Lo Celso, Ndombele and Hojbjerg not worth the wait; Hart a liability


ottenham booked their place in the Europa League knockouts via a wild 3-3 draw with LASK in a performance that did little to support Jose Mourinho‘s claims that they are among the favourites to win the competition.

Spurs will now host Royal Antwerp next week in their final group match, needing a win to secure top spot and avoid the Champions League dropouts in the last-32 stage.

Jose Mourinho must hope his side are more cohesive and defensively sound against the Belgians following an abject display in freezing conditions in Austria.

A strong side – which included Tanguy Ndombele, Giovani Lo Celso, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Gareth Bale and Heung-min Son – were kept in the game in the early stages by Joe Hart but the goalkeeper should have done better for LASK’s opening two goals, both crisp strikes that whistled past his outstretched hand.

Substitute Dele Alli looked to have won it for Spurs with an impudent 86th-minute penalty but LASK’s Mamoudou Karamoko scored a brilliant stoppage-time equaliser.

The hosts deservedly took the lead when Hart was too easily beaten from distance by Peter Michorl as LASK capitalised on Matt Doherty’s slip to counter-attack.

Spurs looked on course to trail at the interval, only to be awarded a penalty against the run of play on the stroke of half-time when Ndombele’s shot struck a defender’s arm.

Bale cooly converted with the last kick of the half for his 200th career goal for club and country.

Mourinho made four changes at half-time of the 1-0 defeat to Antwerp in October but resisted ringing the changes in Austria.

Spurs barely improved but showed the difference in class when Ndombele capitalised on a LASK mistake to play in Son, who easily converted when one-on-one.

Bale should have teed up Son for an easy second after the pair broke clear but the Welshman showed his rustiness with a pass behind the South Korean.

Mourinho was able to turn his attention to Sunday’s north London derby against Arsenal by using his full complement of five substitutes, giving Ndombele, Lo Celso, Son and Bale a rest.

A switch to a back three failed to shore up Spurs’ defence, where Davinson Sanchez endured another wretched night, and Johannes Eggestein made it 2-2 with another crisp shot that should really have been saved by Hart.

Spurs went straight down the other end and were awarded a second penalty when Steven Bergwijn was hauled to the deck by Philipp Wiesinger and Dele converted with a cool dink.

LASK refused to lie down and Karamoko curled a wonderful effort beyond Hart after Spurs defence had backed off the substitute.

( AP )

Midfield three fail to sparkle

Surprisingly, this was the first time Mourinho had named a midfield three of Hojbjerg, Ndombele and Lo Celso – surely Spurs’ strongest combination on paper.

Mourinho has tended to play either Ndombele or Lo Celso – this was also their first start together this season and only fifth in total – and their potential as a pair is still to be unlocked.

In picking the trio ahead of the north London derby, Mourinho was surely hoping his side would be able to dominate in the middle of the park but instead Spurs struggled to string two passes together in the first half.

In the end, it was a good night for Moussa Sissoko, a late sub, whose energy looked more important than ever.

( AFP via Getty Images )

After an impressive start, the evening soon developed into a nightmare for Hart, who was beaten far too easily for two of LASK’s goals.

For his leadership qualities – if behind-closed-doors matches have taught us anything, it is that the former England No.1 is constantly vocal – Hart has long since failed to convince as a top-level goalkeeper and Mourinho must be questioning his faith in the 33-year-old.

The Spurs manager is clearly unconvinced by Paulo Gazzaniga, who is not even registered for the Europa League, but the Argentine enjoyed an impressive season in 2018-19 and looked a solid understudy to Hugo Lloris before Hart’s arrival.

Hart may be an important character off the pitch and in the dressing room but he is currently a liability on the pitch.

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