Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg salvaged a draw away from home against Rennes in Tottenham’s UEFA Conference League opener, but despite their bright start to the season, Nuno Espirito Santo has a problem
Tottenham failed to bounce back from their Crystal Palace collapse at the weekend as they scraped a draw against a fiery Rennes side to kick off their UEFA Conference League campaign.
Spurs took the lead after Lucas Moura’s pass was deflected in by Loic Bade after 11 minutes, but the goal appeared to spark life into the hosts, who equalised through a fine Flavien Tait effort midway through the first half.
Tottenham lacked creativity, and Rennes took full advantage as Gaetan Laborde was sharp to turn in Kamal Sulemana’s strike, but a bit of good fortune following Matt Doherty’s cross allowed Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg to level things once more.
The trip to Rennes looks to be Tottenham’s toughest test of the group stages, so Nuno Espirito Santo won’t be too disappointed with a point, but their lack of creativity for a second successive game highlights a deeper problem at Spurs.
Nuno’s first transfer window at Tottenham was a busy one, as the Spurs manager signed five new players and more importantly, held on to star striker Harry Kane despite a summer of interest.
Only one of those five signings was a midfielder though, as young Pape Sarr was bought from FC Metz, but immediately loaned back to the French side, and the central area continues to be a cause for concern within the Tottenham side.
Nuno rightly focused on Tottenham’s defensive issues, bringing in Emerson Royal and Cristian Romero to help out at the back, but they are lacking a driving force within the heart of the midfield to link their defence and attack.
Hojbjerg was signed last season from Southampton and has proved an excellent acquisition for Spurs, but with Nuno fluctuating between two and three midfielders, the Danish international’s role has changed this season, and needs more assistance with driving the side forward from deep.
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Oliver Skipp has been brought straight into Nuno’s set up following his successful loan spell at Norwich last season, and has played every second of Tottenham’s Premier League campaign so far, but struggled in a midfield three alongside Hojbjerg and Harry Winks during their humiliating defeat to Palace.
Dele Alli appears to have revived his career somewhat following a fall from grace under former boss Jose Mourinho, but despite all of these options that Nuno has at his disposal, none have really fit the mould thus far.
Lucas was trialed as a no.10 in Tottenham’s draw to Rennes, but Nuno will have even more of a headache after the Brazilian limped off clutching his ankle, just 30 minutes after Steven Bergwijn did so during the first half.
All eyes point to the club’s record signing Tanguy Ndombele, whose future was uncertain during the summer following a patchy run of form since signing from Lyon in 2019, but there is no better opportunity for the 24-year-old to step up and really make a name for himself.
It was Ndombele’s first start for Spurs since April 21, and the Frenchman looked bright despite a relatively lacklustre Tottenham performance, and Nuno may need the midfielder to really flex his creativity in the Tottenham side to avoid a potential collapse as his side begin to struggle.
Tottenham may have won three out of their four games to start the Premier League season, but all were won by a narrow 1-0 scoreline which highlighted their defensive stability over their attacking prowess.
Palace demonstrated that Spurs can be broken down, which will be a big problem for Nuno moving forward if they cannot solve their midfield issues, and Thomas Tuchel will be licking his lips ahead of the weekend as Chelsea travel to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.