Nuno Espirito Santo blames Tottenham players but derby defeat reveals manager’s limitations

Nuno’s football is very close to Jose Mourinho’s but without the career hinterland, and it’s difficult not to describe Tottenham’s current best-case scenario as tedium married with mediocrity

Miguel Delaney
Chief Football Writer
Monday 27 September 2021 14:59
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<p>There isn’t even a defensive foundation. The one quality Nuno is praised for has been badly missing</p>

There isn’t even a defensive foundation. The one quality Nuno is praised for has been badly missing

An agitated Nuno Espirito Santo said the Tottenham Hotspur players didn’t do what he told them in their 3-1 defeat by Arsenal, but nothing he said could be as relevant as what Daniel Levy stated in the summer.

The chairman wrote: “We are acutely aware of the need to select someone whose values reflect those of our great club and return to playing football with the style for which we are known – free-flowing, attacking and entertaining – whilst continuing to embrace our desire to see young players flourish from our academy alongside experienced talent.”

Those words are among a number of reasons that it is remarkable Spurs appointed the Portuguese. Another was, at the very time that Levy came out with this statement, the club had already passed on Nuno a few times. They knew he didn’t fit.

This was the primary reason. Nuno does have some qualities as a manager but they would never cover descriptions like “free-flowing, attacking or entertaining”. It is reactive, defence-based football, dependent on organisation at the back.

That alone fostered the feeling this was only ever a stop-gap, a last resort after so many preferred options either turned Spurs down or couldn’t come to an agreement.

That isn’t exactly the foundation for anything promising but then this is the main concern about Nuno right now. There isn’t even a defensive foundation. The one quality he is praised for has been badly missing.

It is not an exaggeration to describe this as the worst defensive display of the season so far, by any club. It was just so easy for Arsenal and so fortunate for Spurs it wasn’t more. They couldn’t even seem to do the basics. It was difficult to decide which goal was worst. All were hapless in their own pathetic way.

The first involved an incredible amount of space in their own box. The second somehow saw them turn attack into defence in blistering speed. The third saw that repeated, but with Harry Kane’s stumbles making it look even more calamitous.

To be fair to Nuno, this just wasn’t something you would have expected from any of his previous sides, and particularly not Wolves. They were hard to break down, and well organised.

That is why there is some merit in his comment that the players didn’t do what he wanted, even as he admitted the game plan was wrong.

That does raise bigger questions, though. What is the gameplan? What is the idea? What’s the vision for creating a “free-flowing, attacking and entertaining” Spurs? What, then, is the point?

Nuno’s football is very close to Jose Mourinho’s, but Mourinho of course had that immense career, even if its most impressive feats increasingly recede into the past.

There is none of that with Nuno. He has little more than a respectable managerial career. As such, it’s difficult not to describe the best-case scenario as tedium married with mediocrity.

Harry Kane once more cut a frustrated figure

This is the current outlook for Spurs. It is some distance from the electricity around the club as recently as May 2019. They have squandered some position of opportunity. That is on Levy.

It’s hard not to think a manager of lesser profile but more progressive ideas would at least be more entertaining. Levy may face another decision soon.

There is no suggestion yet of Spurs assessing Nuno’s future, but the trajectories of both performances and results are alarming. That is three consecutive league games where they have conceded three goals, and this derby could have been worse.

The deeper numbers are much worse. Spurs are bottom of the table in a series of attacking stats – from shots to big chances to chances from open play – but also physical stats like distance covered.

Kane was this time only one of a number of players who didn’t look physically sharp. The midfield was non-existent. There have already been suggestions from those close to the Spurs squad that players aren’t that impressed: one quote that he is “some of the worst of Mourinho without the medals”.

As is always the case in football, a couple of good results changes all that. It’s just the prospect of that looks very far away. Nuno openly admitted after the game he didn’t really know what his players were doing.

The main question from this match, though, is what exactly Spurs were thinking with this whole appointment. Very little of it seems to fit.

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