Tromso vs. Tottenham Hotspur: 6 Things We Learned
An Adnan Causevic own goal and a well-taken strike from Mousa Dembele helped Tottenham Hotspur to a 2-0 Europa League win over Tromso on Thursday evening.
Anzhi Makhachkala's 1-1 draw with Sheriff Tiraspol earlier in the day had confirmed Tottenham as winners of Group K. The Russians visit White Hart Lane in December to complete the group schedule ahead of the draw for the knockout stage.
Having negotiated the artificial pitch and frigid conditions in the Arctic Circle with relative comfort, attentions now turn to Sunday's match with Manchester United.
With last weekend's 6-0 thrashing by Manchester City still casting a shadow over the North London club, there were extra eyes on Spurs' performance here.
Read on for a look at how they fared under this examination and what might be taken away from this display.
Yet More Questions Than Answers for Villas-Boas
Although Tottenham's late-autumn malaise is threatening to turn into something altogether more worrying, there is enough quality in Andre Villas-Boas' squad that a turnaround in form is possible.
Yet questions undoubtedly remain over what the best starting XI to engender that progress is (subject to necessary or enforced alterations).
Having already qualified for the Europa League's Round of 32, this fixture with Tromso was always going to be an opportunity to rest some players and give others in need of a run-out valuable minutes.
In the current climate of uncertainty, though, the nine changes to the team that faced Manchester City has only given Villas-Boas and his coaching staff more to think about.
It is difficult to read too much into how those in action performed against the weaker opposition here (compared to Spurs' fellow Premier League teams). As it was, the side's performance was decent enough in its own right but not to a level where any categorical solutions to Spurs' issues were offered.
Search for Understanding Goes on for Soldado and His Spurs Teammates
Had Emmanuel Adebayor (or perhaps Harry Kane) not been injured, or Jermain Defoe not kept at home as a precaution, it would have been interesting to see if Villas-Boas had played a front two vs. Tromso.
Roberto Soldado was paired up front with Adebayor for 16 minutes versus Manchester City. While not achieving anything in that game, it has come to be viewed as one option in getting Tottenham scoring goals again.
Instead, Soldado led the line alone on Thursday. Unfortunately, it did not prove to be a fruitful night's work, even against the recently relegated Norwegians.
Andros Townsend had one of his better recent performances in a Spurs shirt, increasingly looking to get to the touchline and cross as the game went on. Nacer Chadli and Zeki Fryers were similarly looking to swing it into the primary target of Soldado from the opposite flank.
The Spanish goal-hound thrives on such chances originating from wide positions. As has been the case most of the season though, he was largely crowded out by a Tromso defence wise to Spurs looking to find him this way.
However, the fact remains Soldado is still too often being ignored or bypassed. On one occasion on the 64th minute, Townsend played an excellent one-two with Gylfi Sigurdsson in the left-side channel only to blast a cross towards the far post instead of cutting it back to the striker.
Both Sigurdsson and Townsend had long-range efforts in the first half that were among the better shot selections seen by the latter, especially of late. But for both, the opportunity was also there to slip a through ball to Soldado if they had looked up.
Continued attempts to get out wide and cross—as Spurs often did here—will be welcome in the effort to give Soldado more to work with. Against Manchester United on Sunday, it will not be easy to do so, but they must persist.
Be it there or centrally, more must be done to develop an understanding between parties on how to get the Spain international more scoring opportunities.
Mousa Dembele's goal showed Spurs are capable of working openings in and around the box. Now they really need to do so more frequently for the man they spent the best part of £30 million bringing in to finish them.
Dembele Should Be Given More Responsibility in Shaping Spurs' Play
Tottenham's need for more creativity obviously extends beyond providing for Soldado. At various points this season, Christian Eriksen, Lewis Holtby and Gylfi Sigurdsson have occupied what has essentially been a playmaking role in attacking midfield.
Each has had different degrees of success. In the latter two's give-and-go leading up to Dembele's goal, we saw the best of their passing minds at work.
Rated by Bleacher Report's Jerrad Peters in his match report as one of Spurs' best performers against the Norwegians, Dembele himself has moved away from a more attacking role since he joined Tottenham. Memories of his past at AZ Alkmaar and Fulham, along with flourishes of skill at Spurs, have led some to call for him to be positioned further forward again.
Though capable of doing such a job in the midst of crowded areas, the Belgian's penetrating style is better suited coming from deeper, where he can chart routes through the expanse of pitch in front of him.
Yet even with his defensive duties in Villas-Boas' midfield, this should not preclude Dembele from taking on a more involved role in his team's build-up play.
Few other players at Spurs are as good at forcing opposition players on to the back foot with purposeful running—be it into open space or areas that may subsequently create some.
The team needs movement and smart runs beyond that to capitalise on such efforts. But at least, it is one form of tonic to the more listless, meandering possession that has been a prominent feature of Spurs' play recently.
Shortly after his goal, Dembele underlined the threat of his charges from midfield with a neat exchange with Soldado just north of the centre circle. He followed through with the ball and was unlucky to hit the post with his shot, and the side netting with the rebound.
Lax Tromso defending aided this in a way most Premier League teams will not allow. Yet it was a reminder that being creative is not just about what happens in the final third.
As Dembele often did last season (and Luka Modric before that, albeit stylistically different), the first steps in a move can be key in setting the path to a chance. With uncertainty still over the best personnel for Tottenham's attack, Villas-Boas could do worse in giving more responsibility to the Belgium international.
Opportunities for Spurs' Youth Team Players Are Going to Be Harder to Come by
Jordan Archer (20), Shaquile Coulthirst (19), Ryan Fredericks (21) and Kenneth McEvoy (19) all took their place on the Tottenham bench vs. Tromso. Their inclusion was not surprising given the number of senior players left at home for the trip to Norway.
In years past, one or two of them would have been expected to see some playing time in the Europa League, especially in a fixture as unimportant as this one largely was. Instead none of them started and Jan Vertonghen, Lewis Holtby and Erik Lamela were brought on as second-half substitutes.
Holtby's in particular paid off, with the German playing a part in Spurs' second goal. He and his fellow replacement's introductions served to highlight how difficult it is going to be from here on out for the aforementioned youngsters and their peers to get playing time.
Spurs have so many players of reputation who, rightly or wrongly, are largely going to get the nod ahead of players whose first-team capabilities have not been so tested.
Two other youth team products, Andros Townsend and Harry Kane, have benefited from seeing first-team action (both at Spurs and on loan) prior to the arrival of this past summer's expensive acquisitions. The similarly youthful Zeki Fryers has been aided by being a competent left-back in a squad lacking them.
For Coulthirst, McEvoy and friends, becoming those kind of known quantities is going to be hard in the short-term with playing opportunities unlikely to be forthcoming. Even those learning their trade out on loan right now are unlikely to get much such chance to put their experiences into practice back in North London.
Villas-Boas has so many players at his disposal that his approach against Tromso was understandable. For those trying to break through at Tottenham, it was evidence that making their mark as Townsend has is going to be tough to say the least.
Fryers Is Worth a Chance in the League Some Time Soon
Zeki Fryers made his fifth appearance of the season at Tromso, four of which have been starts.
The former Manchester United youth product has benefited from the comparatively relaxed competition in the cup games in which he has seen action. Nonetheless, his assured displays at left-back have been impressive first forays into the first team picture.
With Danny Rose struggling to get fit, Jan Vertonghen reluctantly playing there and Kyle Naughton entirely unsuited on his weaker side, it stands to reason that Fryers deserves a chance in the position at some point.
The reality of Premier League football is a different story to that he has faced in the Europa League and even in the Capital One Cup against a slightly under-strength Aston Villa side.
The biggest test will be how the 21-year-old handles himself defensively. That was not his biggest challenge against Tromso, but he has shown in his handful of games he is not shy in making a challenge and is also positionally aware.
With help from more experienced teammates such as Michael Dawson and Jan Vertonghen, he has the potential to translate to more regular football with time.
In Norway, perhaps Fryers' most heartening was his work getting forward down the left side. Several times in the opening half hour in particular, he judged his runs nicely, combining with Sigurdsson and timing his overlaps well.
After one such exchange on the ninth minute, his cross was over-hit, but the width he provided leading up to it was something Spurs have been lacking in Rose's absence.
Vertonghen should hold on to the left-back spot until Rose's return. In the event of a further injury to one or both, Fryers is getting close to being worth a serious look.
English Clubs Are Not the Only Ones Less Than Enamoured with the Europa League
Tromso's Tippeligaen season concluded on November 10 with a 4-1 loss to SK Brann. Having finished in 2012 in fourth place, this defeat consigned them to 15th and with it, relegation.
Their Europa League campaign has provided little comfort, with their only point from the group stage coming from a 1-1 home draw with Sheriff Tiraspol last month.
After playing their first game in the competition back in June, they proceeded to win just two league games until the season's end. While one of them was an impressive 1-0 defeat of title challengers Rosenborg, it counted for little given their eventual demotion.
They might wonder if things could have been different had they not made it to Europa League Group K. Luck was clearly not on their side if this is true, seeing how they only reached the round after their play-off conquerors Besiktas were excluded by UEFA as a punishment for match-fixing.
A place in European football's second-tier competition is not to be taken for granted. But as some English clubs have come to regard it in recent years, the lads of the Arctic Circle will probably be viewing it as nothing more than an unhelpful distraction this year.