Watching Spurs Was Fun. It Will Never Catch On.

Spurs are through to the semi-final of the League Cup courtesy of an emphatic 4-0 victory over Newcastle United. Tottenham spent the second half pinging the ball around with an exuberant freedom rarely seen during the past few years. Cracking football, plenty of goals, a vibrant atmosphere including a full contribution from thousands of loyal, loud Geordies and to make it just like the good old days there was even a miscreant visitor bodily carried out by a posse of stewards and police. Fabulous to kick back and enjoy it all. I could get used to this.

For Spurs was the perfect League Cup tie, competitive but without edge. The FA Cup is the one, real commitment and born of a long, proud heritage that links every club in the land. My advice for the League Cup is to enjoy it but forget a defeat in the time it takes to get from the ground to the station. Sure, during extra time at Wembley in 2008 I had dissolved into a gibbering froth of anxiety, so if only I could follow my own observations, but allow me the self-delusion that’s natural for every supporter.

The League Cup should be fun and this win most certainly was, but while there were promising signs of our progress, Newcastle gave us plenty of room to play. They fielded a strong side if a little lightweight up front and with two sides keen to attack, this created fast end to end football. However, their young keeper Jak Alnwick followed the inept example of brother and former Spur Ben in providing a couple of assists. Pardew also made a game-changing tactical error at the start of the second half. The vast Sissoko had trampled over our midfield during the third period but was then moved wide.

Presumably the plan was to repeat the tactics that won our visitors this season’s league match where he stampeded down our left. Instead, it gave Spurs the freedom of the park. An absolute pleasure to see Spurs moving forward at every opportunity, luscious pass and move revolving around a playmaker, Christian Eriksen, and anchored by a deep-lying midfielder, Nabil Bentaleb.

 

Both excelled, with Eriksen in particular catching the eye. Given a central role with a fair degree of freedom, he was on the move and involved for 90 minutes, welcome but rare for him lately. Not everything came off – I suspect the dreaded pass completion stats were not in the top bracket – but the best players take risks and that inspiration makes things happen.

Things happened around him all evening, the best being a delightful curling pass through the defence to Rose (I think) but Soldado couldn’t capitalise on his instant cross. He made our fourth, a 20 yard burst ending with a shot parried straight to Soldado who tucked it in from close range. Eriksen really needs a nickname. ‘Come on Christian’ sounds like something from the touchline of an under 11s rugby match in Tunbridge Wells or a call to evensong. He seemed revitalised. After Sunday’s win he credited improved fitness levels for our series of late comebacks and certainly he was a bundle of energy and joy last night.

Bentaleb lay deeper, marshalling the ball onto his left foot, head up and looking to move it on. No apologies for the over-use of ‘forward’ in this piece – it was so noticeable. Significant too – our best spells recently have all featured this approach, keeping possession but seeking to move it upfield at a decent tempo. This is key to Pochettino’s style – promising signs that the message is getting through, even to Dembele who again was influential as a sub playing in an advanced position.

Stambouli reminds me of those midfield warriors of the 70s and 80s. Every team had one, Horlock, Storey, Yorath, muscular, hard-bitten and unforgiving of any mistake by an opponent. Round-shouldered and sharp-eyed, Stambouli doesn’t run, he prowls. He tackles hard and takes the man if he can’t reach the ball. This is a different century so he’s an upgraded model, keen to get the ball forward with an eye for a quick pass.

I like him and Pochettino may be warming to him too – use of the word ‘forward’ again. Trouble is, Spurs have problems at the back because the back four need cover and that’s not the Frenchman’s instinct. Capoue is the only defensive DM we have and he deservedly lost his place as his early season promise disappeared.

These problems at the back were on show yesterday, especially in a first half that was pretty even. On several occasions Newcastle whizzed the ball across our box, including one early in the second half that the Geordies were prematurely celebrating, so sure were they that one of three forwards were bound to get a touch.

Spurs went in with a first half lead thanks to Bentaleb’s first goal for us. Under no real pressure, the keeper dropped a far-post corner and Nab moved with lightning reactions to touch the fumble home before it fell below shoulder height.

Chadli’s low shot from the edge of the box made it two before many had sat down after half-time. Our best was our third, Townsend stabbing a little first-time ball into the channel and Kane spun away from the defender to shot low across the keeper. It’s the sort of goal we seldom score and augers well for the future. Kane on fine form again up front, one of many pleasures on an enjoyable evening.

A final note: interesting to see Poch try Eriksen in the middle, trying out a few ideas maybe. Also significant is that Fazio and Vertonghen paired at centre back once more. No rotation there, rather, hard work to establish a partnership. And Vorm was very good.

Spurs Celebrate. A Decent Corner!

So is everything well if we win? It’s a question that applies to Spurs away these days, not just yesterday’s 2-1 victory at Swansea. I’m enjoying the win today, lifted my mood, as did Villa and Hull. Always a three-point spring in my step. But a glance at the table this morning and my first instinct was to look down not up, even if we are a mere two points below a European place with a home League Cup QF the day after tomorrow.

“Win ugly”? No doubt that parts of all three games have been positively grotesque. “Part of our development.”? We’ve seldom taken any lessons into the next home games, Everton being the exception.

Swansea manager Monk reached for the time-honoured boxing analogy to describe politely his assessment of the match: “If it had been a boxing match, it would have been stopped.” Doubtless he used more colourful language in the dressing room as his side failed to capitalise on their dominance during the majority of this game. Probably not a good time to note his flawed analogy: to score points in boxing you have to land a punch. Swansea’s real problem was the number of missed chances with shots fizzing past the woodwork rather than keeping Lloris busy.

Our man Poch meanwhile predictably took some positives away, feeling that he’s beginning to get his methods across to the players. There’s some welcome truth in that but judging by our inconsistency, it’s taking longer than he or the supporters hoped. My only wish is that we go for something more upbeat than the ‘let’s wait for the opposition to miss’ defensive tactic that featured prominently yesterday.

Spurs began and ended the game on a positive note, controlling possession and taking the play to the opposition in keeping with Pochettino’s admirably attacking team selection. From kick-off we determined to get hold of the ball and made reasonable use of it too, patiently waiting to something to open up rather than wasting effort. Mason and Bentaleb were eager midfielder, pressing enthusiastically and keeping the tempo high. Kane worked hard to cover and get up and sometimes beyond Soldado, vital if this formation is going to produce goals. Davies and the restored Walker offered width. An early goal boosted the confidence. Kane’s leap and thumping header wasn’t surprising, the decent corner that provided the cross astounded however. Our set pieces have been horrid lately.

Fast forward to the final 10 or 15 minutes for the other spell of Spurs superiority. Kane was tireless, up front on his own now. Dembele had long since replaced the forlorn, ineffectual Soldado and playing in the advanced role I’ve long advocated held up the ball and allowed us not only to regroup at the back but also to get Eriksen on the ball. Peripheral for the first half, he increasingly became an influence on the game. Get him involved and invariably he will produce a few glimpses of class. These precious moments can win matches and yesterday, proved decisive.

Late on Swansea dealt with a move down our left but our pressing in their half regained possession. Davies is able to make quick, clear-headed decisions on the ball and his firm, clean pass found Eriksen who scored low and right-footed from the edge of the area. Those moments of class tell in the end. Our two periods of superiority showed also that we are better coming forward with the ball than we are without it. Because in between our defending was stupefyingly awful.

Once Swansea applied some pressure, that early composure melted as fast as a baked Alaska taken out of the fridge on the Great British Bake-Off. Time and again Swansea got through or round us. Left unprotected, the back four were unable to deal with Bony, the Swans’ lone striker, who outwitted them with the cunning plan of not standing next to any of them. Drifting between centrehalf and full-back, he was a constant threat. Never did a midfielder drop back to fill those gaps or pick up runners and it was left to Davies to make a goal-saving tackle as Bony cocked the trigger to shoot.

Bony equalised – far too easy for Swansea to get the ball to him from our left. The second half and I was waiting for the inevitable goal, waiting…I’ve seen towerblocks more mobile than Fazio. He’s fine once he gets there, if ‘there’ is the ball or marking a man, it’s just the bits in between that confuse him. Waiting…Shelvey on and pinging the ball all over the place, a late block by Vertonghen…and then waited no more. Swansea ran out of steam and Spurs suddenly remembered that the Welshmen were not so hot at the back themselves.

Soldado was in a sorry state, little impact. Lamela worked hard to little purpose. No coincidence that Swansea played a winger down our right to exploit his frequent absences and poor decision-taking off the ball. Conceding needless fouls again and he is going to hurt someone badly unless he learns to keep his feet down.

On the plus side, Kane was inexhaustibly excellent throughout. Davies continues to show why we paid the money, highly promising. I like his confidence and lack of indecision.

“Walker gives the ball away with his first touch.” So said the commentator, ahh Kyle it’s like you’ve never been away. Avoidable early booking, under needless pressure, scuffling with a pacy winger, not picking up in the box, by the end he’s still running up and down that touchline, said winger under control, coming into the game when the final whistle goes even though he could not possibly have been anywhere near fully fit. Good to have you back.

Walker and Davies could be key in the weeks and months to come. They offer the attacking width from deep that Pochettino craves. But it will take time to fit all the pieces together. More inconsistency to come. Strong performances please against Burnley and Leicester, cut out the errors and get Eriksen in the game is the way to go before United and Chelsea come to darken our New Year.

Dozy Spurs Hang On For A Point Against Palace.

Three-quarters of the way through Spurs’ undistinguished draw with Palace, the mood on the Shelf turned ugly. Having handed back the initiative to our visitors, Tottenham were dealing with a fusillade of attacks, badly. I can’t recall exactly which one provoked the outburst – one of many saves by Lloris, not the shot that hit the post and bar before rebounding out, probably yet another shot just over that should have been on target. Spontaneously hundreds rose as one in uncomprehending fury – how could we fall apart so easily?

Poch stifles a yawn

The Shelf loyalists are dedicated, committed Spurs supporters – if you drew a circle with a radius of ten seats around my spot, we’re the newcomers and we’ve been there for nearly ten years now. These people are it for the long haul. Never mind the bogus drowning-out of boos or social media whingeing, this is real anger and frustration from supporters who care. How could we make it so easy?

I’m sure it was repeated elsewhere in the ground – the players left the pitch to a chorus of boos. It’s not so much the result, certainly not inflated expectations. In fact, we were lucky to come away with a point. After all, these fans have seen enough disappointment and missed opportunities over the years. It’s that once again, we made few chances, failed to play together as a team and above all have apparently learned nothing since the start of the season. All the progress made in the Everton match long forgotten.

The crowd also called long and loud for Aaron Lennon, who was keeping his new haircut immaculate on the bench. Party this was affection for a player who has recently reminded us that he still has a role to play at Spurs. Mainly though it was tactics. As the game went on, Spurs has become bogged down in a central midfield morass. I suspect that beneath the turf at White Hart Lane there is some mysterious force-field generator impossible to resist that sucks our men into the middle, where if they don’t run into a defender they will surely bump into each other. Flicky this, clever touch there, may beat one or two but eventually Palace swallowed up each and every attack without being seriously stretched.

A rare shot

Against Everton, we shone with a right-footed player wide right. Yesterday, the inverted wingers achieved nothing. Azza is no world-beater but at the very least would have given us some width. One substitution put Chadli on the left where in Davies we have a good attacking full-back, Dier on the right not so much. Still no width therefore. Lennon came on finally with less than 10 minutes to go and did not have a run at his full-back. And they say the fans don’t understand the game like professionals. When this happens, frankly we don’t understand it at all.

The signs were ominous from the start as Fazio and Vertonghen occupied the first ten minutes by passing to each other. The whistle should have been our alarm call. Instead we reached over and hit the snooze button. The 3 o’clock start, unheard of these days,was confusing – what time train do I have to get? – but you would expect the players to be ready. Less high-tempo, more sleep-walking.

Credit at this point to Palace. With two forwards wide they forced us into the middle and were quick and dangerous on the break. More than capable of dealing with us, Warnock is a manager whose admirers say he has no tactical nouse. I’ll leave you to ponder the implications.

We did little constructive to find a way through and nothing to get going early on although we did buck up after the break, bearing in mind that yesterday everything was relative, and took the game to our opponents without ever looking especially dangerous.

At least the kids enjoyed it. And Chirpy.

Palace meanwhile always posed a threat on the break but missed several chances. They also came up against our only class player, Hugo Lloris, on impeccable form. As if trying to make up for his errors against Chelsea, he kept Palace at bay with a series of outstanding saves to add to flypaper handling.

Despite it all, we did make some chances. Three good ones fell to Soldado, none were on target. The worst was in the second half, slicing wide after he was bang on to score from a sly little through ball into his stride. Eriksen made a couple of openings, the best coming early when Spurs finally woke up a bit. He cheekily nutmegged the defender on the byline and shot when three white shirts awaited the pull-back.

As I say, Spurs were better (not good but better) after the break then after Palace realised they could contain us, we nearly succumbed to ten minutes of sustained attack to which we had no answer and the midfield were all over the place. The afternoon was summed up by a vignette in front of the Park Lane when Eriksen did well to prevent a corner, short pass to Dier who then passed it into touch – for a corner.

Some promising signs from Fazio and Davies, both of whom had their best games for the club. Fazio was especially strong in the box and at the near post, moving with confidence to the ball to deal with danger. Davies deserves an extended run. I like his appetite for the ball, berating team-mates for not passing to him and hitting early balls with confidence when he moves forward. One such cross after a fine ball from Lamela gave Soldado an opportunity.

Sadly the phrase ‘fine ball from Lamela’ applied only to that moment. When he’s tackled, as he so often is, he always looks surprised. What’s Spanish for ‘how did that happen?’ Soldado will know… Lamela should have got used to the PL by now. Twice yesterday he burst clear with the ball, looked up only to be tackled from behind. That’s the PL and he’s got to learn.

Otherwise, Kane and Mason were industrious but quiet. Bentaleb at least tried to move the ball forward late on when playing the deepest of the midfield. He attempted to get something moving even if he wasn’t always successful.  The sage fellow supporter to my right pointed out his fair impression of the Parker pirouette, twirling in midfield without getting anywhere. A fair point, and like Parker he depends on having someone to pass to. Our collective failure meant so often he was disappointed, as were we in the stands. Progress, such as it was, stalled, or perhaps a figment of the imagination.

 

Don’t forget that the lovely people at Vision Sports are offering 25% discount for Tottenham On My Mind readers on the Spurs Postcard Collection. which retails at £12.99. Just use this code when you order: spursblogger

Same Old Tottenham

The illustrations are from The Spurs Postcard Collection, a new publication from Vision Sports and perfect for your Christmas stocking. Scroll down for more details and 25% off for Tottenham On My Mind readers.

Try as they might, the new breed at Tottenham who did so well against Everton couldn’t overcome a Chelsea side that seldom shifted out of cruise control. Instead, familiar failings returned to crush early fresh-formed hopes that emerged from our bright, bouncy start. Taking on our opponents plus the momentum of recent history is hard enough without making the sort of crass defensive errors that we have come to know and – well, just know only too well.

hugo lloris

For the much of the match, Spurs reprised Sunday’s diligent approach. Bentaleb was excellent, especially in the second half as we pressed more men forward, often leaving him as the rearmost midfielder. They earned by far the lion’s share of possession, in contrast to the Everton game where we won with around 35% of the ball.

However, beyond the opening 20 minutes there was nothing much going up on front. A few oohs and aahs, maybes and could-have-beens as Eriksen and Lamela almost but not quite played the perfect ball. Last night almost was a long way. Chelsea dispassionately despatched their opportunities, grateful no doubt for not having to work very hard to get them, whereas we huffed and puffed without making a proper chance in the second half. Add a couple of defensive implosions and we were nowhere near competing in this one.

dave mackay

Spurs opened well and as so often flattered to deceive. Harry Kane continued his one-player offensive against complacency. Playing on his own up front, from the kick-off he took the game to our opponents. A different position compared to Sunday but the same result. Chelsea backed off and chances came our way. Vertonghen headed over and Kane’s header hit the bar. Lennon’s cross was slightly behind him but he did everything in his power to twist it on target. Lennon was dangerous too – a right-footed winger on the right, taking people on. Don’t how the tactical geniuses in charge of Spurs recently missed that one.

Kane then left Cahill on his backside, cut in from the left and his shot slithered across the goal and wide as three white shirts pleaded for a cut-back. For a time Spurs had control of the game, but that was pretty much that. The Blues stretched, wiped the sleep from their eyes and awoke. Lennon tracked back on Hazard but did not get goalside. Chiriches drifted forward a couple of yards to cover space at the edge of the box. Fractional errors, put them together and suddenly a one-two opened up yards of room on our right and Hazard scores. Such are the margins. Almost is a long way.

1981 FA Cup

Our system depends on not conceding the ball as we build from deep. The fullbacks push up and the centre halves split. Off they dutifully toddled as Hugo had the ball at his feet. They could only watch as the Frenchman’s feeble kick was picked up 35 yards out by a Chelsea player. No surprise the pass was good and Drogba made it two. Again a fatal error from our best player, and sadly not for the first time. All his athleticism and commitment, which we saw on several occasions in the hour that followed, wasted if he can’t kick the ball away very far.

Second half, Lennon went left and the ineffective Lamela right, allowing Eriksen to be busy in central areas. For Mason this was one match too far. He was replaced by Paulinho early on. Chadli helped Kane out up front but as I’ve already said, plenty of ball without getting anywhere, and there’s no point in saying more about that.

Time dragged as the match reached its inevitable conclusion. Not expecting much but I would have appreciated getting a shot in. 2-0 would hardly have been a consolation but the third still hurt. With Spurs pushing forward, Vertonghen was left one on one with sub Remy. Twisting and turning, Verts tried the block, thought about the foul but opted for falling over.  An easy finish.

Chelsea are streets ahead of the opposition this year, one of the best teams in Europe. No disgrace in losing to them, we’re not the first and won’t be the last, but it would have been nice to make them at least break sweat. They won at a canter, easily absorbing our pressure despite our best efforts.

Bentaleb was our best player, keeping things moving despite it all. Pochettino has gone from suit to blazer to tracksuit and now gilet (I shuddered at the memory). Still, it seems something is getting through at last. Develop this style and shape and good things will happen. Yesterday that was nowhere near sufficient to bridge the gulf in class between the two sides but tell me something I don’t know. Eyeballs out for Palace on Saturday, put everything into that game and come away with the points.

 

Those lovely people at Vision Sports are offering 25% discount for Tottenham On My Mind readers on the Spurs Postcard Collection. which retails at £12.99. Just use this code when you order: spursblogger

The collection comprises 50 postcards each with a painting of a Spurs legend and comes in a snazzy presentation box. Vision have a history of producing high quality books about Spurs, including the fabulous Biography of Spurs by Julie Welch and several classics by Adam Powley and Martin Cloake, all of which are warmly recommended as Christmas is coming, but they are just as good at Easter. They know the club and the fans so the images are well-chosen. Naturally enough there’s a preference for current or recent players, alongside not only stars across the years but also scenes such as the ’81 Cup win or Dave Mackay putting Bremner in his place.

All images copyright the Football Artist/Vision Sports