In a one-sided afternoon of football, Sheffield United and Spurs played out a 1-1 draw at Tottenham Stadium.
Sheffield United dominated the game from start to finish, but were caught out by one big defensive mistake and had their attack stifled by a mad VAR decision. Who were the winners and losers?
Winner: Chris Wilder
Sheffield United were tipped by many to struggle in the Premier League this season, yet The Blades are currently joint-fifth in the table and look comfortably like the pick of the promoted sides as well as the “best United” in the division. All that is down to Chris Wilder, because his supreme 3-5-2 system has allowed them to thrive even with limited players.
This afternoon against Spurs was an absolute clinic. Sheffield United did to Spurs what Spurs did to Red Star Belgrade. The Blades were so cool, calm and confident. Barring one defensive lapse they absolutely ran rings around their illustrious opponents and they even scored enough times (twice) to win the game.
Unfortunately for them one of them was ruled out, but the attacking moves in the lead-up to the goals were testament to the absurd harmony present on the pitch whenever Sheffield United play. Long passing moves getting the ball from back-to-front whilst also moving it side-to-side kept Spurs disoriented and allowed Wilder’s men to score two stunners. Chris Wilder is an early contender for manager of the year.
Loser: The Offside Law
“If he’s offside, then he’s offside” said one commentator when VAR ruled out Sheffield United’s instead equaliser at Tottenham Stadium. The decision came because John Lundstram’s toe was offside in the build-up to David McGoldrick’s lovely finish. And it’s true indeed, Lundstram’s toe was offside when the ball was played to him.
Spurs have now dropped 12 points from winning positions in the Premier League this season, more than any other team.
Another two points thrown away today. 🗑️ pic.twitter.com/iysyTVCWqE
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) November 9, 2019
But here’s the thing: did he gain a significant advantage because of this? More to the point, was he even trying to gain an advantage? Precision offside decisions via VAR are a blight on the game of football because they fundamentally misunderstand the point of the offside law in the first place, which is not to retroactively determine to the millimetre if someone is offside – but to prevent forwards gaining an unfair advantage over defenders with some cheeky movement.
Everyone thought “VAR strikes again,” and it’s true VAR is an easy culprit as the officials spend three minutes staring at a screen drawing MS Paint-style straight lines across the field – but VAR is a tool. The law it enacts is the problem. And in this world where VAR at the top level of football is going to be a reality, the offside law needs amending so that these kind of precision offsides are no longer possible.
Winner: Heung-min Son
Last week Heung-min Son accidentally broke André Gomes’ ankle with a tackle. It was a horrific injury and the Korean clearly took it hard. But Mauricio Pochettino didn’t coddle the forward and instead threw Son right back into the mix against Belgrade and, after he scored twice, started him again vs. Sheffield United. And here against The Blades he appeared just when his side needed him most.
Make no mistake about it, Spurs were terrible against Sheffield United. But when Enda Stevenes and Jack Egan got themselves in a mixup and let a ball roll loose in their penalty area, Son was the one that appeared to slam Spurs into the lead. It took a kind deflection off a diving Chris Basham, but the glory belonged to the Korean as it was his quick thinking that punished The Blades’ defensive lapse. Son is in fine form and today looked like the only Spurs player capable of reaching his true level.
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Loser: Tanguy Ndombele
Fresh off an absolutely miraculous display in Belgrade, Tanguy Ndombele would have hoped to build some consistency at last in his Spurs career. Ndombele’s season has been dogged by injury but given the way he played against Red Star, absolutely bossing his hosts on a technical, physical and mental level. Seriously, there was nothing he couldn’t do against the Serbian side.
Then he came back home, and things weren’t nearly so fantastic. This was in part because Spurs as a whole had no idea how to handle Sheffield United so his team-mates weren’t making the kind of runs he could find as a playmaker. But beyond that Ndombele had trouble asserting himself, and then picked up a knock that forced him off at half-time. Not ideal.
The Gunners are having tremendously disappointing seasons. They are not operating at anywhere near the level that they should be and should be coming in for enormous amounts of criticism. However one thing they can say is that they are doing better than Spurs. And indeed the win in Belgrade where all three of Spurs’ new signings were involved in getting goals would have worried them that Mauricio Pochettino’s men were about to arrive. But this result has eased that pressure.
This draw means that Arsenal have a three point cushion over their North London rivals, a cushion they could extend with a positive result against Leicester. But even if they lose to the Foxes they will still have that cushion, meaning that as long as the goal difference doesn’t get too brutal they could even withstand another loss next week and still stay ahead of Spurs. It’s not much, but given Arsenal’s form right now it’s definitely something.
Loser: Eric Dier
There’s still room in football for players like Eric Dier. Big brutes with a bit of technique who don’t have a real position but could instead be classified only as “defender” – Dier can play centre-back, full-back and defensive midfield. Which one is his best role? No one really knows.
Dier has now played two consecutive games at centre-back and been mostly terrible in both of them. Now, this could just be because he’s only just returned from injury and is still working his way back to full-fitness. But he was shocking at Tottenham Stadium. His passing was sloppy, his command of his area was weak and he relied heavily on Davinson Sánchez to bail him out. To top it all off he may have diverted George Baldock’s cross into his own net (and if he didn’t get a touch, he didn’t clear the cross). Not a good display.