FA Cup Semi-Final: The Spurs Post-Mortem

Manchester United hammered the last nail in the coffin of Spurs’ hopes of ending their decade-long trophy-less drought this weekend.

Different pundits have offered their analyses after the match; some fans scorned the Spurs side for losing, where others rallied behind the squad, putting the defeat down to the luck of the day. Whatever causes can be offered, unfortunately, the score-line won’t change, and the only action that Poch and his boys can take is to continue the fight.

The stats below are a mixed-bag but tell an extraordinary story about the mentality of the Spurs players, as well as the manager himself. When Tottenham Hotspur have led their opposition in the Premier League, which has occurred in 22 of the 34 league games they have played, they haven’t once suffered a defeat in the final result.

However, Spurs were ahead against Juventus before their Champions League defeat, ahead by two goals against West Ham in the Carabao Cup, and they most recently lost the lead against Man Utd leading to Tottenham’s own demise.

Spurs came out and fired on all cylinders, there is no questioning that for the first 15 minutes, and probably for the whole of the first half – they had Man Utd on the ropes. But it seems that the players tend to cede their organisational approach to the game when it really matters. It’s odd how they can maintain a lead in the Premier League – where there is a structured and long-term plan set in place – but fail to do so in cup games when the football can be notably more unpredictable. After all, Spurs are a young team and have just started to break into the top-four on a regular basis. That seasoned mentality of how to control the pace of the game under heavy pressure, and how to maintain structure, will come with time. All spectators of the Premier League know the raw talent and team ethos that this side possesses, but to evolve the winning mentality takes time – its moments like these that eventually shape how the team wins.

Premier League all-time scorer Alan Shearer has criticised the tactics of Mauricio Pochettino ahead of the semi-final. Shearer said that,

“He stuck with his second-choice goalkeeper Michel Vorm – because he had played in Tottenham’s previous cup games – but would France captain Hugo Lloris not have got to Herrera’s winning goal?… There can only be so many near misses before you realise this much-vaunted side and manager is not at all that”

Shearer went on to allude to the previous semi-final when Pochettino selected Heung-Min Son to play in a wingback position. Partially, some of the blame can rest at the feet of Mauricio Pochettino. The second Utd goal was very close to the midriff of Michel Vorm, who’s only game time has been a sporadic set of starts in Spurs’ domestic cup runs. One would think that Hugo Lloris, a far more experienced and prevalent keeper would have denied the second goal from going in. However, Hugo hasn’t been on the greatest form himself recently, and anything can happen in games like this one. Poch has also been criticised for starting Davinson Sanchez over Toby Alderweireld. Sanchez, as impressive as he has been this year, is young and inexperienced – Toby Alderweireld is far more equipped to deal with the sort of pressure that builds during a semi-final. Despite the uncertainties over Alderweireld’s future, any manager would tell you he is the obvious choice for this fixture. BUT, the first goal was partially the result of a lapse of communication between the experienced pairing of Jan Vertonghen and Ben Davies. Alexis Sanchez was able to wriggle away from their zonal marking with ease. Additionally, Sanchez played his part in the Spurs goal.

The result is just another lesson for the young and hunry Spurs squad

What Poch can certainly be criticised for is his attitude leading up to the FA Cup clash. He consistently belittled the tournament in front of the press, and one can only assume that sort of psychology would have transmuted into the dressing room at one point or another.

Dele Alli commented in a post-match interview,

“Everyone talks. We want to win trophies… we can’t keep doing this. We can’t throw it away, we have got to improve”

Alli is right, something needs to improve. But it is an improvement that can only come about as a unit. Mauricio Pochettino and his squad are still on the learning curve. Above all, it is undeniable that the semi-final loss demonstrated clearly that there are two core components to winning a football match: the performance of the unit physically, and the performance mentally. Spurs have the raw talent, they have a young squad and they have the desire to topple the cosseted Premier League strongholds of Manchester and Chelsea. They are yet to mature that desire into a consistent winning format. Their record of throwing away the lead proves that. But it will come with time, Spurs will march on and Spurs will see the day where they are not just a physical force to be reckoned with, but a psychologically sound powerhouse as well.

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