dropped in front of goal for Cengiz Under to run on to and sweep in to the net.
Having seemingly grabbed a draw at 2-2 we then switched off to concede a carbon copy goal.
Straight form the kick off, Georges-Kevin Nkoudou and Kieran Trippier allowed Strootman to break free down the line and cross towards Tumminello once more. This time his ball across the box wouldn’t be stopped. Tumminello could divert it home from close range and Roma had frustratingly nicked the victory.
Seconds later and the final whistle blew to end the game at Spurs 2-3 Roma for our first North American International Champions Cup defeat this summer.
Spurs 2-3 Roma overall
Spurs figured out this game to amazingly get back to 2-2. However, another goal conceded straight after scoring highlighted what is becoming an increasingly annoying habit. It is better that this happens in preseason, but it is an issue that needs to be addressed.
Daniel Levy made a big statement about the club’s dedication to developing youth prior to the match. Bringing through our exciting crop of youngsters should be paramount to the club competing in this climate of unsustainable super-spending.
We have a number of hot prospects and Anthony Georgiou was the latest to stake his claim here. However, once more this match showed that there is a Christian Eriksen sized hole when the Dane is not playing. This is not new news and a number of names have been linked over the past twelve months. It doesn’t have to be big money, but it is where Spurs need to scour the market, as it will be the wisest funds spent this summer.
Final score: Spurs 2-3 Roma.