“We don’t need huge investment.”
Those were the words of José Mourinho shortly before his Tottenham side headed to Sheffield United to face a Blades side without a win since the footballing restart; 90 minutes of football later and he might be regretting that comment.
Spurs delivered an absolutely woeful display in their 3-1 defeat to out-of-form Sheffield United. While their usually clinical forward players weren’t quite at the races, there was at least a sense of urgency and endeavour among them. However, the Spurs backline produced a performance befitting of Sunday league outfit which will have Mourinho thinking long and hard about his pre-match comments.
Eyebrows were raised prior to kick-off as yet again Eric Dier was afforded a start at centre back with Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen watching on from the bench. The England man has endured some torrid games at the heart of the defence, though he started well and looked set for a solid display.
However, by the end of the game he left the pitch looking battered and bruised, with Sheffield United centre forward Oli McBurnie utterly dominating Dier for the majority of the contest. With the Belgian duo looking on from the sidelines, the far-from-prolific frontman ran Dier ragged, winning every aerial dual, holding him off with ease, beating him to every second ball and grabbing a goal to cap the performance.
Lys Mousset’s goal to double the Blades’ lead epitomised Dier’s performance at the back, as he stood perfectly still in the middle of the box, feet planted as though he was rooted to the ground, paying no attention to the movement around him, only for the Frenchman to steal in behind him and tap into an empty net.
The lack of awareness of what was going on around him as the play developed was a worrying sign from a player who is supposed to have forged a career out of sniffing out danger and cutting it out before it has developed.
Dier was by no means the only culprit of a shocking defensive display. While Serge Aurier’s defensive flaws have been highlighted by many, the right-sided defender at least offers something in the way of an attacking threat. On the opposite flank, Ben Davies offers little in the opposition half, though his defensive astuteness is what makes him a regular in the Spurs XI – that nous was nowhere to be seen at Bramall Lane.
Davies was similarly flat-footed for Mousset’s goal, and even worse the Frenchman was right in front of him, yet he still contrived to stand and watch on as Spurs’ faint Champions League hopes were shattered.
Despite having a poor game before being subbed, David McGoldrick’s constant willingness to work the channels left Davies exposed at times, and the forward’s work ethic had clearly taken its toll on the Welshman as he looked leggy and lethargic in the second half.
Spurs’ need for defensive reinforcements this summer was no secret prior to their clash with Sheffield United, however, the display proved that Mourinho can’t even depend on those who he thought he could rely on.
Daniel Levy may be unwilling to loosen the purse strings and Mourinho is the man tasked with facing up to the media to insist his team aren’t in need of wholesale changes. But if the Portuguese tactician is going to continue with that rhetoric, he needs his defence to play along with him.