Tottenham’s lack of spark in attack is their biggest problem as Antonio Conte faces up to lacklustre defeat

·3-min read
Tottenham’s lack of spark in attack is their biggest problem as Antonio Conte faces up to lacklustre defeat

After conceding twice in injury-time, the obvious conclusion would be to point the finger at Tottenham’s defence.

Questions can rightly be asked, given the manner of Sporting CP’s late goals last night in Lisbon.

The first came after Paulinho lost his markers to head home from a near-post corner in the 91st minute. Then, barely seconds after the restart, Sporting wrapped up victory, as Arthur Gomes cut in from the left, nutmegged Emerson Royal and fired past Hugo Lloris to resign Spurs to their first defeat of the season.

“For sure we can do much better in those last few minutes,” said Spurs head coach Antonio Conte after yet another laboured display.

Spurs flew back to London last night and, even before this defeat, planned to train today, with the obvious assumption being Conte would drill them defensively after this late loss.

In reality, however, their attacking deficiencies should be just as concerning to the Italian.

Tottenham’s famed front line looked turgid here in Lisbon, with summer signing Richarlison their brightest spark during a game in which they created few clear chances. Heung-min Son, who once again struggled, barely had a sniff of goal, while Harry Kane also had an off-night.

Tottenham’s only real moment of promise came when Richarlison had a goal ruled out for offside in the first half. Other than that, their chances were limited to flashed crosses in the box, scrambled efforts by wing-back Royal and weak back-post headers by both the aforementioned Brazilians.

That was in stark contrast to Sporting’s attack, which looked lively, with former Spurs academy graduate Marcus Edwards excelling as a false nine.

The 23-year-old was likened to Lionel Messi by Mauricio Pochettino during his time at the club, and his mazy run in the first half — which was only ended thanks to a good save from Lloris — underlined why such comparisons were made.

Edwards’s expression and freedom emphasised how static Spurs’ attack looked and, ahead of Saturday’s home game against Leicester, Conte has some problems to solve.

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

In the past, the idea of dropping Son seemed unthinkable, but now it must be considered. Spurs did look brighter when Dejan Kulusevski was introduced, with the Swede offering a different point of attack. Richarlison and Son both want to run in behind defenders, particularly when Kane picks the ball up deep, but Kulusevski seems happy to receive possession in between the lines, and his ability to open defences up seems valuable at a time like now.

Much was made over the summer about how Spurs had strengthened their squad with some good business ahead of their return to the Champions League. But, on a night when two substitutes scored, the only change Conte made was bringing on Kulusevski for Son.

Kulusevski made an impact, but Conte’s reluctance to turn to his other substitutes reflects his comments that he does not feel his squad is strong enough.

Performances have not always tallied with results and a boss like Conte will know something must change.

“Difficult result, and when you lose the game you’re not happy,” said Conte. “We had two or three situations that we can do much better in, but now we have to rest and think about the next game.”

There is no reason to hit the panic button just yet, with last night’s defeat the club’s first since April 16. Performances, however, have not always tallied with results, and a boss with Conte’s experience will know something must change.

Tottenham are lacking a spark in attack, and watching Sporting it was hard not to think how useful a player like Edwards would be right now.

The reintroduction of Kulusevski to the starting XI is an ideal solution. The headache for Conte, however, is trying to work out who should make way for him.