Tottenham have a great deal to pull off in the second leg of their Europa League last-16 tie after another poor performance saw Benfica come away from White Hart Lane with a 3-1 advantage on Thursday.
Tim Sherwood had lambasted his players and challenged them to prove they warrant a future at the club after Saturday’s 4-0 collapse against Chelsea and did so again before taking on Benfica. But after this latest insipid and error-strewn display, it’s hard not to conclude that Sherwood’s own future is the one most under threat.
Rodrigo had put Benfica in front just before the half-hour mark after Kyle Naughton was caught napping. And Luisao then scored twice in the second half as the defender took advantage of two terrible pieces of Tottenham defending on set-pieces. In between Christian Eriksen brought a brief cheer with a fine free-kick but it never threatened to inspire a turnaround. Tottenham will now head to Lisbon with a massive task if they are to stay in a competition that was Spurs’ only realistic chance of emerging from a tumultuous season with some credit. And things could yet get worse, with north London rivals Arsenal awaiting on Sunday.
Benfica began happy to sit behind the ball and look for their opportunities to hurt Tottenham on the break. And after the home side had offered precious little in the opening 28 minutes that’s exactly what they did. Tottenham were cut wide open by one pass, with Kyle Naughton, who was one of the men most culpable at the weekend, again crudely exposed. Ruben Amorim supplied the ball from midfield to get Rodrigo easily in behind a dozing Naughton and, after a touch inside, the Spanish strike stroked a delightful left-footed shot past the dive of Hugo Lloris.
Far from giving a shot in the arm to Tottenham, the goal led to even more insipid play. With Christian Eriksen out wide and Emmanuel Adebayor supported by Harry Kane, all too often the home side’s tactics appeared to consist of whacking hopeful balls up to the Togo striker and little else. Even when they did try for a more refined approach, their passing was sloppy beyond belief.
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Tottenham’s best move of the night came, not unsurprisingly with Eriksen moving through the middle. After Paulinho had won the ball back, Eriksen dribbled forward and perfectly timed his pass through to Adebayor, but the shot was dragged a long way wide of the post.
Soon Tottenham shot themselves in the foot once more to fall two goals behind. Kane’s dallying on the ball had led to Amorim firing in a shot that Lloris tipped over. From the resulting corner the marking was nonexistent to allow Luisao to stroll into a gaping hole at the near post and thump a header into the net.
Eriksen’s free-kick that curled past the dive of Jan Oblak just six minutes later was spectacular and a rare moment of quality from the hosts. Still, there was no great reaction and instead they were all too acquiescing in helping Benfica reestablish a two-goal advantage.
Lloris continued his recent uncertainty when rushing out of his goal to let the ball bounce past him and only a desperate lunge prevented Rodrigo from having a simple tap in. The Tottenham goalkeeper should have done better, too, in the concession of Benfica’s third goal. Again the marking from a set-piece was conspicuous by its absence. A free Ezequiel Garay got his head to a free-kick and after Lloris could only parry the ball right into the danger zone, Luisao slammed the ball in off the underside of the crossbar.