Tuesday 14 January 2020 10:41 pm

Tottenham 2-1 Middlesbrough: Distracted Eriksen outshone by Lo Celso as clean sheet continues to elude Mourinho

No Premier League manager wants an FA Cup replay, especially around the busy winter period when squads tend to be thinner and those remaining fit players are more prone to injuries.

But, after a run of four games without a win, Jose Mourinho can reflect on a third round replay which went against the grain.

Spurs needed a victory following a period which he categorised pre-match in typical Mourinho fashion as a “difficult moment”. And against an in-form Middlesbrough side they got one for which they were largely good value.

The absence of Harry Kane through injury was keenly felt, with no out-and-out striker in the entire match-day squad, but Tottenham still fashioned ample opportunities to overcome their Championship opposition, albeit with their now-customary late wobble thrown in.

Eriksen’s mind elsewhere

The build-up to the match was dominated by Christian Eriksen, with Mourinho admitting injuries meant he would continue to play the Danish midfielder, despite his waning performances and clear desire to leave the club.

“Playing when he’s legally free to negotiate with another club, does that affect his performance? I think so,” Mourinho said before kick-off. “But what he tries to do every game is to give his best to the team.”

Christian Eriksen
Eriksen struggled to make any impact on the game, despite playing 90 minutes (via Getty Images)

On this evidence his best isn’t nearly as influential as it used to be. Eriksen was outshone on the pitch by the man who could well become his successor.

Giovani Lo Celso arrived in the summer with plenty of hype and, although it has taken some time for him to settle, we are beginning to see why. 

The Argentinian may have been gifted his goal by goalkeeper Tomas Mejias’ loose pass but the early strike gave him confidence. Frequently cutting inside from the right flank, Lo Celso was a constant threat and it was he and fellow goalscorer Erik Lamela who were at the heart of all of Tottenham’s attacking play. 

By contrast, Eriksen was sloppy, giving away possession too easily while allowing the game to pass him by. A late free-kick blasted over the bar confirmed Mourinho’s point: his contractual situation seems to be affecting him on the pitch.

Tanganga impressive

Mourinho has been accused of failing to give opportunities to young players throughout his career and a team-sheet without feted teenager Troy Parrott on it will have prompted a few tuts in the stands.

However, there was one ray of light from a youngster, with right-back Japhet Tanganga earning the man of the match award for Spurs. 

Japhet Tanganga
Tanganga charged forward on the overlap time and again for Spurs (via Getty Images)

The 20-year-old nearly scored his first goal for the club in the first half, drilling a low shot narrowly wide on the overlap. He also put in two excellent crosses, the first of which an offside Ryan Sessegnon spurned from a yard out, and the second which nobody managed to get on the end of in injury-time.

Tanganga appears to be stronger going forward than defensively but, with Serge Aurier becoming a frequent liability, his breakthrough is well timed. 

Shaky Sanchez

Having been thoroughly outplayed in the first half, Middlesbrough improved in the second and ensured that Mourinho has now overseen just one clean sheet in his 14 games in charge of Spurs.

On this occasion that was not the fault of stand-in goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga, who made some important stops from Lukas Nmecha and Lewis Wing.

Instead it was Davinson Sanchez who struggled in defence. The Colombia centre-back set the tone early on with a shaky back-header to Gazzaniga and continued in that vein, misjudging the flight of the ball on two occasions, shanking an easy clearance out for a corner and losing the header from which George Saville rifled in a late goal. 

Although they got a much-needed victory which sends them through to face Southampton in the fourth round, the defining feature of Mourinho’s stint at the club remained unchanged.

A leaky defence never used to be associated with the Portuguese, but he must find a way of plugging the holes in Tottenham’s back line.