Tottenham Hotspur vs. FC Basel: 5 Things We Learned in Europa League Clash
If Tottenham Hotspur win the Europa League this season, they will do so after making it as hard for themselves as possible.
A lackluster performance from the Premier League club played into FC Basel's hands, as the more motivated Swiss champions exposed Tottenham's unpreparedness yet again in Europe. The 2-2 final score ensures Spurs retain hope of progression, but injuries suffered by Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale exacerbated the general feeling of a bad night all-around.
Heading into a hugely important month for Spurs, this encounter told us a fair amount of the sizable challenges facing Andre Villas-Boas and his side.
One-Track Defense Is Hurting Spurs
Seeing the Tottenham defense struggle against Basel was not unexpected.
The incisive and physical Basel attack exposed the William Gallas/Jan Vertonghen partnership to be as soft as a sponge. Benoit Assou-Ekotto has been below par, and this continued as he found himself overmatched by for the exciting winger Mohamed Salah. Kyle Naughton's lapse in concentration that allowed Valentin Stocker to score the opener was in keeping with the disorganization plaguing Tottenham.
Michael Dawson's second-half arrival brought some much-needed steel, though by this point Tottenham were still allowing Basel far too much access into their final third. Frequently giving the ball away did not help matters, either.
A major issue was just how high a line the Spurs defense was playing. Anyone who has watched them on a regular basis under Andre Villas-Boas knows this is a normal tactic. Though there have been teething problems in its implementation, it has often paid off by the team successfully squeezing the opposition and making the most of the resulting position high upfield.
Time and time again, Basel showed the success with which a quick team with strong counterattacking capabilities can hurt the Spurs. Too often Vertonghen and Co. were put on the back foot, unable to establish any shape as they were cut apart too far forward.
Changes to the lineup did not help. Even so, this was an example of why a one-track approach to defense is too narrow-minded. Villas-Boas does not have to abandon these ideas completely, but he needs to realize that certain teams demand the Spurs defend the old-fashioned way.
Tottenham showed enough heart and quality in the end to earn a draw with Basel. Had Murat Yakin's team won, Spurs would have had few complaints.
The Swiss played like they wanted it more. In comparison, Spurs were less quick to close the opposition down, and too often players all over the pitch could be seen standing still rather than moving to receive the ball off a teammate.
There were exceptions—Scott Parker put in a typical shift, and Lewis Holtby tried hard. On the whole though, the Premier League outfit looked disinterested when they should have been focused on getting one step closer to a final.
Basel were never going to make it easy, but a motivated Spurs team could have beaten them or at least avoided falling two goals behind. The league may be the priority, but it would be a shame if Spurs blew a chance of silverware as a result of not putting in the extra yard.
Tired though Spur may be, everyone is feeling it at this stage of the season, so that's no excuse. Whether the likes of Assou-Ekotto and Emmanuel Adebayor can muster that extra necessary effort in Switzerland next week remains to be seen.
Spurs Need Others to Step Up in Bale's Absence
Villas-Boas' post-match assessment of the injury Gareth Bale suffered late on was that "it shouldn't be as bad as it looks on the image" (via BBC Sport).
Tottenham fans will cross their fingers and toes that proves to be the case, but Bale is still likely to miss some action. With Aaron Lennon having also gone off injured, there is a strong chance Spurs will be heading into Sunday's game with Everton without two of their best attacking talents.
Accusations that Spurs have been a one-man team with Bale are wide of the mark. His importance cannot be underestimated though, and now his teammates will be required to step up and carry the load in his and Lennon's absence.
It is a chance to prove wrong those who have deemed Spurs over-reliant on Bale. If Clint Dempsey, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Mousa Dembele (among others) do not, damaged egos will be the least of their disappointments.
Youth-Team Players Could Give Spurs a Timely Boost
With injuries piling up in the Tottenham squad, Andre Villas-Boas may be forced to call upon two or three of the club's youth players not currently out on loan.
Coming in as cover for injured first-team stars like Bale and Jermain Defoe is likely to be their primary purpose. Spurs' lackluster performance against Basel showed they may yet have a contribution to make, too.
Nobody is expecting these youngsters to be the answer to Spurs' problems, but with fresh legs and a desire to prove themselves, they could give the squad a boost. At this late stage of the season, any positive injection could make a difference (even a slight one).
As to whom to call up, the Spurs coaching staff will have the best idea of who is ready. On the outside looking in, a couple of players could fulfill some of the team's needs.
Shaquile Coulthirst has scored plenty at the youth level and may offer something a little different in attack to Adebayor. Then there is midfielder Kenny McEvoy, a Bale look-alike who plays more akin to Lennon and could give Spurs a temporary outlet of pace out wide in his more senior counterparts' absences.
And let's not forget Thomas Carroll, who has already impressed in outings at senior level and will be desperate to recover from his hamstring injury to play some part before the season is out.
Basel Deserve Recognition as a Genuine Presence on the Continental Scene
Basel are hardly upstarts in the European game. Fifteen-time winners of the Swiss Super League, they have been a fixture in UEFA club competitions for some time.
Last season, they made it to the round of 16 in the Champions League, finishing above Manchester United in the group stage (having not lost to the Red Devils). In the knockout phase, they beat Bayern Munich 1-0 at home before the might of the Germans proved too much in the second leg.
In the last round of this season's Europa League, they recorded an impressive win over Zenit St Petersburg. So it is hardly news that Basel can cut it in Europe, but their performance against another good side in Tottenham further emphasized they deserve to be regarded as a genuine presence on the continental scene.
Murat Yakin's team defended solidly and bossed the midfield. In attack, the speed of Salah and the domineering presence of Marco Streller gave Spurs trouble from start to finish.
They have work to do back at St. Jakob-Park next week, but they stand a good chance of getting one step closer to a first major European trophy.
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