Tottenham: Ryan Mason’s biggest issue shows Spurs’ chronic lack of investment in a key area

Tottenham: Ryan Mason’s biggest issue shows Spurs’ chronic lack of investment in a key area

Tottenham have taken just a point from Ryan Mason’s two games in charge, but there have been some encouraging signs under the acting head coach.

Spurs scored five times across the draw with Manchester United and Sunday’s dramatic 4-3 defeat at Liverpool, mounting spirited comebacks in each and demonstrating their quality when they play on the front foot.

Heung-min Son, Harry Kane, Richarlison, Ivan Perisic and Pedro Porro have all been more effective going forward under Mason, offering encouragement that Spurs could quickly return to being a top attacking side under a progressive coach.

It will surely be impossible, though, to build a competitive team on such shaky foundations, and Mason has struggled to make any headway with a defence that clearly needs a drastic overhaul in the summer. Spurs have shipped 15 goals in four matches, including a 3-2 defeat by Bournemouth and the 6-1 humiliation at Newcastle under Cristian Stellini.

Their defensive troubles long pre-date the interim coaches, however, and they have comfortably conceded the most goals in the Premier League’s top 10 this term, with 57 — 30 more than Newcastle and 15 more than Liverpool. Only four of the bottom five and 13th-placed Bournemouth have worse records.

On Sunday, Mason said his side “literally gave Liverpool four goals without [them] having to earn it”, and the 31-year-old is the latest coach paying for the club’s chronic lack of sound investment in the defence.

Despite hiring three defensive managers in a row, Spurs have signed just two centre-halves on permanent deals since Mauricio Pochettino was sacked in 2019: Cristian Romero and Joe Rodon, who is now struggling for minutes on loan at Rennes.

Before Romero, the last centre-half to join Spurs who could genuinely be said to have improved the team was Toby Alderweireld, in 2015.

Eric Dier, Davinson Sanchez, Ben Davies and Japhet Tanganga are all relics of the Pochettino era and, with the exception of the Welshman, have struggled at times this season.

A top coach, committed to improving players, would make a difference, but there is enough evidence by now that Spurs simply do not have the defenders with the consistency or quality for a top-six side.

Romero is clearly of the required standard at his best, and barely put a foot wrong as Argentina won the World Cup, but he carelessly gave away the penalty for Liverpool’s third — another example of the £47million signing adopting different standards for club and country.

Eric Dier has come in for major criticism from Tottenham fans (Getty Images)
Eric Dier has come in for major criticism from Tottenham fans (Getty Images)

Short-term, Dier would benefit from being taken out of the firing line, but even if Mason is prepared to be ruthless and drop his former team-mate, his options are limited for Saturday’s visit of Crystal Palace.

Mason is unlikely to risk switching to a back four, so bringing Clement Lenglet into the middle of the defence is his only obvious solution until Emerson Royal is fit again.

Long-term, Spurs need at least one top centre-half and probably a new left-back, especially if Antonio Conte’s permanent successor has designs on playing a back four.

Mason’s mini-tenure has the potential to revitalise Spurs as an attacking force, but it is increasingly obvious that no new manager, be it Mason, Julian Nagelsmann or another, can build a successful team without major surgery in the defence.