In an attritional afternoon of football, Watford held Spurs to a 0-0 draw at Vicarage Road.
The game was far from a classic yet somehow managed to contain plenty of intrigue and points to discuss. What did we learn?
1. Spurs need a No. 9
Harry Kane’s injured. That is certain. Whether or not he’s going to be out until the middle of summer (per his manager) or the middle of April (per his people), he is out right now and Spurs need to adjust. Except they can’t adjust. Mauricio Pochettino would have been able to adjust, but José Mourinho is the kind of manager who needs a No. 9.
Today he played Lucas Moura up-front and that worked about as well as it sounds. Spurs were aching for someone to play off in attack, with so many of their forays forward being rebuffed by the Watford defenders with an almost insulting ease. There was just one moment where Spurs were able to use the speed of Lucas to create a chance, but beyond that they just had nothing.
They’ve now failed to score in three of their last five games. Luckily for them, this is January and there’s two weeks of the transfer window left. Spurs have plenty of time to find a back-up for Kane, a big lad to go up-top. Mourinho can’t function without one.
2. Mourinho vs. VAR
Mourinho is always quick with the pithy post-match remarks so one can only imagine what he has planned for VAR after this match. He could dine out on the decisions that went against his side at Vicarage Road for weeks – months, even!
Obviously the one big problem VAR presents vs, say, goal-line technology is that it is just another person looking at an incident. It’s just one more human opinion and is vulnerable to all the little foibles that all humans are. As Mourinho said post-match: “the goal-line technology doesn’t make mistakes like the VAR makes.”
So today we saw two massive incidents in which VAR roused itself to deliver baffling verdicts that went wholly against Spurs. First the lack of a red card for Etienne Capoue after his shocking studs up lunge on Japhet Tanganga. Despite the attentions of VAR there wasn’t even a yellow card given (he picked one up later) and given how early it happened that could have changed the game. Many will focus on the lack of a yellow and how Capoue would or wouldn’t have picked up a second yellow later – but that was an absolute red. You can’t lunge like that.
Then on the hour mark there was a scuffle between Harry Winks and Abdoulaye Doucouré where the Frenchman slapped Winks in the face then pushed Jan Vertonghen, also in the face. Somehow Doucouré was only booked for that, leaving Watford with 11 men instead of the nine they should have had. Mourinho often whines about nothing, but today he’s got every right to be fuming with VAR.
93 – Watford 0-0 Spurs ended a run of 93 Premier League games without a goalless draw for Tottenham, the second longest run in the competition's history (Man Utd, 114 games ending May 2002). Stalemate. #WATTOT
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 18, 2020
3. Gedson shows some promise
Gedson Fernandes is the first new signing of the Mourinho era and his debut, in a tricky game against Watford where Spurs weren’t at their best, was quite promising.
Alright, it didn’t consist of much beyond a couple of touches but the way he made those touches, and the spaces in which he made them, showed him to be an associative player that will only help Spurs to play well in the final third. He appeared in the right space to make little passes, one a backheel, to keep attacks flowing with good momentum. There’s a long way to go but this was a promising start.
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4. Paulo GazzaNOga
It can’t be easy being Paulo Gazzaniga. Despite being an almost prototypical Mourinho goalkeeper (tall, imposing, over 25, originally a talented back-up) the Argentine is yet to truly distinguish himself on the field for Spurs. His form in recent weeks has been particularly poor too; he hasn’t put Hugo Lloris in the shade. And when you consider Lloris hasn’t exactly been himself since winning the World Cup, that’s a shame.
Paulo Gazzaniga has saved his first penalty in the Premier League for Tottenham.
Coming to Spurs' rescue. 🧤 pic.twitter.com/q7G3d0dLX7
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) January 18, 2020
Today though, we saw Gazzaniga make a massive impact on the game. With 20 minutes on the clock Gerard Deulofeu’s shot was handled by Vertonghen and up stepped Watford’s massive captain Troy Deeney. A goal here would surely have broken Spurs and given a motivated Watford an advantage they could hold. But Deeney was rebuffed by Gazzaniga, diving to his right and thumping the ball well wide.
It was an imposing, dominant save and it won Spurs a point and a clean sheet – just their second of the Mourinho era (and the first in nine games). This could mark the start of Gazzaniga truly deposing Lloris as Spurs‘ No. 1.
5. Pearson’s resurgence continues
Watford were six points adrift when Nigel Pearson took over. They were absolutely horrible. Then Pearson showed up and showed exactly why he should become the new Sam Allardyce in terms of the go-to manager to save teams from relegation. He already saved Leicester (back before Claudio Ranieri won them the league) in a similar situation and right now it looks like he’s doing the same for Watford.
The Hornets have been sensational under Pearson. They lost their first game against Liverpool, but are unbeaten in the six Premier League games since then. They’ve beaten Manchester United in that time and smashed Aston Villa and Bournemouth too.
They are so impressive and are now two points clear of the relegation zone. Whereas before they looked certain for the drop, now you would be amazed if they went down – the improvement has been that big.