Tottenham Hotspur have it all to do in the second leg of their UEFA Champions League semi-final after falling to a 1-0 home defeat to Ajax on Tuesday evening.
What impact Spurs’ European exertions have on Mauricio Pochettino’s team selection in Gameweek 37 remains to be seen: the Lilywhites take on Bournemouth this weekend, with their two Champions League matches falling four days either side of their trip to the Vitality Stadium.
There is still much to play for in the Premier League, of course, and a win over the Cherries on Saturday lunchtime would guarantee a top-four place.
Pochettino demonstrated against West Ham last weekend that he had neither the inclination nor the available bodies to make wholesale changes to his starting XI in the league and rest players ahead of last night’s game, emphasising the importance of the match against the Hammers in his pre-match press conference.
The Spurs head coach’s comments about his players suffering from “stress and fatigue” after the West Ham loss were a concern, though.
We examine the north London club’s latest 1-0 home defeat in our Scout Notes article below.
Tottenham Hotspur 0-1 Ajax
Jan Vertonghen (£5.9m) added to Spurs’ injury woes on Tuesday evening after picking up a head injury in the loss to Ajax.
Already without the services of Harry Kane (£12.6m), Harry Winks (£5.5m), Erik Lamela (£5.9m) and Serge Aurier (£5.7m), the Lilywhites were forced into replacing Vertonghen before the break following their centre-half’s clash of heads with teammate Toby Alderweireld (£6.0m).
Owned by 7.6% of the top 10k at the point of the Gameweek 36 deadline, Vertonghen had missed Saturday’s match against West Ham with “fatigue” but recovered to line up against his former employers at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
A groggy-looking Vertonghen played on for a few minutes after sustaining his head wound but soon had to be helped from the field and looked unsteady on his feet.
Subsequent reports suggest Vertonghen passed initial concussion tests and Mauricio Pochettino was fairly upbeat about the player in his post-match press conference, saying:
Now is okay, now is good. He was walking away, was more relaxed. Hope it is not a big issue. He has walked out of the stadium now. Hope that he is well, you need to keep eyes watching him and monitor him because it was a big knock but at the moment, he is okay.
Asked about the decision to allow Vertonghen back onto the field after he had sustained a head injury, the Spurs boss added:
Wasn’t my decision. For me, first of all your life, we must protect the player integrity and of course, I wasn’t out of the conversation. Our medical staff follow the protocol and they decide that was possible to restart the game and possible to play again but of course, it was Jan in that moment, when the following action, he start to feel unwell and we need to change him and to put out.
Even if Vertonghen passes the next round of concussion tests on Wednesday, there has to be some doubt over his involvement at the Vitality Stadium this weekend.
Vertonghen’s injury inadvertently helped Spurs get back into the match on Tuesday, with substitute Moussa Sissoko (£4.9m) providing the drive and urgency from midfield that was sorely lacking in the first half an hour.
Ajax dominated in the first 30 minutes, registering six shots to Spurs’ one in the first third of the game.
Donny van de Beek was allowed plenty of time to finish past Hugo Lloris (£5.4m) after a quarter of an hour and the Ajax goalscorer should have slipped in David Neres for a tap-in ten minutes later instead of going for glory himself.
Neres also hit the post later in the match with Lloris rooted to the spot.
The 5-3-2/3-5-2 that Pochettino had initially deployed was swiftly abandoned in favour of a 4-4-2 diamond, with Victor Wanyama (£4.9m) playing as the anchor, Sissoko and Christian Eriksen (£9.3m) either side of him, and Dele Alli (£8.8m) as the tip of the midfield four.
Alli’s Fantasy appeal has been dented in recent months but this was the second successive match that the former MK Dons midfielder was used as the most advanced player in a 4-4-2 diamond, with Eriksen forced into a more deeper role.
Alli had more efforts on goal (three) than any of his teammates and registered Spurs’ only shot on target, which was comfortably dealt with by visiting goalkeeper Andre Onana.
Alli had another effort blocked and nodded a Kieran Trippier (£6.0m) cross over but to say he was an attacking menace would be a gross exaggeration – both Alli and Eriksen disappointed on the big stage, with Eriksen letting the game pass him by and failing with a third of his passes.
Lucas Moura (£6.8m) was arguably the pick of Spurs’ FPL midfield assets but his driving runs amounted to little and it was perhaps no surprise that Pochettino’s side posed such little attacking threat given that they were without the injured Kane and suspended Son Heung-min (£8.9m) up front.
Fernando Llorente (£5.1m) battled gamely in attack (one excellent piece of footwork leading to a chance for Alli) but his mistimed first-half header from a Trippier free-kick was his only attempt of the match and highlighted his own limitations as a striker.
Asked about Spurs’ lack of opportunities, Pochettino said:
We did not create many chances. We arrived in the last third but we did not find a way to create clear chances. Of course, there was the feeling that we can score but always we missed the last pass or shot.
In the second half, we took more risks and we tried to go forward and we allowed them a few chances.
You know very well that today was not our best game from the beginning. We are agreed that we cannot start the game like this. But they were fresh, they were more proactive than us.
Pochettino was also asked about his use of a five-man defence but highlighted the lack of fit options currently available to him, saying:
I can accept it was a mistake the shape we used but there were not too many options. I am not happy but you cannot guess what happens if we play in a different way.
It was not the shape that conceded the goal. Our approach to the game was not good. I am the manager so I have responsibility.
The dearth of attacking options available to Pochettino was underscored in the 80th minute when, with Spurs chasing the game, Trippier and Danny Rose (£5.8m) were replaced by Juan Foyth (£5.0m) and Ben Davies (£5.6m).
Trippier again failed to convince from a defensive perspective but did supply headed opportunities for Alli, Llorente and Alderweireld from either a set piece or open play.
Rose, meanwhile, very briefly reprised the “out of position” central midfield role that he operated in against West Ham on Saturday, before Sissoko’s introduction saw him switch to left-back.
Whether either full-back will be involved against Bournemouth on Saturday has to be questionable, with Foyth and Davies able to deputise.
Owners of Spurs’ midfield assets will be encouraged by the lack of available options that Pochettino can rotate with but the Spurs manager’s post-match comments about a lack of energy will again be a concern going into Gameweek 37.
The team didn’t show the energy that we wanted to show. I think they showed more energy than us.
I think the way that we conceded the goal was so painful. We were so poor in this action and it’s true, I agree with you, in the first half hour of the game we struggled because they showed more energy, they were more proactive than us. That was the key.
I think after 30 minutes, we start to equalise the game. Of course with Sissoko in, we started to play better, we started to show more energy. But of course we started to play better and the second half was much, much better. We pushed them to play deeper and we started to press in the way that we wanted to press.
Tottenham Hotspur XI (3-5-2): Lloris; Alderweireld, Sanchez, Vertonghen (Sissoko 39′); Trippier (Foyth 78′), Eriksen, Wanyama, Alli, Rose (Davies 78′); Llorente, Lucas Moura.