Flat Tottenham display against West Ham raises further questions about Nuno Espirito Santo’s approach

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Flat Tottenham display against West Ham raises further questions about Nuno Espirito Santo’s approach
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Tottenham’s mini-revival came to abrupt halt with a 1-0 defeat to West Ham, which raised further questions about head coach Nuno Espirito Santo’s approach.

After leaving his first XI at home for the midweek defeat to Arnhem in the Europa Conference League, Nuno’s Spurs could have been expected to play with more urgency and cohesion at the London Stadium but they offered only flashes before Michail Antonio’s 71st-minute winner – and nothing after.

The defeat was Tottenham’s fourth to a London rival already this season and, while their display was not as wretched as against Crystal Palace, Chelsea or Arsenal, Nuno is clearly struggling to get the best from his squad.

Of particular concern was Tottenham’s inability to create any meaningful chances after the interval. Harry Kane tested Lukasz Fabianski and Heung-min Son twice got in good positions before half-time, but Spurs did not have a single shot in the second half, even as they tried to pile forward after Antonio’s goal.

It was just so flat and lacking structure – not a good look for the coach.

For Spurs, perhaps the most depressing thing, though, is that the result should not come as a surprise.

David Moyes’ well-coached West Ham have been a better side than Spurs for more than a year and, while this was a relatively even contest for long periods, the hosts carried more threat and deserved their victory on the balance of play.

West Ham demonstrated that they are capable of handling the twin pressures of competing in Europe – Moyes started five of the same XI from Thursday – with a result which underlines their continued progress and, more pertinently, the power shift between these clubs.

Nuno’s aversion to subs

It took Nuno until the 84th minute – nearly a quarter of an hour after the goal – to finally make a change, with Giovani Lo Celso and Bryan Gil given a paltry six minutes to spark a revival.

Even before West Ham’s goal, you wondered why Nuno was not considering Gil or Steven Bergwijn to give West Ham something different to think about but the head-coach reluctance to use subs is becoming a worrying theme.

In the win over Aston Villa, he did not make a change until the 76th minute and he used no substitues against Newcastle last weekend.

In a 3-2 win at St. James’ Park, the approach was somewhat understandable, particularly as Nuno attempts to increase his players’ fitness during matches, although Spurs may have avoided a nervy finale if the Portuguese had introduced some fresh legs to help them see out the game.

But here, his refusal to turn to the bench was just strange and raises serious questions about both Nuno’s tactical acumen and whether he really trusts anyone outside his first XI.

Having left this XI at home for the abject midweek defeat to Arnhem, you could argue that none of Nuno’s fringe players really deserved to get on the pitch.

But the approach only contributed to the feel that Spurs have a two-tiered squad, with the first XI trusted and valued by Nuno – and the rest little more than filler for minor cup games.

Romero vs Antonio

The afternoon’s most intriguing subplot was a fierce battle between Antonio and Sergio Romero.

The Argentine centre-half played like Antonio’s shadow, always looking to get up the No9’s back or charge in front of him to intercept the ball.

Romero’s ultra-aggressive approach was often effective but Antonio had the beating of him physically, and twice in the first half he shrugged Romero off the ball to create a decent chance.

In the end, Antonio was the match-winner, getting in front of Kane to poke home Aaron Cresswell’s corner to continue his superb form this season.

It offered a neat contrast between the two strikers, with Kane sluggish and below-par again, and you wondered if the outcome might’ve been different if Romero had stuck on the West Ham talisman.

Antonio is one of the League’s best lone strikers and there aren’t many other defenders who would have taken such a high-risk, assertive approach to man marking him.

Romero deserves credit for his overall performance, which was further evidence that Spurs have signed an unusual and potentially transformative centre-half.

That said, the way Antonio seemed to occasional bully him will offer encouragement to the League’s more physical forwards and further proves that Romero is still adapting to English football.

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