Life comes at you quickly in the Premier League and weaknesses can never be masked for long.
Take Tottenham. They topped the table prior to the September internationals, the only team with a perfect record after three consecutive 1-0 wins to start the season.
Nobody was raving about off-the-chart entertainment under new manager Nuno Espirito Santo but at least the team looked effective. After all, one of those wins was against champions Man City.
It was a torrid afternoon for Tottenham as they were beaten 3-0 at home by Chelsea on Sunday
Manager Nuno Espirito Santo has been left with plenty to fix after another demoralising loss
But the last two weeks have seen any early season optimism at White Hart Lane completely vanish. Back-to-back 3-0 losses to Crystal Palace and Chelsea mean the inquest into what is going wrong at Spurs has started depressingly early.
The first step to fixing things is acceptance and Nuno openly admitted on Sunday that his team ‘have a lot of problems to solve’ and ‘we need to find solutions.’
His problem is that the relentless pace of competition affords little time to work on solutions on the training ground.
Chelsea ran away with the contest after half-time as Tottenham lost to them once again
This Wednesday sees Spurs travel to Wolves in the third round of the Carabao Cup before they face Arsenal in the north London derby on Sunday. Their Europa Conference League campaign also clogs up the calendar between now and Christmas.
But the excuse of a busy fixture schedule never prevented a top level manager from feeling the pressure and Nuno will be expected to put things right, starting with these glaring problems.
Kane’s summer hangover
Harry Kane has five goals for the season. The trouble is, three of them have come for England and his two for Spurs in a Europa Conference League qualifier.
In the Premier League games where Spurs desperately need him to make an impact, Kane has looked far from his normal self.
Of course, he is famously a slow starter in seasons but the toll of a summer in which England lost the European Championship final and he wasn’t able to force through his move to Manchester City seems to be weighing heavy on his shoulders.
In last weekend’s loss at Selhurst Park, Kane failed to have a shot on goal for the first time in his Premier League career when he’s completed the full 90 minutes or even touch the ball in Palace’s box.
Harry Kane cut a sad figure as he struggled to make much of an impact against Chelsea
Against Chelsea, Kane had as many touches of the ball in his own penalty box than the opposition’s. His body language looked pretty downbeat and he looked hopelessly isolated stuck wide on the left as Chelsea seized control after half-time.
The England captain can usually be relied upon to drop deep and make something happen for Spurs but he just wasn’t able to trouble Chelsea.
In the Sky studio, Roy Keane suggested ‘there’s a bit of a hangover from the summer’ and blasted Kane for not shouting orders at his team-mates.
The England captain was kept well-shackled by Chelsea as Spurs struggled going forward
Kane scored 33 goals and set up a further 17 in all competitions last season. If Spurs are to come anywhere close to achieving success this time around, they need their talisman to match those astonishing returns.
As Gary Neville said of Sunday’s performance: ‘It’s never easy when a player wants to leave your club and everyone in the ground and in the dressing room knows that he wants to leave. Things aren’t going well.
‘There were alarm bells and now there will be further questions as he looked despondent towards the end. He’s been a part of a Tottenham team in this situation for a number of years.
Gary Neville and Roy Keane suggested Kane is mulling over his failed transfer in the summer
‘He’ll be thinking, “I’m here again”. He’ll be thinking, “I’m not going to challenge for the title again at Tottenham and I’m not even going to get into the top four.” He wanted more.’
It certainly looked as though all those thoughts were in Kane’s head as he faded badly from Sunday’s contest.
Lack of creativity
Nuno acknowledged Tottenham’s lack of creativity as a ‘big concern’ after the Palace defeat, in which they mustered just two shots on goal.
And though they played well in the first-half against Chelsea, it wasn’t as though the chances were flowing. After Thomas Tuchel introduced N’Golo Kante for Mason Mount at half-time, Spurs were squeezed like a vice in midfield and there was nothing going forward.
It didn’t help, of course, that two attacking players in Lucas Moura and Steven Bergwijn both picked up ankle knocks in the midweek draw with Rennes.
Son Heung-min (left) and Dele Alli reflect on Sunday’s heavy home defeat to Chelsea
Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga thwarts Son in a one-on-one during the first-half
Premier League unless stated
Wednesday Wolves (A)
Carabao Cup third round
Sunday Arsenal (A)
September 30 Mura (H)
Europa Conference League
October 3 Aston Villa (H)
October 17 Newcastle United (A)
October 21 Vitesse (A)
Europa Conference League
It left too much of the burden on Kane and Son Heung-min, himself just back from a calf strain, in an under-powered forward line alongside Giovani Lo Celso.
Not only was Kane marooned on the left until a switch later in the game, but Lo Celso was forced to take up an unfamiliar inside right role and looked rusty.
Just back from Croatia, where the Argentine trained to avoid a Covid quarantine, he was unable to influence the game against Chelsea and was withdrawn for Bryan Gil on 62 minutes.
Son looked more lively but wasn’t able to convert a first-half chance when he was played one-on-one with Kepa.
So the issues over chance creation continued for Spurs. Injuries and rustiness offered some mitigation on Sunday but it’s a recurring theme this season.
Their attacking options, while not measuring up to Man City, Man United or Chelsea, should still offer the clout to win most Premier League games.
At the moment, Son and Kane are struggling to replicate last season’s impressive link-ups and others are unable to fill the creative void.
Giovani Lo Celso was guilty of giving the ball away in the build-up to Chelsea’s second goal
Credit to Dele Alli for holding his hands up and taking the blame for Chelsea’s opening goal after he lost Thiago Silva at a corner.
‘It was my man so I need to take responsibility,’ he said afterwards.
Alli also admitted he was far from happy with his own performances of late and wasn’t offering the creative spark from midfield that is expected of him.
Dele Alli finds himself squeezed out by N’Golo Kante during the second-half on Sunday
Part of the problem is that Nuno wants Alli to play in a deeper midfield position in certain games rather than the playmaker role favoured by previous managers.
It requires a greater contribution in defence, such as marking at set-pieces and more tracking back, none of which comes naturally to him.
By the same token, he has less opportunity to contribute to the team going forward, which must be frustrating.
Alli started the season very well but never seemed to have a grip on the midfield battle on Sunday and you wonder if Nuno would be better served pushing him forward again.
Alli has been playing a deeper midfield role in certain games but it dampens his creativity
Clean sheets in their first three Premier League games of the season suggested the defensive issues that have dogged Spurs for a while had finally been fixed.
Alas, that isn’t the case after two torrid displays against Palace and then Chelsea.
Japhet Tanganga lost his cool following a tangle with Wilfried Zaha which saw both players booked, rushing out of defence a few minutes later to recklessly tackle Jordan Ayew and see red.
That left Spurs down to 10 men for the final half-hour and they couldn’t hold out with new £25million signing from Barcelona Emerson Royal given a baptism of fire by Zaha’s speed.
Japhet Tanganga lost his cool in a tussle with Wilfried Zaha against Crystal Palace last week
The defender was then sent off for a rash tackle on Jordan Ayew a few minutes later
Ben Davies also conceded a penalty for handball and then couldn’t get close enough to Odsonne Edouard to stop the Palace debutant scoring seconds after coming on. Edouard was then completely unmarked for the third goal.
Against Chelsea, individual misjudgement compounded themselves again. Alli lost Thiago for the first goal, Lo Celso sloppily gave away possession for the second which went in via a huge deflection off Eric Dier.
Then nobody bothered to move out and close down Timo Werner in the build-up for Chelsea’s late third.
Eric Dier (centre) reacts during another tough afternoon defensively for Spurs
Defensive mishaps were a common theme under Jose Mourinho and remain an issue. It seems that when the first things goes against Spurs, shoulders collectively slump and minds switch off.
The performance of Cristian Romero, another of the Croatian group, was more encouraging and the manager cannot legislate for individual errors but there must be more defensive discipline about Spurs.