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White Hart Lane (ATT 35,000) 13th March 2014 - Kick off 20:05 Ref: J Eriksson

Tottenham Tottenham Hotspur vs Benfica Benfica

Tottenham 1

C Eriksen (63)

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Benfica 3

Rodrigo (29)
Luisao (58, 84)

Negative spiral

Tim Sherwood's recent outbursts failed to arouse the desired response from Spurs on Thursday as they lost 3-1 at home to Benfica. Matt Stanger was not impressed...

By Matt Stanger.   Last Updated: 14/03/14 12:36pm

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Emmanuel Adebayor and Tottenham had a tough night against Benfica

Emmanuel Adebayor and Tottenham had a tough night against Benfica

This was a weak performance from Tottenham Hotspur on an evening when Tim Sherwood was looking for a big response to the 4-0 thrashing at Chelsea. It never looked like it would arrive. Benfica out-thought, out-passed and, much to Sherwood's frustration, out-desired the hosts. The tie is over with barely even a whimper from Spurs.

Sherwood has spent much of his tenure calling for Spurs to show heart, rather than focusing on implementing a certain style of play, insisting after the 2-0 FA Cup defeat by Arsenal in his sixth game in charge: "A lot is made of systems - 4-4-2, 4-3-3 or whatever you want to call it. It is about passing the ball to your own team and keeping hold of it because when you lose the ball you are always going to be out of shape - otherwise you are going to be a rigid, boring team."

On Thursday, Spurs were anything but rigid - yet that was not a good thing. As they launched long, hopeful balls to Emmanuel Adebayor in the first half, Benfica looked to counter-attack at speed along the ground. Ruben Amorim fed Rodrigo with a wonderfully weighted pass and the former Bolton Wanderers striker supplied a sublime finish to slide the ball home. It was no surprise that Kyle Naughton had been caught woefully out of position but he was not the first or the last man in a white shirt to be ruthlessly exposed.

Youngster Harry Kane's selection was a surprise at White Hart Lane

One of the key issues for Spurs was Sherwood's decision to utilise Harry Kane in a support role behind Adebayor. "He has been patient," was one of the reasons the manager gave for awarding the 20-year-old only his second start of the season, which hardly inspired optimism. Kane is a worker but at this level diligence only gets you so far. Sherwood compared Kane's role to Wayne Rooney's regular position before kick-off but it was between Spurs' lines that the striker was caught in possession on 58 minutes. Hugo Lloris spared Kane's blushes but Luisao made it 2-0 from the resulting corner.

For the first hour, Spurs were harmless. And then up stepped Christian Eriksen to curl in an exquisite free-kick that halved the deficit. That a player who possesses such brilliant technique was shunted out to the wing to afford Kane his opportunity in the centre made little sense. Eriksen is the player Sherwood should be building his team around, yet when Spurs trailed to Norwich City in February the Dane did not even get a minute.

Christian Eriksen: Curled in an exquisite free-kick to give Spurs some brief hope

Sherwood's recent outbursts did not necessarily appear to have a detrimental effect on the team but nor did they arouse the desired response. He is an earnest rookie learning his trade but clearly not the man to build a bridge between guts and guile. The product is merely confusion - a mutation of a team who want to try, but are not sure exactly how to apply themselves.

That is exactly what Arsenal want to hear ahead of Sunday's North London derby. After Tottenham's 2-1 victory over the Gunners in March last year, Andre Villas-Boas piled pressure on Spurs' rivals by talking about a negative spiral at the Emirates. Twelve months on, it is Spurs who are slipping without any signs that a revival is imminent.

A version of this article first appeared on Football365.com

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