Kaboul On Fire As Spurs Pass Test Of Character

It’s said that sport doesn’t build character, it reveals it. Whoever coined that expression could have had the North London Derby in mind. For Spurs fans, it demonstrated the application and sheer bloody-mindedness that many of us believed our team crucially lacked. It was a point won, hard won indeed as Arsenal pressed for a winner for what felt like hours but was only the final fifteen minutes. With a level of composure to match our effort, Tottenham could have won all three.

Hat-tip to two Spurs defenders, Younes Kaboul and Danny Rose, both of whom I have wondered about recently. Kaboul in particular appeared to have gradually succumbed to a series of injuries that left him stiff and wooden where once he was supple, creaking where once he was the quickest in the side. When he was recently made Spurs captain, many doubted his place in the starting line-up never mind as skipper but yesterday he proved manager Pochettino is a shrewd judge of character. He scored the winner when we last won at the Spacedome but the man of that match was William Gallas, and Kaboul followed his compatriot’s example with a similarly ferocious, driven performance.

As the crosses came in, Kaboul was solid and brave. One time, facing his goal and deep inside the area, he hooked a shoulder high ball away with his foot. His commitment quickly spread to the rest of the back four. Vertonghen was excellent in the second half, intercepting, blocking and tackling. A late improbable break could have pinched us a winner. We’d been pushed back so far, you felt as if the Belgian was just grateful to get out of our area,  but after a great run his choice of final ball was poor, something that described many of our attacks throughout the afternoon. Suddenly his absence at the back put us in danger but we scrambled it away.

Naughton also did well, his place in this side a reward for a good display in the week against Forest. On the other flank, his full back partner Danny Rose did us and himself proud with his finest game for the club so far. Character, you want character? This is the man with fear in his eyes, or at least he was last season after a series of blunders including an horrendous error in the Cup NLD last season. Written off by many, replaced by new signing Ben Davies – not so. His determination to keep his place has improved his game no end and he was excellent throughout, especially in the first half when many of the Arsenal attacks came down our left and despite the pace and power of Oxlade Chamberlain.

Arsenal had the better of the early exchanges in an opening that was brisk rather than derby-style helter skelter. We started with a 4-2-3-1 with Mason in alongside Capoue for his debut. If Pochettino was preaching high tempo and pressing, his pleas went unheard. We were sluggish so the manager switched to four across the middle with Adebayor working the line up front and Chadli wandering around aimlessly. It looked as if we were conceding ground around the halfway, drawing up a defensive line 40 yards out in a departure from our usual approach.

It worked for the most part. Arsenal were less able to initiate their passing and movement in centrefield. In the second half particularly they were forced out wide, still dangerous but those crosses are easier to handle than the bewildering passing patterns they are capable of. In the second half Sanchez and Welbeck did not have a chance. Also, the back four dropped deeper, making it hard for the Gunners to get round the back.

Arsenal had most of the ball but we had some of the best opportunities in the game. On several occasions we were on the break but the man on the ball chose the wrong option. Lamela and Eriksen were both guilty. However we made three good chances, Manu just failing with two and Chadli totally fluffing the third, the best of the lot.

Lamela was fully involved but his vain appeals for fouls that never were became tiresome, especially as he himself was in danger of totting up two bookings as the referee’s patience became thin. Mason’s character was tested but never in doubt. A fine, brave effort, I’m not interested in passing percentage or over-enthusiastic tackles, I’m looking long term and he showed he has the talent and attitude to match.

In the second half we relieved the early Arsenal pressure by scoring. Eriksen’s challenge fell at Lamela’s feet and for the second time in three days his instant left-foot pass opened up the opposition. To Chadli, one touch and perfectly slotted in across the keeper. The Belgian may be our answer to our lack of strikers. In midfield he allows the game to pass him by but further forward that’s four he’s scored now.

Arsenal cranked it up and despite our best efforts equilised when Oxlade Chamberlain banged in a loose ball after some loose defending. In the past we might have caved in but Kaboul drove us on.

During matches Hugo Lloris has the ashen, hollowed-eyed look of a man who has survived a serious accident but remains haunted by the trauma. I guess that’s what playing behind the Spurs defence does to you. Look deeper. It’s the mask of concentration of a player totally focussed on doing his level best for his team and that admirable attitude enveloped his back four in a reassuring certainty. Penned into his 6 yard box – Spurs for the most part defended deep so Arsenal could not get behind us – he was impeccable in the air and just fabulous on the ground. On several occasions he dropped low to smother and block. His second half save to a Mertesaker header was outstanding. The centre half hurled his considerable weight towards the ball and met it smack bang on the middle of his forehead. It was heading low into the corner but Lloris plummeted to his left and kept it out with the strength of a single giant hand. For an agonising moment it looked as if the force of the header was unstoppable and it had crept over but the Frenchman rose triumphant, vindicated by goal line technology. It won us a point.

Pochettino defended from the front as he did against W Ham keeping two up and bringing on Lennon on the left to match Oxlade Chamberlain’s pace. Adebayor kept working. Drifting wide meant he was seldom a threat in the box but it opened up space for others. I had hoped Eriksen would have made more of that than he did, indeed had hoped for more full stop.

After our recent league performances I felt like watching this one from behind the sofa. As it was, I made it onto the cushions and spent the majority of the time writhing in anxious contortions – normal for the NLD in other words so that’s Ok then. Thank goodness that after all these years it still matters. Age is irrelevent – you’re old when you don’t feel it any more.

There is something different about the derby these days, though. It’s something that is hard to admit but it’s this: we are the automatic underdogs. When I was younger, the most significant derby stat was that the win-lose-draw record for both teams was identical, even after all those years and despite periods of Arsenal dominance, most notably in the thirties and their Double. Now, regardless of the figures, they are the dominant force. Hard to stomach and hard to type but that is in the air for every NLD now.

Not saying we should accept it, certainly not drop our heads, as fans I mean, not the players. We are Spurs, we are N17, we are proud and we are so, so devoted and faithful. We the loyal supporters have more to be proud of because we have been tested and not found wanting. This performance and point was some reward.

However, we have much to do to get back to those heady days only two years ago where the 2-1 win at White Hart Lane seemed for a tantalising moment to be the tipping point. We were a young side on the up, Wenger’s methods were failing him at last. Yet we fell back and they retrenched. That story has been told in this blog – Levy failing to capitalise on success on by signing a couple of players at the right time (and there were several opportunities) good players not being replaced, the revolving door for managers. Arsenal had their financial problems. Now they earn £1m per home game more than Spurs in match revenue. Their wage bill is higher than Chelsea’s and they won’t fall foul of FFP because of that income. One manager in 18 years, we’ve had 11 or 12, i forget exactly, under Levy. We could fall further behind.

To play with fearsome effort and commitment yesterday was a fine achievement for Spurs. Let’s use it as a foundation to build another team and aim high. After all, we proved Arsenal aren’t as good as they think they are and we were better than I expected.

Still plenty of time to vote for Tottenham On My Mind in the Football Blogging Awards. Thanks to the many who have already done so, like them just click on the button at the top of the page. Much appreciated – as ever, couldn’t do it without you. Regards, Alan

Always Knew There’d be Days Like These

Testing on the New Model Poch has gone well so far, by and large, but yesterday against West Brom the wheels well and truly fell off. Progress is never straightforward. The best thing a supporter can hope for is that for every one step back there are two forward. When the season began, we always knew there would be days like these but that insight doesn’t make it feel any better.

This was as disjointed and mindless as the worst days of Redknapp and Villas-Boas. Ineffective in attack, scarily poor at the back and unable to shake themselves out of it. By the finish I was wistfully dreaming of an indiscriminate whack forward into the box, that’s what I was reduced to, but we couldn’t even do that, or get a corner past the near post.

Empty spaces in the stands – Stubhub had over 800 tickets available on Saturday night. These 1.30 kick-offs are taking their toll. The scores from Leicester-United generated the only buzz in the second half. I don’t get that myself but it shows attention was elsewhere.

Dembele’s performance summed up Spurs’ day. He has looked eager and positive since he came back into the team. Like others, Rose, Kane and Dier notably, he’s responded to the competition for places. Also, and perhaps more importantly, he seems to have got over the thigh injury that plagued him for most of last season. He starts as one of the two defensive midfielders but can push up when we have the ball, giving us four in midfield plus Capoue staying back to cover and allowing midfielders’ runs into the box. It’s an important position if it works and he has the ability to put it into practice.

In the first half he was busy, making a couple of good interceptions and shifting the ball around more quickly than he did last season. He showed he has another gear. However, as the half wore on, he was twice caught in possession, potentially fatal for a DM with no cover behind him. Also, at one point he preferred to hold onto the ball rather than find the runner ahead of him, Rose I think, can’t be sure.

That this is noteworthy says everything about the game. I can recall this moment because we had runners in space so infrequently. There were a few oohs and ahhs in the first half as some crosses came in, Rose timing his runs well to give us much-needed width, and a double attempt (double-cross?) from Eriksen which two Spurs forwards just failed to get a toe on. Otherwise I don’t remember Foster making a single save until Soldado steered Lamela’s lightening cross straight at him, deep in the second half.

The first half faded away but any anticipation that we would get going after half-time was swiftly dispelled. Rather, we sunk into a quagmire of uncertainty and apathy. Constantly giving the ball away, unable to pass to a white shirt.

This was also Pochettino’s worst game so far. This was the first time the players failed to respond to him. In the second half he was gesturing on the touchline like John McCririck on PCP, a demented tic-tac man vainly trying to change the odds in our favour. At one point he was miming bending runs and movement but I couldn’t spot a single player taking any notice.

WBA played a disciplined 4-4-1-1 but we had no idea how to get round that midfield four. Poch brought on Soldado and Paulinho for Dembele and Chadli, the only time I noticed he was on the pitch. Eriksen went left, Lamela wide right. This took Eriksen out of the game, a fact recognised later when he came back central when Lennon came on to at least take the ball to our opponents. Then, moving the ball from deep, half the players split to shape up for the old formation while five others pushed right up, leaving a 50 yard gap between back and front. Half the players were on one formation, half another. In the end, the forwards stood and waited for the ball to reach them.

Little things – man-marking at corners, Chiriches dutifully followed Sessignon even when the WBA man jogged out of the area for a short corner. Our centre back therefore taken out of the box for a corner.This is not to excuse the players. Eriksen has to get more involved even if that means he comes deeper. Yesterday he played in fits and starts. Lamela has blindingly quick feet but was stifled for the most part. As I’ve said before, Chadli is a talented player who is happy if the game is played at his pace and others do the work for him. In the PL, that’s a luxury we can’t afford. Soldado came on to a big cheer and got everything wrong. Manu furiously berated his team-mates near the end for not getting onto the end of his fine flick-on into the box but I’m sure they were as surprised as I was that he had actually won anything.

At the back, Rose did well but could not advance in the second half. By the time the game ended, the collective sharp intake of breath whenever Chiriches came near the ball was audible. You could almost smell his fear. His attempt to tackle a player at the edge of our box by rolling the ball under his foot for a clever turn was certainly a first for me. Luckily he managed to fumble his way out of it. Awful.

The winning goal was in keeping with our performance, an average-sized bloke jumping unmarked to head in from eight yards out. Credit to the Baggies. They kept to their shape throughout, worked hard from first to last and attacked whenever possible to keep the pressure on us. The better side won.

I do the Spurs preview for a fellow blogger who has a West Brom site. This week he asked a question about hopes for the season. I answered that what’s most important for me is that we show clear signs of longer term progress and have a two or three year plan to move the club forward on and off the pitch. That process will be painful at times but there’s no getting away from it: yesterday we were p*ss poor.

 

Voting has begun for the Football Blogging Awards 2014. Numbers of votes count at this stage so I would be eternally grateful if you could click the logo in the sidebar for Tottenham On My Mind in the Best Club Blog category  How about it for an old-fashioned, one man blog up against the big boys. Bless you.

 

 

Positive About Poch

Youngish Spurs manager seeking to make the best of the resources he has available without the full and unconditional support of his chairman. A squad of good players, mostly on the up, looking for direction so they can improve as individuals and as a team. Put the two together and some alchemy could result in solid in gold. Or a flask of bubbling gloop, useless to man or beast, in which case back to the drawing board.

I like the way Pochettino goes about his business. He’s centred, poised in the calm, unostentatious way of a man who is sure about his own ability without teetering over the edge into the abyss of arrogance. Which comes as a welcome relief after AVB, Redknapp and Sherwood, all of whom loved the limelight in their different ways. Tim the Temp is STILL banging on about ‘my Spurs’ whenever the Independent let him anywhere near a keyboard, for Hod’s sake.

Yesterday in the 2-2 draw against Sunderland there was much to admire in the Spurs performance. No doubt still smarting from their roasting a fortnight ago, Tottenham followed Liverpool’s example and took a high tempo game deep into our opponent’s half from the kick-off. It paid off with an early goal then despite conceding almost immediately, we dominated territory and possession with some decent football, pass and move, one-twos. The manager’s message is clearly getting through to a bunch of players who are willing to listen.

Shame then that our old pals the Feebles had to turn up to ruin the party. Two feeble bits of defending when not under any great pressure did for us. We score, we concede. They go together like a horse and carriage. I tell you brother, at Spurs you can’t have one without the other. 2-1 up, last ten minutes, stupid free-kick given away, defenders conspire to avoid the cross and Harry Kane clumsily knocks it in at the far post. Two points needlessly given away.

Woke up this morning, had those post-window blues. I don’t expect that Spurs will spunk a fortune on players, I don’t even advocate it. Rather, the end of the August window marks the start of the season proper and we’re not any further forward than we were a couple of years ago. That opening paragraph is strikingly, depressingly similar to what I was writing about AVB and Spurs after his first window ended.

Here’s another blast from the past – strikers, lack thereof. I am flabbergasted that a professional club in any league could leave themselves so short of striking options. Adebayor did well yesterday, kept in touch with the midfield rather than remaining isolated, but a full season at maximum intensity is asking too much and anyway he could be away for the ANC. Kane is developing well but nowhere near ready to lead the line on a regular basis. I hope Pochettino can do something with Soldado but we can hardly rely on him. The fact that Spurs have made this mistake for the last few seasons does not diminish the frustration and fury.

So how did this happen? Conspiracy or cock-up? Levy may have been reluctant to release funds, what with a stadium to pay for. I can’t believe Pochettino didn’t ask for another goalscorer. Not asking for a world-beater but there must have been someone out there. This one could well have been cock-up, however. A journo I follow on twitter, Spurs fan but not a sportswriter, said he had been told a sorry tale of mistakes made. No details of course but as his paper led the following day on Welbeck’s arrival at the Emirates, I wonder if Spurs thought he was coming and had no contingency. Whatever, this wanton negligence could prove costly. The sense of settling for a reasonable season instead of trying to make something more ambitious happen is inescapable.

The delay in the new stadium has been in the news this week. Again, conspiracy or cock- up? Archway Steel, the last remaining business on the site, have appealed against their compulsory purchase order. It’s their right and they want to play what they feel is a seller’s market for all its worth. Their intentions were made clear in a swiftly deleted tweet: after the announcement they stated “on my way to don’tgiveaf**kistan.”

Levy could pay up.  Lot of talk about how poor Spurs have been in getting the job done but I’ll accept these things are not straightforward and if public finance is available, Levy had the right to wait for it to appear and the CPO has held it up. Arsenal took years to sort out the Ashburnum site.

He doesn’t like being beaten in a deal but it’s an option. Which begs the question: how much does he want to build it? There may be more profit for ENIC if they sell with planning permission but no stadium, and this week there appears to have been some interest from potential buyers. Many believe the new ground is inevitable but won’t be built by ENIC.

As ever the fans are left looking on, powerless. We are affected the most and consulted the least. Archway Steel have changed the language of the debate. We now must, repeat must, move to another ground while WHL is being rebuilt because of this delay, at least according to the press. Convenient. The original plan allowed for one season with a three sided ground, i.e. no move. I read that a subsequently amended design means the roof has to be built in one go. The fuss around Archway Steel is being used by the club to soften us up for the move, as if the club have no choice. Not their fault. But where we end up is their responsibility. Totally. MK Dons is the likely destination at the moment. THFC would be hard pushed to find a venue in the south east that would be less popular. The interests of supporters must be the highest priority, indeed in my view the only issue to consider. I’m not holding my breath.

This remains an unwelcome distraction. At the beginning of the season, it felt as if we were moving forward but the window plus the stadium and ownership questions mean the clouds of uncertainty have blown over again. Pochettino is our big positive. His organisation is seeping into the team’s rhythm. He’s already making good use of the resources at his disposal. The players are motivated and want to play decent football. The Argentinian is our key man this season.

Back to the game. Spurs took the game to Sunderland and dictated the pattern and tempo with sustained spells of controlled possession football. Eriksen was to the fore, especially in opening hour. He’s looked sluggish so far this term but in a more central role he shone, making things happen. One lofted first-time one-two into the box was a delight – Manu’s touch was blocked by the keeper. He started the move that led to our second and then ran 40 yards to finish it off. Dembele was strong, able to push into an advanced position because we dominated up front. His thumping thirty-yarder deserved more than hitting the woodwork. Lamela was similarly unlucky in the second half.

Sunderland had few opportunities but Spurs looked unduly shaky when the ball came their way. Chiriches looks permanently anxious. Johnson had too much room as he weaved his way goalwards for their first, the second could have been stopped at several points.

Shattered Spurs Bow To Red Power

Yesterday Spurs meekly succumbed to Liverpool’s power, pace and team-work. Rodgers and Pochettino are disciples of the new football, play at pace, work as a unit with and without the ball and press until the life is squeezed from your opponent. Three games, 12 goals with none in reply, show the Reds are streets ahead. It’s what you’d expect, given the constant chopping and changing in the Spurs ranks. Remember that the Liverpool board gave Rodgers the time he needs, let’s give Pochettino the same opportunities. In the meantime, his players need to start by giving more effort than was on display in this sorry effort.

The referee’s whistle was the signal for Liverpool to launch a ferocious assault on the Tottenham defences. They hurled themselves at every Spurs player who had the temerity to have the ball at their feet, two or three men blocking, hustling, niggling in a frenzy of pressing. The intensity was terrifying and Spurs had no escape. Trapped, we repeatedly conceded possession and Liverpool pounced with the same high-speed passion in attack.

Balotelli missed from close-range, Lloris getting down quickly to save his low header, before a poor clearance from a penned-in defence led to a lightning break and cross that found Sterling at the far post. It could have been one of several Liverpool forwards – we were all over the place.

That early onslaught finally abated after twenty minutes, by which time the game had been won and lost. There were other moments, including a highly debateable penalty, but the Spurs midfield were shattered and never recovered from the shock. The forward midfield three, so prominent against QPR, were utterly ineffective. Chadli posed and preened but allowed the game to pass him by, as he tends to do unless it’s played at a pace that suits him. Lamela kept going but discovered in a generally central role just how little room there is in a PL midfield. Bentaleb was swamped. Eriksen was the most disappointing, a man who has the ability to make an impact but who faded away before being substituted ignominiously early in the second half.

Only Capoue resisted, working hard throughout the match to break up opposition attacks. He was Spurs best player and you wonder what we missed last season when he was persona non grata.

After twenty minutes Liverpool funnelled back but still controlled the game, pressing but from starting positions ten or 15 yards closer to their goal. Adebayor’s lob went just over and the Reds missed a couple more, including another Ballotelli effort, wide after a howler of a fluffed Lloris clearance left an open goal. Chadli had our best, indeed only chance, catching a high ball well but it was too close to the keeper. Mignolet made his only proper save of the entire match. It offered a tantalising glimpse of surprising vulnerability in the Liverpool defence that Spurs never again exploited.

Despite being decidedly second best, being only one behind at half-time meant we were still in it. That changed when Liverpool were awarded a penalty. As Dier came across Joe Allen, his arm clipped Allen’s, who thereupon hurled himself into row K and the ref gave it without a moment’s hesitation.

My gripe with penalties like this one is they defy the laws of physics, never mind the laws of football. In the outermost reaches of the universe, galaxies and black holes are created and destroyed according to immutable laws of matter, mass and motion. Yet entering a Premier League penalty box is like going through a portal into another, parallel reality where these laws apparently do not apply or if they do, are random and inconsistent.

There was contact and Dier should have known better but neither in themselves are reasons to give a foul. There is no possible way that knocking Allen’s arm could have led to him falling in that way. It did not have anywhere near the force to cause him to lose his footing. Matter, mass and motion. A rugby player in a similar situation would not have gone over, instead would probably have dismissed it as having the power of an insect momentarily landing on his or her arm. A distance runner would not have gone over if they had been jostled in the 10k.

And that’s never mind the outbreak of WWE every corner. Or the fact that those incidents were never, ever given as fouls until comparatively recently. Or the referee missing a huge tug on Adebayor’s shirt, so big that you could hear a cartoon sound-effect ‘boing’ when the fouler let go.

Both have an incentive to stay upright and until footballers have the same, the diving will go on. This isn’t about Liverpool, Allen or any team – Spurs players have done exactly the same. It’s about the game. If referees stopped giving those oh-so-modern fouls, the players would stop falling over so easily.

Dier is promising but he showed his inexperience in allowing the possibility of a penalty. He looks like the sort of player who learns quickly: let’s hope his team-mates do the same. Pochettino has had five competitive games with his squad, Rodgers has had a hundred and boy did it show. Throughout Spurs failed on the basics – pressing together without the ball, making themselves available for team-mates with it. Back to the bad old days of looking up, finding nothing was on, trying to beat an opponent then getting caught. Time and again we lost possession.

Two down, Pochettino kept up his policy of active substitutions by bringing on Dembele and Townsend. His plans were destroyed by the winger’s first touch. Receiving the ball 60 yards from his own goal, he foolishly tried a drag back. Promptly tackled, Moreno ran most of that distance to our goal without being challenged. Covering the Liverpool forward line, we failed to get in the way of the man with the ball. A fine goal but entirely avoidable. My fear for Townsend is that these problems of poor choices and not knowing when to do the simple lay-off were around 4 seasons ago when Redknapp gave him his debut. That said, play him on the left where he can run at defenders.

My worry that Kaboul will never be the same player after his injuries is sadly being supported by the evidence. He was dreadful. Vertoghen did not stand out, except as backdrop as Sterling whizzed past him. Lloris made valuable saves but his poor distribution in the first half increased the pressure on an already beleaguered team.

Time to draw breath and work on that system.