June 21, 2021

Aurier: Why Tottenham can stun Premier League in strange season

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Even though the right-back continues to divide opinion, he would play important part as Jose Mourinho seeks unprecedented title in North London

As expected, the knives were out for Serge Aurier minutes after Tottenham Hotspur blew a three-goal lead at home to West Ham United on Sunday to draw 3-3 in frankly unexpected fashion.

Jose Mourinho’s team had raced into a 3-0 lead by the 16-minute mark, carried that seemingly unassailable advantage into half-time and would have made it four had Harry Kane’s 79th-minute left-footed shot from range been a few inches inside the post.

When the Englishman’s effort clipped the post and went wide, nobody would’ve thought the events of the next 12 minutes were possible. However, as Mourinho rightly put it, ‘football happened’. West Ham pulled one back in the 82nd minute, halved the deficit three minutes later, before a Manuel Lanzini cracker at the death saw the Hammers claw back Spurs’ 3-0 half-time advantage.

As is often the case for collapses of this magnitude, the immediate finger-pointing commenced after the final whistle, with Aurier bearing much of the brunt for Spurs late concession for Lanzini’s piledriver. Admittedly, the right-back got too tight to Robert Snodgrass in the 93rd minute and the Scot went down despite little contact from the Ivory Coast defender.

However, Aaron Cresswell’s resulting free-kick was partially cleared by Kane — who headed Cresswell’s dangerous delivery to the edge of the box — before Harry Winks inadvertently set up the Argentine’s stunning effort with another imperfect clearance.

Still, Aurier was wholly blamed for the equalizer even though two of his teammates could have done better in those final moments.

“No, not at all you should have been buried but when you have Aurier keep giving free-kicks away then you are in trouble but I would still have my team than yours,” former Spurs defender Graham Roberts tweeted in response to a light-hearted joke on social media.

Given the target Aurier usually has on his back, there was no surprise the wide defender was made the scapegoat in the aftermath of the 3-3 result in North London.

This was in spite of his relatively good showing on the day, despite his lack of direct involvement in any of the home side’s three strikes.

The full-back’s passing often carried the side higher up the pitch, evidenced by his four progressive passes — behind only Kane and Heung-min Son — while he was one of the four players to direct a pass into the penalty area throughout 90 minutes. Indeed, that resulted in a clear-cut chance for Son, one of the three Mourinho’s men fashioned out in gameweek five.

Even though he committed four fouls, the highest on the Spurs team, Aurier made 11 recoveries — only outdone by Davidson Sanchez’s 14 and Sergio Reguillon’s 11 — applied pressure on the opponent in possession more times than any other teammate while the right-back blocked six passes from reaching its intended target, again more than his colleagues.

Unsurprisingly, though, the narrative that he cost the team by another error of judgement in committing a cheap foul will stick given his rap sheet and, frankly, because that’s easy and downright lazy.

In the grand scheme of things, the final score immediately made hasty in-game proclamations of Tottenham’s title credentials seem premature and ridiculous. Observers tipping Mourinho for his fourth Premier League title and Spurs’ first were quickly drowned out by the schadenfreude that ensued in the wake of the wildly exiting finish in the capital.

While it’s easy to backtrack and recant on those predictions made excitedly, those assumptions would have stuck had the hosts held on for a win their performance deserved. In truth, the xG, 1.78-1.50 in the Lilywhites’ favour, told a different story of a closely-fought game as two of home team’s goals came from low-percentage shots.

Be that as it may, Spurs looked in total control following the bright start from Son and Kane, whose dexterity helped the hosts to a 2-0 lead inside eight minutes before the Englishman netted their third in the 16th minute from the first big chance they’d created.

The aforementioned pair’s impact in the opening weeks of 2020/21 has seen Mourinho’s charges top the scoring charts with 15 goals so far, from their Expected Goals of 11.37. This outperformance is the fourth-highest in the top flight, indicating that the pair’s form and especially fitness will be key to whatever the North London side seek to achieve this term.

Indeed, a return to the Champions League was the pre-season objective, yet, the craziness in the early weeks of the campaign, as seen in Liverpool’s 7-2 hammering by Aston Villa, Manchester City’s poor start and glorious performances from Everton, Villa and Leeds United suggest a repeat of Leicester City’s 2015/16 campaign could be in the offing.

While the Toffees, Villans and Leeds may drop down the table as the season progresses, owing to their relative short squad depth, Tottenham may take advantage if Jurgen Klopp’s side are inconsistent and suffer from Virgil van Dijk’s season-ending injury.

Chelsea, in spite of their attacking strength, still seem to suffer defensively and appear naive in-game under the inexperienced Frank Lampard, Arsenal appear short in a creative sense and Manchester United are often Jekyll and Hyde.

While the defence may still be a slight worry for Mourinho, the Portuguese manager has quietly built a really formidable squad in North London, capable of lasting the rigours of a tough season, although a title push will definitely be contingent on Kane staying fit and Son continuing to fire for majority of what’s left this season.

Aurier staying despite Matt Doherty’s arrival has given the two-time Champions League winner quality options in that position, despite calls for the Ivorian to be sold after the Irishman was acquired from Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Mourinho resisted the urge to sell the hugely important West African, and with the necessary depth in his squad, the 57-year-old will quietly love Tottenham’s underdog status as they look to capitalise on their rivals decline or uncertainty to win an unprecedented Prem crown against all odds.