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Spurs retreat into their shell as passing stats confirm crab-like display

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Critical point: Toby Alderweireld insists that the Spurs players will continue to fight for the club and its manager. Photo: David Klein/Reuters

Critical point: Toby Alderweireld insists that the Spurs players will continue to fight for the club and its manager. Photo: David Klein/Reuters

REUTERS

Critical point: Toby Alderweireld insists that the Spurs players will continue to fight for the club and its manager. Photo: David Klein/Reuters

Danny Rose and Dele Alli slumped to the turf in apparent exhaustion as the whistle blew on Saturday's unconvincing crack-papering job at Tottenham Hotspur.

The energy can only have been expended in a frantic closing 15 minutes when Mauricio Pochettino's side finally found some sort of stride, if not quite their swagger, in the 1-1 draw against Watford.

Confidence since last season's Champions League final has plummeted to the extent that, even against a winless Watford not long ago blasted 8-0 by Manchester City, a record number of passes went backwards, sideways and all-too-rarely forwards.

Instead of a stirring response, Tottenham are serving up performances that defy Pochettino's normally courageous set-ups.

The statistics laid bare how defence is turning to attack at a rate slower than any under his regime.

Last January, Tottenham beat Watford at Wembley 2-1, with Toby Alderweireld playing the most passes, 81 in total, 73 of them successfully.

On Saturday, Alderweireld again had the lion's share of the ball and hit 114 passes, 90 accurately. Vertonghen, his defensive partner, had an even greater rate of increase - with 108 passes, compared to just 66 last season.

For Watford, it was a gift and Harry Winks - whose statistics were almost identical, 77 passes on Saturday compared with 75 last season - was left with an impossible job getting the ball moving forward.

Watford played well, but a more dangerous side would have been comfortable winners by the time Tottenham came alive.

Alli, in need of a confidence boost more than any other, took his equaliser from a tight angle, but had been lucky to be spared a handball decision after nudging the ball beyond Ben Foster.

Watford might have been two up but the video assistant referee ruled against a penalty appeal after the clumsiest of challenges by Vertonghen.

The speed, verve and courage has drained out of this Tottenham side, yet Alderweireld insists they are still fighting for the manager at a critical point: a return to Champions League duty and next weekend's match against Liverpool.

"There is a team on the pitch and you see us fighting," he said. "Everyone is behind the club and the manager otherwise we could not have put the effort we put in."

Having made seven changes to the side beaten 3-0 away to Brighton and Hove Albion, Tottenham ended the game with a more tried and tested back four, and looked the better for it.

Son Heung-min, on as a substitute, clattered the crossbar moments later. The thud finally raised Spurs from their slumber. Alderweireld recognised Tottenham initially got their tactics wrong, starting with a back three. "It was difficult," the defender said.

"We didn't make the right decisions. They had one long ball and they scored. In the second half we changed the game. We could have scored a lot more goals."

He added that the Red Star Belgrade match, on home soil, is a must-win.

"We need to improve and improve and improve." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk