Tottenham talking points: Pochettino tactics, Dele and Gazzaniga
Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino is obviously in an unenviable position, lumbered with a squad of unfocused players with minds elsewhere, but this frustrating 1-1 draw with rock-bottom Watford had the manager's fingerprints all over it.
Although his side battled back to earn a point, a number of Pochettino's big decisions backfired to leave Spurs firmly entrenched in crisis country and facing a trip to Liverpool next in the league.
Firstly, Pochettino's decision to revert to a back three - in keeping with most previous meetings with Watford - did not work. The switch was presumably designed to shore up a defence that shipped 10 goals in two matches while going like-for-like with the Hornets, but Spurs fell behind inside seven minutes when Danny Rose got lost under Craig Cathcart's diagonal and Abdoulaye Doucoure evaded all three centre-backs to finish.
No change of system will make any difference without defenders doing the basics, but the set-up also left Spurs shorn of creativity and relying on wing-backs Rose and Serge Aurier for thrust. They finished the first half with plenty of possession without cutting edge and perhaps lucky to be just one down after Jan Vertonghen caught substitute Gerard Deulofeu in the box.
It was no surprise that Pochettino ripped it up and started again at half-time, with Heung-min Son replacing Davinson Sanchez and immediately going closest to an equaliser when he rattled the bar, via a touch from Ben Foster. But the damage was already done and Spurs struggled to break down a defensive Watford even in the new system, finishing the match with just two shots on target.
Pochettino's selection calls were also puzzling, with Rose and Aurier again dismal and the absence of Tanguy Ndombele puzzling when creativity was so badly needed in the absence of Christian Eriksen.
The manager does deserve credit for persevering with Dele Alli, who bagged the 86th-minute equaliser, when it looked kinder to replace to struggling forward and being proactive at half-time.
Given the situations of so many of his players, it sometimes feels like Pochettino can only do so much but clearly he could have done more here.
Time for changes in defence
To continue that theme, it is becoming increasingly hard to fathom some of Pochettino's selection decisions.
How many times is he going to reward failure by picking Aurier and Rose, when he has other options in Juan Foyth, Argentina's starting right-back now, Kyle Walker-Peters and Ben Davies, who is solid but unspectacular. He also seems reluctant to drop one or both of Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld, despite Spurs shipping 10 goals with them at centre-half in the two previous matches.
Spurs looked so vulnerable here and Watford threatened to score every time they broke after half-time. Pochettino revealed on Thursday that he has been invited to dinner with his players next week but rather than chumming up with his squad, perhaps it is time to get ruthless with his underperforming players.
Dele goal could prove turning point
Dele Alli's first goal since January was as scrappy, contentious and confusing, awarded following a VAR check despite the big screens declaring 'No goal'. Dele will not care and the hope is that it proves a turning point for the England international after a difficult year-and-a-bit.
Dele missed the international break, instead spending it training at Hotspur Way, but hopes he would be fresh and back to his best against the Hornets initially proved unfounded. He was largely sloppy, ponderous and lacking rhythm and, in truth, he was lucky to still be on the pitch for his 86th-minute equaliser, with Pochettino opting to sacrifice Lucas Moura for Erik Lamela instead.
But still, Dele did what he has so often done in the past, score when not playing well. Spurs and England will hope he uses it as a springboard.
Gazzaniga does little to inspire confidence
Paulo Gazzaniga did little to inspire confidence in Tottenham's first game since Hugo Lloris suffered a dislocated elbow at Brighton. Although Michel Vorm has returned to the club, Gazzaniga can expect to be Spurs' first choice between the sticks until at least January, when Lloris should be back in training.
The Argentine is supposed to be more accomplished with his feet than Lloris, and therefore more suited to Pochettino's demands, but three times he left the home fans with hearts in mouths after miscued kicks.
After a number of promising displays last term, Gazzaniga seemed to be putting pressure on Lloris but he was in Asia during pre-season and this outing did not offer early encouragement.
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