In fairness, Europa League isn’t the place where teams should normally took for answers, but coming off a 6-0 loss at the Etihad that sparked speculation about André Villas-Boas’s job, today’s match in Norway was important for Tottenham. Even if nine changes were made to the team that lost this weekend, many of today’s starters could easily see action in league. Through they weren’t in the team that was routed by Manchester City, players like Vlad Chirches, Etienne Capoue, Mousa Dembélé, Andros Townshend and Gylfi Sigurdsson are first team options. It was important that they showed that today in Europa League.
And to the extent that they got a result, that’s what happened. Spurs were able to restore business as usual with a 2-0 win at Tromsø. Perfect through five rounds, Tottenham has clinched first place in its group, rendering a Dec. 12 visit from Anzhi Makhachkala meaningless. Scoring 11 while conceded only once, Tottenham is doing exactly what a team of their depth and talent should in a Europa League group stage.
If we want to judge Spurs by mere bottom lines, things are actually fine, even though that kind of analysis has already been proven foolish. Thanks in large part to their perfect Europa record, Spurs have won 15 of 21 games this year, results that obscure the fact they haven’t been very good while doing so. Their win totals may say that Spurs are fine, but their underlying performance explains why they’ve yet to record a meaningful win in the Premier League.
That precarious form was on display again in Tromsø, though given the frigid conditions in Norway, it’d be a mistake to read too much into today’s result. Persistent in their ball-hogging (70 percent possession) without actually producing threats (two shots on goal), Spurs looked like the talented yet worrisome side that’s only produced nine Premier League goals. Tromsø, recently relegated out of Norway’s first division, outshot Tottenham 3-2 on the night. Spurs didn’t break through until a 63rd minute own goal.
On the back of a six-goal loss, those are details for another day. For now, Spurs are back on track, even if such platitudes can’t last long. This weekend they welcome Manchester United to White Hart Lane. If the Red Devils carry their European form into league play, Spurs’ result in Norway will quickly be forgotten. They have two days to find something more, but coming off a win, at least they have something positive to build on.