In an incredible night of football, Spurs were shockingly beaten 1-0 by Royal Atwerp in the Europa League.
Antwerp came into this game protecting a 14 month-long unbeaten home streak, and they leave the night without that streak having ever really been threatened by a Spurs side who ended up using all their elite players to try. Who were the winners and losers?
Winner: Ritchie de Laet
The whole Antwerp defence and goalkeeper Jean Butez were great and deserve praise, but Ritchie de Laet especially so. After an 11-club tour of Europe, including stops at Manchester United and Leicester City (where he won the Premier League title!) he’s back where it all began and tonight he used all those years of experience to shut Spurs out.
De Laet ended the night with an incredible 6 tackles and 6 interceptions (both game-highs). No matter how hard they tried, Spurs could not find a way around the 31-year-old Belgian. He was constantly making well-timed interventions to thwart whoever Spurs had attacking, and when they did catch him off balance he’d throw himself in the way of the ball.
A heroic display from De Laet!
Loser: Dele Alli, Steven Bergwijn, Giovani Lo Celso and Carlos Vinicius
Getting subbed off at half-time is always a humiliating experience, particularly so when you’re only losing 1-0. Mourinho’s obviously got previous for subbing people off at half-time, but usually in desperate situations, not simply being 1-0 down.
Now, sure, Spurs were pretty poor in the first-half but that was as much to do with Mourinho’s tactics and the sheer number of changes he had made to the starting XI. Simply making more changes wasn’t ever going to be answer unless they were the right changes, and given that Mourinho took off three non-starters and his chosen whipping boy Dele Alli spoke volumes. This was almost vindictive from the Portuguese coach, but whatever his motives, those four players must be feeling terrible. Dele in particular. What happened to him?
Winner: Lior Refaelov
Scoring a goal against Spurs is always a good time, though Lior Refaelov was probably not expecting to bag one that was quite as big as this one. Maybe a consolation, or perhaps a tasty equaliser before an inevitable defeat, but a winner? No chance, surely.
Yet that’s exactly what Lior Refaelov managed to do when he ran on to Dieumerci Mbokani’s cross and hammer the ball home. It was a simple goal and maybe even as he scored it he expected a Spurs whirlwind to overwhelm Antwerp, but that storm never came and the Belgian side rode out the rest of the match with incredible calm.
Loser: Gareth Bale
Is it more humiliating to be subbed at half-time with three other team-mates, or to be sent back out to play the second-half with the assumption you would be able to raise your game only to play so badly that you got subbed 10 minutes later anyway?
It’s probably the latter, right?
Look, Gareth Bale basically didn’t play football for a year he’s going to need some time to get back up to full fitness but right now he looks a shadow of the inconsistent force he was at Madrid nevermind the all-conquering tyrant he was when last at Spurs.
Loser: Davinson Sánchez
Is it more humiliating to be subbed at half-time with three other team-mates, or to be sent back out to play the second-half with the assumption you would be able to raise your game only to play so badly that you got subbed 10 minutes later anyway, or to be left on for 90 minutes only because the manager didn’t think he could waste a sub on a defensive player?
Davinson Sánchez is usually great but tonight he was an absolute trainwreck. Ben Davies was robbed for the opening Antwerp goal, a genuine mistake, but he was still the better defender of the two (the Colombian didn’t cover himself in glory, neither pressing the passer nor marking the shooter). Davinson Sánchez was all over the place, constantly messing up simple marking assignments and having no idea how to catch the Antwerp defenders offside.
Just woeful. File it under “whoops” and move on.
Loser: José Mourinho
With Spurs playing so well this season a lot of talk would have soon begun to turn around on Mourinho, with retrospectives being cast on his time at Manchester United and how he was actually a good manager you guys seriously no one can get a tune out of The Red Devils and he walked into a poisoned chalice at Spurs last season!
Of course what won’t be said is that Spurs are a basically functional defensive side like Mourinho’s United were, with the standout difference being that Harry Kane and Heung-min Son are two world-class strikers playing in outrageously good form at the moment. Mourinho hasn’t had a pair as good as Kane and Son since Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo at Real Madrid, that’s how good they are.
So it was no surprise that when Mourinho took them out of the XI to play Antwerp, Spurs were predictably terrible. They were all over the place, and even when Mourinho made one of his “LOOK AT ME! I’M HELPING!” multi-man half-time substitutions, it had basically no effect. Antwerp were still the better side second-half and were unlucky to not extend their lead.
When his superstars didn’t perform miracles, Mourinho had nothing else in his locker to turn things around. At best he looked a man bereft of inspiration, more honestly he’s probably just as if not even more limited than he’s ever been, it’s just now he has two world-class forwards to bail him out.
Back to the drawing board, José!