This exclusive eye-witness report and photograph come courtesy of my very good friend Jonathan Adelman,to whom I offer my great thanks.
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 0(0) AS Roma 1(1)
Sammy Ofer Stadium, Haifa, Israel
Saturday 30th July 2022, 9.15pm
Attendance (Reported): 21,000
Goalscorer:- Ibanez, 29
Referee:- Yigal Frid
Lloris (c) (Forster 67), Romero, Dier, Sanchez (Lenglet 46), Doherty (Royal 67), Bissouma (Bentancur 46), Hojbjerg, Perisic (Sessegnon 75), Kulusevski (Moura 67), Kane, Son (Richarlison 67).
Substitutes (not used): Austin, Spence, Davies, White, Sarr.
Patricio, Karsdorp (Celik 78), Ibanez, Mancini, Smalling, Zalewski (Spinazzola 60), Cristante, Pellegrini (El Shaarawy 90+3), Dybala (Matic 60), Zaniolo (Bove 90+1), Abraham.
Substititutes (not used): Svilar, Boer, Kumbulla, Afena-Gyan, Vina.
Spurs suffer narrow defeat against Mourinho's Roma
Spurs fell to a narrow defeat in their final pre-season friendly against José Mourinho’s Roma in a match played (despite the 9.15pm local time kick off) in intense heat and humidity, reminiscent of Madrid 2019, in the northern Israeli city of Haifa.
Haifa, 90 minutes drive north of Tel Aviv, is a port city, with the suburbs nestled in the Carmel Hills overlooking Haifa Bay. Its usually less humid than the central lower laying Tel Aviv area. The late kick off time was to allow observant Jews to travel to the game after sunset at the conclusion of the Sabbath. Many travelled from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem for the game.
The Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa, is a stunning modern municipal stadium with distinctive golden cladding on its roof and shell, and the home of Maccabi Haifa who of course we played in the Europa League under José in 2020, winning 7-2, and their less successful city rivals Hapoel Haifa. The stadium also regularly hosts Israeli national team fixtures. Maccabi Haifa are the reigning Israel Premier League champions and are currently engaged in the qualifying rounds for this seasons Champions League so perhaps we’ll be back at the gleaming golden roofed venue again soon.
The stadium, built in 2014 and named after the Israeli shipping magnate who helped fund its construction, provides an interesting link with Spurs as its architect David Keirle of KSS Design Group was the architect of both our Hotspur Way training ground and the original designs for the new stadium (before Populous took the reigns on that project).
Fans had started gathering at the ground several hours before kick off with the Spurs Israel supporters club arranging a fan meet up at Burger Saloon (you can watch your burger being made fresh from cuts of beef if that’s your thing and where the owner told me shortly before kick off that he’d done more than double the trade from his normal match day - Spurs are clearly good for business!)
It was genuinely staggering to see the number of local ‘Sabra’ Spurs fans. I’d expected a few hundred ‘Olim’ (Jewish immigrants to Israel) and traveling Spurs fans from the UK and assumed most attendees would be Premier and Champions League obsessed Israelis keen to see Kane, Son and the Roma stars including Dybala. What I saw (and heard!) were literally thousands of local Spurs fans, whole families kitted out in shirts from the last 5 or 6 seasons - and hearing the array of Spurs chants sung in Israeli accented voices was something quite special. Incidentally, for those interested in such things, those chants included a number of vociferous ‘Yid Army’ chants.
The game itself was not your typical pre-season friendly, as perhaps was to be expected when facing a Mourhino side. We saw the full array of time wasting, cynical fouls, off the ball incidents and play acting, the most egregious of which ended with Kane being penalised for a 79th minute flailing arm to the face of the Roma defender, when in fact Kane’s arm was probably a foot away from the player and Kane himself had been hauled down for a nailed on pen - which VAR would certainly have given! In that sense, and the minutes in the legs in the intense conditions, the run out would have been extremely useful for Antonio Conte who said afterwards that the result helps everyone stay humble and focussed.
Spurs started the game in the now familiar 3-4-3 with Romero, Dier and Davinson Sanchez in front of Lloris in goal. Bissouma got the nod in central midfield alongside Hojbjerg with Ivan Perisic on the left and Matt Doherty on the right. The front three were Kulusevski, Kane and Son. The latter two getting a raucous reception from the stadium when their names were read out.
The first 15 minutes of the match were pretty sloppy from a Spurs perspective. As early as the opening minute, Matt Doherty mistimed an attempt to intercept a cross field ball, leaving the Roma left winger time to roam in to the box unopposed but great work from Sanchez and Lloris kept Roma out. A few minutes later a Romero challenge sent the Roma forward sprawling the in the box but the ref waved away penalty appeals.
Those early stages showed again how tough it is for Davinson to play on the left of the back 3 - his defensive instincts were good but his lack of confidence in bringing the ball out, let alone passing it with his left foot led to a lack of the fluidity from the back that we became used to with Ben Davies in that role last season. Davies had travelled to Israel but wasn’t risked as he continues his recovery from an ankle knock. The Roma players were clearly well aware of the impact of having Davinson on the left and kept laying traps from which they forced turnover of possession and put Spurs under pressure. It would be a surprise not to see a left footer at left centre-back against Southampton in the season opener - most likely Clement Lenglet who replaced Davinson at half time and immediately linked well with Perisic.
Spurs’ first chance came after 5 minutes and it was the familiar combination of Doherty, Kulusevski and Kane with the latter’s cross hacked away from the feet of Son. That combination was in evidence on 21 minutes when Kane dropped deep and picked out the run of Son who was hauled down as he cut inside but no foul was given. Son, Kane and Kulusevski were getting some rough treatment on and off the ball which continued until late in the second half when the Spurs players had clearly had enough and meted out retribution, primarily courtesy of Romero!
From midway through the half, Spurs clicked in to gear with some discernible patterns (Kane dropping deep, the two wide forwards drifting wide essentially doubling up on the Roma full backs, with our wing backs making diagonal runs in to the box) first Bissouma’s diagonal fall found Doherty’s run inside, his header was tipped on to the bar (the linesman had flagged anyway) and a minute later Hojbjerg played the diagonal to the left were Perisic headed back in to the path of Son whose first time volley was over.
Amidst this spell of Tottenham creativity, Roma took the lead. Another defensive lapse on the right led to Sanchez making a superb block but from the resulting corner some familiar frailties were evidence with the near post run not covered and the resulting header by Ibanez nestled in the far corner.
Spurs responded with a Perisic snap shot from 25 yards which whistled just wide before Spurs thought they’d equalised after another incisive passing move down the right saw Kane tuck home the pull back. The linesman’s flag went up but given I was sat directly in line with play I’m confident that one was wrongly ruled out.
The ‘goal’ seemed to spark an upturn in Roma’s physicality with Perisic the next to take a heavy late challenge.
At half time the two changes (Bentancur for Bissouma and Lenglet for Davinson) probably show Conte’s thinking for Southampton with the other 9 players inked in to start.
Of course Mourhino send the Roma players out two minutes late for the second period leaving the Spurs players static out in the heat and humidity. He can’t help himself!
The introduction of Lenglet immediately improved the balance of the side and it was he who shot over in the 53rd minute. At the other end Dier flatted the Roma centre-forward for what would have been a well deserved yellow in a competitive game. This led to a spate of Roma players throwing themselves to the ground.
Just after the hour Roma looked set to break with a 1 on 1 with Lloris but the athletic Perisic strained every sinew to cut out the through ball. His all round contribution was impressive although Conte said after the game that he’s still recovering from his injury lay off and not yet at the level he knows he can get to. That bodes well because on the evidence of this game, Perisic is already a significant upgrade at left wing-back.
On 66 minutes and with the conditions sapping fluid and energy, Spurs introduce Forster, Lucas, Richarlison for Lloris, Son and Kulusevski. Emerson Royal replaced Doherty. During that spate of changes a pitch invader was heading straight towards the departing players as they made their way to the touchline. With the stewards in pursuit but unlikely to reach the miscreant in time, Alan Dixon stepped in to block and then haul the invaded to the ground. Impressive work from the Spurs security man!
Sessegnon then replaced Perisic with 16 minutes remaining and (unrelated!) the game then started to unravel with the ref losing control. On 77 minutes Romero won the ball in a strong but fair challenge but to the fury of the Spurs players a free kick was awarded to Roma. Moments later the Kane ‘penalty’ incident sparked more angry exchanges as the Roma defender rolled around holding his face. It felt inevitable that the bubbling resentment of the Spurs players would boil over and equally inevitably it was Cuti who scythed down his man prompting a 16 man huddle around the ref with some pushing and shoving. Romero was booked, as was the Roma player.
As Spurs pressed for an equaliser, Richarlison who’d made a strong impact, slalomed his way into the box from the left and seemed to be impeded as he was about the get a shot away. No penalty was given. A minute later Spurs were finally awarded a free kick some 23 yards out and central - Kane hit the wall with a tame effort to no one’s surprise! What was a surprise was that with a few minutes of the 90 remaining, a superb Sessegnon cross was headed over by Harry from the middle of the box - a meat and potatoes (or perhaps for this part of the world, a humous and pitta) chance for the England skipper which he really ought to have buried.
And so the pre-season ends with a significantly upgraded squad with just enough question marks to keep everyone on their toes. The new players were impressive but whilst I think Perisic and Lenglet will start in the season opener, I have a hunch that Bentancur will get the nod over Bissouma for the central midfield spot. Bissouma is a great addition and quite exceptional at ball recovery but it looked to me like the positional chemistry with Hojbjerg isn’t quite there yet.
Top of page | Spurs Odyssey Friendly reports 2022/23