The usual gallows-humour response to a defeat like Spurs’ 6-1 astonishment at Newcastle would be to observe that at least things can’t get worse. But watching this Spurs team and looking at a fixture list that contains Manchester United and Liverpool in the next seven days, we’re not so sure…
We’ve seen Spurs do some seriously Spurs sh*t over the decades, but turning up for their biggest game of the season so far and going 5-0 down inside 21 minutes and seeking to address that by bringing on the defender who was booed into oblivion a week earlier in deserved defeat to a team simultaneously en route to a 4-0 home defeat against West Ham is going to take an awful lot of beating.
That said, they’ve got Manchester United on Thursday night and Liverpool away next week; we’re not at all confident that this Spurs team has definitely hit rock bottom just yet. What a team, what a club.
Newcastle fans are going to have to forgive us here. This is going to be mostly about Spurs. Yes, Newcastle were absolutely excellent but this was Spurs’ day. No team against a supposed rival can play well enough to be 5-0 up after 20 minutes. Yes, Joe Willock’s pass to create the third goal for Alexander Isak (or was it the fourth? Genuinely hard to keep track) was astonishingly good. Yes, the speed and verve of the attacking play was astonishing to watch.
But still. The achievement here lies in being 5-0 down, not 5-0 up. You have to be cartoonishly bad for that to happen. And Spurs were certainly that. Plus it’s much more fun to talk about incompetence than excellence.
We could go through the list of those to blame for this catastrophic embarrassment. So let’s do that. Hugo Lloris and the four (important number to note, that) defenders in front of him are all on the list. However much they may have been shafted, they technically remain professional Premier League footballers and didn’t have to highlight the many other errors that have led Spurs to this point quite so atrociously.
The most conspicuous element of that wrong-looking back four was in the wide positions, and it sums up the current mess. In Pedro Porro and Ivan Perisic, Spurs had two full-backs who are specialist wing-backs signed specifically and directly at Antonio Conte’s direction.
With Perisic last summer, that seemed fair enough. He was a free transfer, for one thing, had enjoyed previous success with Conte as a left wing-back and brought needed experience of big occasions and most pointedly of success to a squad lacking in such. It’s not worked out, clearly, but it was a relatively low-risk piece of business and the reasons for it are sound.
Porro is harder to justify, brought into a squad that already contained two other right-backs at huge expense to satisfy the very specific demands and requirements of a coach who very clearly by that point had, at best, four months left at the club.
Which brings us to the real villains of this. There are those who will tell you that this Spurs performance offers vindication of Conte’s parting remarks, but it’s not really true is it? He is still massively at fault, as he was then, for the failure to address or correct any of those issues; his demand then that players show some respect for a club he was desperate to escape remains as hollow and self-serving now as it was on the day.
Letting Conte’s mate, with almost no managerial experience, remain in charge has quickly been exposed as a disastrous and obvious error from Daniel Levy, the man who will bear the brunt of the backlash for this and it has to be said rightly so.
Getting rid of Conte but not his ideas amounted to writing off a season after a game where, however wretched the performance, Spurs had been a minute away from going third in the league. There was no credible reason to expect Stellini to implement the ideas any better than Conte did. While nobody could think it would have been quite as bad as this, Levy’s action made clear that his problem with Conte was only what he said in the “please sack me” press conference rather than the deeper problems with the Italian.
Levy now surely has no choice but to also remove Stellini. Further humiliations against Manchester United and Liverpool are likely over the next week in this squad now utterly shorn of confidence and spirit and belief. Those ritual slaughters may now be unavoidable, but there is not a single argument for allowing Stellini to oversee them. The Bournemouth game should have been enough; this absolutely has to be.
If Chelsea do appoint the manager whose name has been sung from all corners of White Hart Lane 2.0 for the last month while he was too stubborn to pick up the phone and too busy inexplicably defending Fabio Paratici to the hilt, then Levy is going to find himself in his trickiest spot yet during over 20 turbulent years at Spurs.
Only once in Premier League history has a team been 5-0 down quicker than Spurs today, when Watford were eviscerated by Manchester City. This, then, stands alone as the worst-ever start to a game by a supposedly decent team. There is no hiding from the scale of the humiliation, and in a way it’s important Newcastle got their seemingly meaningless sixth goal when they did.
Spurs had actually done okay in the first 20 minutes of the second half against a Newcastle side understandably freewheeling its way to the long-since inevitable victory.
Harry Kane scored an excellent goal because he quite often does and for a while there seemed a real danger that the game might end up something like 5-3 that would have given those responsible for this embarrassment something to hide behind. There was even talk on the Sky commentary of “winning the second half” and other such drivel.
It shouldn’t need Wilson’s goal, slotted home almost apologetically from Miguel Almiron’s pass within seconds of the pair stepping off the bench, to render such talk moot but the stubborn will sometimes grasp at the very shittiest of straws.
That opening 21 minutes was as bad as any team has produced in the history of Our League. The switch to a back four was a complete disaster, that required the deployment of a player utterly humiliated by fans and interim manager last week to try and halt. (Sanchez, to his enormous credit, did largely fine here.)
But it really shows just how far this squad was moulded for Conte, a manager who was never going to be there for the long term. Switching to a back four after the recent disasters with a back five should have been a no-brainer. Spurs were only just about getting away with a two-man midfield when it contained the excellent Rodrigo Bentancur; they have been overrun game after game in his absence.
Adding another body in there – especially one with the talent and promise of Pape Matar Sarr, who was unlucky to be the sacrificial lamb here after Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s disasterclass in that first 20 minutes – made sense. The problem is, Spurs no longer have the resources to play a back four.
Eric Dier remains shaky and unconvincing, while Cristian Romero increasingly looks like someone who can be the maverick attack dog in an otherwise efficient and well-organised defence but absolutely cannot be your most reliable defender. Put them in a back four with a converted left-winger and a pure wing-back and it’s hardly surprising that it didn’t work.
And at least the speed and scale of the rapid unscheduled disassembly means nobody can now deny the issues at hand.
This is a crucial summer for Spurs. With the inevitable Harry Kane Saga and the new manager search, it’s hard to know where the bandwidth exists for the necessary wholesale surgery required all over the pitch. But Levy will have to find the time.
His first point of order really should be getting on the phone to Mauricio Pochettino before it’s too late. If absolutely nothing else, this should be a day that finally and thoroughly disavows the Spurs chairman of the nonsensical idea that this is a club that has now grown beyond a Pochettino.
If he’s willing to open his eyes, the evidence that this is a nonsensical opinion to hold was there in both teams today.