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.

Mood Swings at Spurs

One of the finest Spurs strikers of modern times tips a bucket of cold water over a man in a chicken suit. Another Glory Glory night at White Hart Lane. For those of you who missed it, the half-time entertainment against Limassol was Chirpy doing the ice bucket challenge, having been nominated by Goonersauraus. People videoed it or rather videoed the video on the big screen. Not quite sure what they expected – Chirpy’s expression didn’t change, surprisingly.

The match itself was decidedly ordinary, just the way I like it when it comes to these early rounds of the Europa League. Get through it, bit of decent football along the way, no other expectations. And that’s praise by the way – the team were confident, kept their shape and maintained the pressure throughout. Kane scored one but missed several – he seems better when he doesn’t have too much to think, his one and two touch play is better than when he has time on the ball. Developing well but not yet ready to lead the line.

Slightly bizarre to see the AVB attacking set-up with Lennon and Townsend as inverted wingers and Paulinho in the centre. Poch now knows it’s not effective but he could have asked me and saved himself the trouble. My only gripe was that this was a match crying out for width and wingers taking defenders on. In the end our goals came from exerting pressure – twice the Cypriots gave the ball away, the third a penalty – but we created that pressure and well-taken by Kane and Paulinho.

Good to see so many children with their families, benefiting from reasonable prices in the school holidays. To me a routine win, to them a special occasion that could mean they are fans for life. Spurs are keeping prices down for the Forest cup tie too – I’d designate an area that is even cheaper, just for families. WHam get stick for not filling their ground but they do kids for a quid for some games. It’s an investment that will pay off in the long-term.

When Spurs played Keflavik in the early seventies, I bumped into several pupils from my school, not regulars like me or even Tottenham fans as far as I could tell, who had travelled from west London in the hope of a goal avalanche. No live football on TV in those days, of course, so this was the only way to see the Spurs stars and europe held some magic even if the opposition were part-timers. They weren’t disappointed – Spurs won 9-0. Times have changed. Sides with limited skills like Limassol are impressively well-drilled and dangerous from set pieces but we broke them down without being at our most fluent.

The game may linger in the memory, however, as the final time we see several players who once, not so long ago, represented our future and a healthy one at that. Sandro the beast bossing midfield and terrorising his opposite numbers into submission. He did well enough on Thursday night and let’s not be too presumptuous but the feeling persists that a succession of injuries have permanently deprived him of that precious half a yard that makes the difference between the average and the good, the good and the great. The manager has had a good look at his new charges now and placed Capoue higher up the pecking order with other more mobile players alongside him. Levy will be excited by the fee so that may be that. A shame – I really thought he could be one of our best buys, powerful, skilled and committed. DM for a decade.

We’ve barely got to know Chiriches but rumours of his departure are rife. A ball-playing defender able to turn defence into attack as well as time a tackle perfectly, centre-forwards can out-muscle him too easily when the ball is in the air. I worry though that Kaboul is not fit enough for a season. He’s lost the supple pace that made him stand out. Welcome Favio but with Daws gone we still look short there so maybe Vlad the Paler will stay.

Holtby too – he must know his time is up if he can’t get into the EL home leg starting line-up. He could do with thinking more and running around less but he’s seldom played. I’ve remarked before that in his first year with us, he played only 4 games for 90 full minutes. He came with a good reputation and looked like he had a place in the squad at least but interesting that 4 managers, including Magath at Fulham, were unimpressed. Whether there’s a place for both Lennon and Townsend I’m not sure.

Spurs have gone old school when it comes to transfers – players we know little or nothing about arriving with little or no warning. It’s refreshing to look forward to judging Stambouli, who signed today, on his merits and on the evidence of our own eyes.

It does feel as if he and Favio were not first choices, if the rumours about Schneiderlin and Musacchio have any substance. That’s no bad thing. Pochettino has a clear idea of the type of player he wants. If we can’t get our first choice, try hard then move on. It is an approach that largely seems to have been accepted by the fans and this marks a singifcant change of mood. Since Pochettino took over, I have seen very few comments from supporters along the lines of ‘where are the big signings, Levy get your cheque book out, we need stars to take us to the next level.’ In that respect I can’t recall a transfer window like it and it’s all for the good. There’s a willingness to have realistic expectations and allow an able manager to mould a team where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Fans are prepared to buy into that, which has not been the case recently.

Perhaps it’s relief and gratitude after Sherwood’s caretakership. It’s gone well so far but the mood may darken if results turn against us. I do sense however that many are looking beyond just the next result. The problem is that with all the upheavals, yet again the manager has to rebuild the side with new players who need time to get to know each other. Let’s get the window out of the way and get on with it. I’m looking forward to it.

A fond farewell to Michael Dawson, our warrior with a heart. Dawson was a much better defender than most give him credit for. His finest hours were in Europe, backs to the wall and penned deep inside the box versus Milan, he refused to give ground and marked Zlatan out of the game. One late late tackle saved the game.

To play to his strengths, he needed protection from the midfield that seldom came. Not an excuse, just fact. Look at how Terry and Kompany are vulnerable when deprived of a midfield shield. Coming as a makeweight in the deal to bring Andy Reid to transform our midfield, he saw his chance and took it rather than just a hefty pay packet, working hard on his game and in the process developing a genuine loyalty to the club that sadly few have matched. I couldn’t believe the criticism he has recently received from some fans because he wanted to stay and fight for his place.

His time has come. His lack of pace on the turn left him and Spurs exposed too often, although that long cross-field pass he is derided for – 4 managers all encouraged him to do it so I reckon it can’t have been that bad. It’s a shame none of the other players appear to feel the club’s heritage and bond with supporters so deeply. When he made an error, he used to give himself a good talking to and slap his thighs in part punishment, part encouragement. I loved him, never forgotten.

For more tributes, Adam Powley’s love letter, Windy and Martin Cloake have said it more eloquently than I could.