Jose Mourinho accepted the blame for his Tottenham Hotspur side’s defeat in Belgium. Asked why he had made four half-time substitutions, the manager said: “I wish I could have made 11. But I take full responsibility. I picked this team.”
He may have made the selection, but he was right to feel let down. With nine changes from the side who displayed such resolve at Burnley, giving opportunity to players such as Dele Alli and Steven Bergwijn to demonstrate why they should be regularly involved, he saw his starting XI playing as if they had been barely introduced.
Passes went astray, movement was limited, they were frequently caught dallying in possession. Good interactions too often broke down before they reached the opposition area. Like the one Gareth Bale instigated and Carlos Vinicius surrendered with a tame pass to an opponent. In the opening skirmishes, Bale had a couple of shots well wide, Giovani Lo Celso at least tested the goalkeeper Jean Butez, as did Bergwijn. But nothing in the way of genuine chances were likely to be forthcoming from a showing as lacklustre as this.
And, as Spurs stumbled, Antwerp provided telling evidence as to why they are unbeaten at home in 14 months. Unlike Mourinho, their manager Ivan Leko stuck to the 11 that secured three points against local rivals Beerschot at the weekend. And how familiarity had the upper hand. Ritchie De Laet, who won the Premier League with Leicester City, brilliantly organised the back three, forever getting in the way of Tottenham initiatives.
Up the other end of the pitch, they used their wing-backs to drive in behind the visitors’ defence: Simen Juklerod twice got in down the left, while Koji Miyoshi was a regular threat down the right, one incursion requiring Harry Winks to scrabble a cross behind.
With Spurs so far off the pace they appeared to be playing walking football, the inevitable happened. Dieumerci Mbokani caught Ben Davies lingering on the ball, piled forward and squared to Lior Refaelov. The Israeli international had clearly been studying the way Marcus Rashford finishes and leathered the ball past Hugo Lloris.
Furiously applying several underlinings to his notes as he watched, Mourinho brought on the half-time cavalry in the shape of Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Eric Lamela, Lucas Moura and Son Heung-min.
“I tried to improve the situation, but it was not enough,” he explained afterwards. “The dynamic of the first half was still there. In the end, Antwerp got what they deserved and we got what we deserved.”
Indeed, the purpose of wholesale change was almost immediately undermined after a poor back pass by Winks sent Refaelov charging in on goal once more. A brilliant sliding tackle from Davinson Sanchez saved the blushes. Moments later Miyoshi got in behind yet again and somehow Mbokani spooned his invitation of a cross over the crossbar from no more than a yard out. The other wing back Juklerod then obliged Lloris to save sharply.
At which point, Mourinho had seen enough and sent on Harry Kane to replace the wholly peripheral Bale. But even the appearance of the team’s talisman could not alter the game’s trajectory. Sure, propelled by Hojbjerg’s forward passes, chances began to appear. Lamela found Son with a cross, but Abdoulaye Seck superbly closed him down even as he shot goalwards. Serge Aurier’s searching cross was then missed by a diving Lamela.
And, as Antwerp pressed and squeezed, insistently closing down the space in which Spurs could operate, the break was always on. Indeed, Juklerod should have scored after barrelling through from the halfway line. Instead, he hammered the ball into an empty stand. And the substitute Birger Verstraete required a combination of Davies and Sanchez to keep him out as he eased towards goal.
Even as a burst of fireworks exploded in premature celebration behind a stand, the refashioned Spurs tried to restore the natural order. As time ran out, Winks danced through, but fired over, the outstanding De Laet somehow got in the way of a goal-bound Son shot, while Seck threw several parts of his body in front of Kane’s effort. So it was that Antwerp stayed resolute, their red wall defence refusing to yield, to secure a famous victory.
For Spurs it was not a defeat terminal to their chances of progress; they have sufficient remaining fixtures in this competition easily to get back on track. But it may signal the end of some of Mourinho’s fringe players featuring getting another start.
“You know what our best team is,” the manager said, when asked who might be playing in the game against Brighton on Sunday. “I like to think that the players deserve an opportunity, we have a big squad, it is my responsibility to give them opportunity. But it is also their responsibility to catch the chance with both hands. You always ask me why this player or that player is not playing. Now maybe you know the answer. After tonight my future choices are going to be very easy.”
Group J standings
Full-time: Antwerp 1 Tottenham 0
That last thrust comes to no avail and Spurs' are defeated.
It was never going to be an easy night, but this was a reality check to a team that were in form.
90+4 mins: Antwerp 1 Tottenham 0
De Laet has been superb this evening for Antwerp, and here is again in the 94th minute blocking and clearing another ball into the Antwerp box, this time from Aurier.
One last thrust from Spurs...
90+2 mins: Antwerp 1 Tottenham 0
A little more urgency from Spurs, but it still doesn't look as if they'll find this leveller.
Lucas Moura tries his luck from long range but it's never troubling the keeper.
90 mins: Antwerp 1 Tottenham 0
Danger for Antwerp as Kane controls wonderfully and feeds Son in the penalty area. The Korean unleashes a shot but it's blocked brilliantly before more Spurs players have a pop and all shots are blocked by a great, red wall. Antwerp survive.
Five minutes of added time for Spurs to rescue, you would have to say, only a point.
87 mins: Antwerp 1 Tottenham 0
Lamela trips Verstraete - those two are enjoying a right ol' scrap - but, while the foul is nothing serious, it gives Antwerp another chance to regroup, reset, and it does nothing to cure Spurs' stop/start disposition.
Winks flashes a shot from outside the box - more in desperation than in hope, it seems - but it's a slice that's high and wide.
85 mins: Antwerp 1 Tottenham 0
Spurs cannot find enough attacking rhythm and accuracy, and time is running out.
In other news, there's an absolutely mad fireworks display going on very near to the stadium. Pre-empting an Antwerp win?
83 mins: Antwerp 1 Tottenham 0
Just as Spurs seem to have built a promising attack, it all comes tumbling down.
Lamela leaves an arm behind and catches Verstraete in the face. It's very theatrical and there's little in it, but he has hoodwinked the ref and it's a free-kick nonetheless.
Verstraete follows up with a dangerous tackle on Hojbjerg.
79 mins: Antwerp 1 Tottenham 0
Ten minutes to play and, despite glimpses, there is still little evidence of Spurs taking a stranglehold of this match.
It's been all Antwerp in the last few minutes, with Spurs unable to win the ball back.
76 mins: Antwerp 1 Tottenham 0
De Laet with a majestic tackle to dispossess Lucas Mours just as he was winding up for a shot, in space, on the edge of the area.
But Spurs fire straight back and Kane and Lamela intertwine neatly in the box but it just doesn't fall for either of them.
74 mins: Antwerp 1 Tottenham 0
More danger for Spurs and only a good block from Davies in the area can prevent Verstraete from doubling the hosts' lead.
71 mins: Antwerp 1 Tottenham 0
What a chance for Antwerp - that might have been it.
Sanchez gets himself into a right pickle and Juklerød is in on goal, one-on-one with Lloris, and he smothers the ball miles over the bar.
He could have squared to Mbokani, too.
69 mins: Antwerp 1 Tottenham 0
Son flicks in the free-kick but it's part-cross and part-shot and Butez can lap it up.
Just over 20 minutes left for Spurs - can they find a breakthrough?
67 mins: Antwerp 1 Tottenham 0
More purpose from Spurs again, but Lamela's heavy touch sees them lose possession just as it looked like they were building something.
But the visitors come back with a vengeance and force Antwerp into conceding the free-kick in a very crossable position.
64 mins: Antwerp 1 Tottenham 0
Aurier puts a stunning ball into the box and it must have been inches away from the head of Lamela, who was free in the box.
Had that been Kane, Spurs might have been level.
Slightly more optimistic for Tottenham, admittedly.
61 mins: Antwerp 1 Tottenham 0
Less than 30 mins for Spurs to put this right, but there's not been much to show thus far they are capable.
Just as I say that, there's a chance as Lucas Moura slides a ball into Son in the box, but a great block by Seck saves the day.
That came out of nowhere.
58 mins: Antwerp 1 Tottenham 0
Harry Kane is going to be Jose Mourinho's fifth and final substitution, coming on for Bale.
That's all the Spurs cards on the table now - will there be a response?
Buta is on for Miyoshi for Antwerp, too.
55 mins: Antwerp 1 Tottenham 0
What a chance for Antwerp!
Miyoshi puts a fantastic ball into the box and Mbokani puts it over the bar from a yard and a half out.
It arrived at pace, but he should have put that one away. Pretty half-hearted defending from Sanchez at the same time, too.
53 mins: Antwerp 1 Tottenham 0
Son surges forward as Spurs up the ante.
Reguilon puts a ball into the box, and there are men waiting, but Butez gets out well to claim.
51 mins: Antwerp 1 Tottenham 0
Accurate approach play from Spurs falls down where it really matters again, as Lamela's pass is too close to Butez and Antwerp can clear.
49 mins: Antwerp 1 Tottenham 0
Haroud shoots tamely at Lloris but the Spurs captain is not troubled.
Spurs win a corner down the other end but it is headed away well by the Antwerp defence.
47 mins: Antwerp 1 Tottenham 0
Disaster almost strikes immediately as a mix-up from Winks' back pass sees Refaelov in on goal, but Sanchez works back to make a vital last-ditch challenge.
Jose's not happy...
Four half-time changes for Spurs!
Hojbjerg for Lo Celso, Lamela for Alli, Moura for Bergwijn, Son for Vinicius.
Refaelov absolutely cannoned the ball into Lloris' net - the Frenchman could barely move a muscle!
A precis of the first half
Just three shots on target in 45 minutes - two from Spurs and the Antwerp goal.
Half-time: Antwerp 1 Tottenham 0
No added time and Spurs trail to a goal by Refaelov after Mbokani caught Davies in possession.
A lacklustre half from Spurs with intent, precision and attacking harmony all missing.
Thankfully this deficit is clearly surmountable, though.
44 min: Antwerp 1 Tottenham 0
Still all a touch lacklustre from Spurs as Antwerp shift up the field as the half draws to a close.
Gerkens with a tremendously incisive ball puts Miyoshiin behind, he does well to flick it back across goal but Reguilon gets back into position to clear. Only for a corner, however...
41 min: Antwerp 1 Tottenham 0
Bale makes a searing run for us and his touch to control is sumptuously soft, but once again De Laet gets back to snuff out the danger.
39 min: Antwerp 1 Tottenham 0
Seck and Gelin are repelling everything that Spurs can throw at them at the minute; mind you, it hasn't exactly been difficult.
Bale lets rip from distance - again - and while it flies nicely, it has too much loft to trouble Butez.
37 min: Antwerp 1 Tottenham 0
Antwerp playing keep-ball, tapping it around the helpless Spurs defenders with relative ease.
Eventually the visitors win it back and Lloris launches a ball downfield.
Gorgeous, positive approach play from Spurs, with Bale, Lo Celso and Vinicius involved, but the attack, once again, breaks down in the final third.
34 min: Antwerp 1 Tottenham 0
Bergwijn winds up a shot from distance but it sails well over the bar.
Antwerp then march forward, with Seck finding Haroun with a long ball down the left, before the attack fizzles out.
31 min: Antwerp 1 Tottenham 0
Good play from Tottenham, building nicely into the Antwerp box.
Bale finds Bergwijn in the box, but Seck stands his ground admirably, and Spurs win a corner.
Out of nowhere Antwerp lead. And it's Refealov.
Mbokani catches Davies in possession and he squares the ball to Refealov, who absolutely thunders the ball into the back of the net. Lloris could barely move.
25 min: Antwerp 0 Tottenham 0
Spurs defend a corner well, as Aurier drives them up field.
Still not too much to report for Spurs here. A lot of standing and watching, a lack of dynamism and intent.
Leicester have taken the lead in Athens, incidentally.
22 min: Antwerp 0 Tottenham 0
Vinicius is in behind and in on goal after Alli dinks a deft ball over the defence but De Laet tracks back fabulously to avert the danger.
20 mins: Antwerp 0 Tottenham 0
Better from Spurs.
Reguilon makes progress down the left, before a one-two between Lo Celso and Bergwijn sees Butez called into action, making a save down to his right.
Seck, Antwerp's most infamous player in the first 20 minutes, is booked for a ridiculously cumbersome challenge on Bergwijn.
17 mins: Antwerp 0 Tottenham 0
Winks and Vinicius team up well before the former rushes his shot, sending it well wide of goal.
And then it goes a bit flat again as Bale attempts to slide one through for Vinicius to chase.
14 mins: Antwerp 0 Tottenham 0
Gerkens gets a nifty header on an Antwerp corner at the near-post, but the ball flashes across the face of goal.
Lo Celso lets rip down the other end, trying to curl one into the bottom-left corner off his preferred left foot, but Butez gets across well to collect with two hands.
12 mins: Antwerp 0 Tottenham 0
Spurs looking to play themselves into this game, but it's a little stale and flat.
That is, until Vinicius goes on the charge, but he's not quite in perfect harmony with Alli.
10 mins: Antwerp 0 Tottenham 0
Reguilon is caught late by Seck down the left as the Spurs man nutmegs his opponent.
Alli drives forward towards the penalty area before Seck dispossesses him, making up for that earlier clumsy challenge.
8 mins: Antwerp 0 Tottenham 0
Bale with the speculative, long-range effort towards the bottom-right corner of the net, but Butez has it well covered.
Bergwijn and Alli combine in attack for Spurs but a De Laet interception puts a halt to the danger.
5 mins: Antwerp 0 Tottenham 0
Vinicius catches Gelin around the neck, to give Antwerp a free-kick in the centre circle. Winks is also pinged shortly after.
Haroun fires a ball across the face of Spurs' goal but it's cleared away by Davies.
2 mins: Antwerp 0 Tottenham 0
Refaelov expulses some early adrenaline by having a pop from 30 yards out, the ball flying over Lloris' bar.
Incidentally, LASK have already taken the lead in the other tie in this group against Ludogorets.
Teams are out in Antwerp
Kick-off is moments away...
Mourinho speaks pre-match
Honestly I don't know [whether playing away in an empty stadium will benefit Spurs]. Everyone misses crowds so much - the noise, the atmosphere, the pressure - if anyone could choose, even away, they would choose an atmosphere because at the minute the players feel no atmosphere - not positive nor negative. We all miss that. It's raining and cold, but the surface is wet and fast. Great conditions to play football. I'm happy.
The questions here is that everybody's motivated and that everybody wants to give everything in every minute they're on the pitch, showing frustration of not playing every match - showing it in the right way by performing on the pitch. Catch it with both hands and try to perform.
You could say it's a risk to change so many players, but I accept the risk because I trust the players and the squad. We have very good players on the pitch. It has been working well for many months. We are trying to play in a certain style but it is not always possible because opponents always have something to say.
Dele is working hard and is one of the players who is most hurting when he is not selected. But that's the consequence of how many attacking players we have.
This will be the very first game between these sides in European competition. Royal Antwerp have been drawn with English opposition on two previous occasions, both in the UEFA Cup; they beat Aston Villa home and away in 1975-76 but were defeated home and away by Newcastle in 1994-95.
Spurs have never won away to Belgian opposition (D2 L3), losing on each of their last two visits, both in the UEFA Europa League: against Anderlecht in 2015-16 and KAA Gent in 2016-17.
Royal Antwerp’s Simen Kristiansen Juklerød created seven chances against Ludogerets, more than any other player managed on matchday one of this season’s UEFA Europa League.
Spurs have managed just one win from their last eight away games in the UEFA Europa League (D2 L5), defeating FK Qarabag 1-0 in the 2015-16 group stages.
Including qualifiers, Spurs manager Jose Mourinho is unbeaten in his last 15 matches in the UEFA Europa League (W12 D3), winning all four games this season by an aggregate score of 15-4.
Last time out
With a largely similar starting XI, Tottenham put LASK to the sword in North London with a 3-0 victory, Carlos Vinicius starring on debut. You can catch up, here.
That was Bale's first start for Spurs in seven years, now he has two in two weeks.
It's a bigger shame for Toby Alderweireld, however
Admittedly he's on the bench, but he is playing a match in his hometown of Antwerp for the first time - and none of his local friends or family can watch.
— Royal Antwerp FC (@official_rafc) October 29, 2020
Shame there will be no fans in it...
— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) October 29, 2020
Dele Alli has been handed just his third start of the season as he is named in Tottenham's starting line-up against Royal Antwerp.
Alli, who has been in and out of Jose Mourinho's squad this term, plays alongside the likes of Gareth Bale, Carlos Vinicius, Steven Bergwijn, Giovani Lo Celso and Harry Winks as Mourinho makes nine changes to his side.
— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) October 29, 2020
The Belgian side have named former Manchester United and Leicester defender Ritchie De Laet in their starting XI.
— Royal Antwerp FC (@official_rafc) October 29, 2020
Hello and welcome to Telegraph Sport's live coverage of Tottenham's Europa League Group J match away in Antwerp.
Jose Mourinho believes Gareth Bale is "arriving" at peak physical condition and confirmed he will start tonight against Royal Antwerp, who are unbeaten so far this season in all competitions, and sit atop Belgium's First Division A
Bale has been building up his fitness following a knee injury which put the brakes on his second spell at the club following his loan return from Real Madrid.
The Wales international played 60 minutes against LASK last week and looked rusty before being an unused substitute in the 1-0 win at Burnley on Monday.
Mourinho is ready to unleash him against the Belgians and expects him to "fly".
"Bale is playing and we all have not just the feeling, but also the data that Bale is arriving," he said.
"He is working very hard. He is being quite a great example for everybody. A big guy like him, travelled to Burnley, stayed on the bench for 90 minutes, didn't play one minute.
"His behaviour as a team guy is incredible. His behaviour as a Tottenham man is remarkable and he is coming.
"I can see just with my eyes but then the scientific data is also coming and he is working very, very well.
"He is improving, he is improving a lot and I think tomorrow we can see already Gareth at a good level and hopefully he can fly because he is working very hard. So he's playing."
Mourinho confirmed that Eric Dier and Tanguy Ndombele have not travelled with the squad as they are rested ahead of Sunday's match against Brighton.
Mourinho will make several changes, with the likes of Davinson Sanchez, Steven Bergwijn, Harry Winks and Carlos Vinicius likely to join Bale in the starting XI.