Neil Humphreys: Spurs lack depth in central defence
Injuries to first-choice central defenders could cripple Spurs' season
INTERNATIONAL CHAMPIONS CUP
(Paulo Dybala 6, Mehdi Benatia 15)
(Erik Lamela 67)
Tottenham Hotspur supporters eagerly awaited the chance to see new boys Victor Wanyama and Vincent Janssen in the spotlight.
In some ways, they're still waiting.
Wanyama hustled and bustled, but Janssen disappeared soon after kick-off as Spurs' 2-1 defeat by Juventus highlighted more pressing concerns.
Rumours of Tottenham's strength of depth might be greatly exaggerated.
A cold night in Melbourne cooled heady expectations last night. Spurs still look like a terrific first 11 in search of a talented squad.
Defensively, they were all over the place. The kids were not all right. They were overawed and off the pace.
In a tepid battle of the second stringers, the Italian champions eased to victory.
Mauricio Pochettino always intended to use the International Champions Cup as a chance to blood his youngsters, knowing that Juventus would provide a stern examination of Tottenham's talent pool.
But Spurs flunked the test at the back.
Wanyama, a former colleague of Pochettino's at Southampton, added solidity in front of the back four, but was powerless to help the lost boys behind him.
Spurs' back four were lauded last season for their consistency and earned their luck. They were largely spared serious injury.
This time around, with every major club strengthening, rest and rotations will be critical. This season will be the survival of the biggest.
In Australia, Pochettino tested out an alternate back four, the men he must call upon when domestic and continental exertions take their toll.
And it proved a brutal examination.
A cold, half-empty venue didn't help. The cavernous Melbourne Cricket Ground made for a gloomy spectacle as the Italian champions delivered a baptism of fire.
But Juventus' Euro 2016 participants, including their legendary goalkeeper and back three, were not involved. Nor was the unsettled Paul Pogba.
And yet, they ripped Tottenham's kids to shreds.
The central defensive pair of 20-year-old Dominic Ball and Cameron Carter-Vickers, 21, made for difficult viewing.
Every stumble was excruciating to behold, like a parent watching on as a toddler takes another tumble in new roller skates.
They froze in Melbourne's bleak mid-winter. Just six minutes in, a string of mistakes and a slip from Ball allowed Paulo Dybala to steer a low drive into the corner of the goal.
Nine minutes later, Juventus doubled their advantage as the Spurs defence appeared to engage in an awkward breakdancing contest at a corner, bumping and grinding to allow Medhi Benatia to loop a fine header into the net.
Pochettino found himself in the unenviable position of playing the right system with the wrong players.
His counter-pressing, which flourished last season, relies on a high line in a 4-2-3-1, with the defenders pushing up quickly to launch attacks.
But his youngsters lacked both the confidence and experience to make the system work.
Tottenham couldn't break, leaving Janssen isolated up front. He managed just 15 touches in the first half, the lowest of anyone on the pitch.
Kieran Trippier and William Miller struggled to make headway along their respective flanks, highlighting how pivotal Danny Rose and Kyle Walker are in executing Pochettino's tactics.
In England, 20-year-old Miller is more famous for being a TV child actor, once playing Oliver Twist. He certainly left Pochettino wanting more.
The defensive uncertainty must privately concern the manager, just three weeks before the season kicks off.
With Jan Vertonghen injured, Tottenham's only fit and experienced centre backs are Kevin Wimmer and Toby Alderweireld.
An injury to either defender leaves Tottenham painfully exposed.
Pochettino may be tempted to go shopping again.
The half-time introduction of Erik Lamela and Harry Winks gave Spurs greater attacking impetus.
Winks, a 20-year-old livewire on the wing, irritated the Juventus defenders as Lamela slowly controlled possession in central midfield.
The Argentinian deserved his goal in the 67th minute, collecting a pass from the combative Wanyama and despatching a crisp, angled shot into the far corner in the 57th minute.
The finish was precisely the kind of swift, counter-attacking that underpinned Tottenham's previous campaign, with the holding midfielder pinching possession and releasing a flying forward quickly.
But its success depends in large part on a stable defence holding a high line.
Spurs already have one on paper, but perhaps not enough on the bench to win the title.